Tag Archives: Mermaid rose

Strange Season

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There are floods in my mother’s village in Yorkshire, so far well below her front door; down here in Kent, the storm has been less fierce, the temperature unusually mild. In flower today were: daffodils, violets, mimosa, roses, including our dear Mermaid and Thomas Becket; cyclamen, daisies and gorse of course; low-growing campanula, viburnum, prunus praecox, the watchful tree beloved of Jeremiah; camellia about to burst; ceanothus, winter jasmine. Someone at church reported a hawthorn in bloom; Glastonbury comes to Canterbury! Pussy Willow is not far behind.

It is worrying that the season is so topsy-turvy;  of course the slugs are loving it, and loving the Jerusalem artichokes, but we had more than enough to make soup with leeks for yesterday’s feast. Rowan and apple jelly gave an edge to the goose, made earlier after a forage with Mrs Turnstone.  It kept that lovely colour!

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Mice with Wings

Ten winters ago we put the nesting box in the pyracantha outside the kitchen window. Blackbirds have built on top of it, twice, and small birds have used it as a winter roost, but now it holds a blue tits’ nest. These tiny creatures, also known as titmice, are close relatives to chickadees.

I’m glad to have them around, since they eat  lots of insects, including the aphids on the apricot tree. So the tree never gets sprayed to keep them fed and the garden alive with birds. Mrs Turnstone is mighty pleased, and it’s a joy to see the cock fly in under cover of the bushes along the public footpath. I think Mrs Bluetit is still sitting on eggs.

Meanwhile, as well as the starling in the eaves nearby, there is a robin in next door’s yew and somewhere in the ivy on the wall is Mrs Blackbird. Collared doves are in the birch, wood pigeons in the lime planted after the hurricane, while a hedge sparrow singing opposite the kitchen window means his hen must be nearby. House sparrows seem not to be nesting with us this Spring, but before now they’ve had the second brood above our bed after a first elsewhere. The cuckoo I’ve not heard for a week or more which is probably good news for the hedge sparrow.

Our roses are at least two weeks behind last year coming into bloom. No Mermaid yet, nor Alberic Barbier; there are some roses in South facing gardens up the street, but turning onto the footpath there is a noticeable drop in temperature out of the sun and into what can be a wind tunnel, channelling the SouthWesterlies that come along the road opposite.

Si vis pacem pare hortum

willow

shoots aiming for the sky from a fallen willow.

Higher and further into Wales: from Laugharne to the Brecon Beacons, to stop and stare and absorb the tranquillity at a friend’s place: marjoram with meadowsweet; the herb colonising the paths above the damp land, where meadowsweet shelters the pheasant family from kite and buzzard if not weasel or cat.

Tranquillity has been carefully nurtured: planting a tree here, a day lily there, giving the Mermaid rose room to spread herself into the trees around.

Robert Frost wrote of good fences, and wondered

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

                                                          What I was walling in or walling out,

                                                          And to whom I was like to give offence.

Here, sometimes, there are Hereford cows, though this day the fence and hedge were holding back a mixed flock of sheep – the valley sheep are fatter, and would be fatter still were they able to chew the cud on spinach, beans and garden flowers. Not maintaining this fence would cause offence and distress. Distress and offence had already been caused in February.

Our friend’s Eastern boundary once had a hedge and ditch on the other side of the line. A good hedge provides a home for insects, birds and small mammals; its roots protect the soil on either side from being washed away. The old hedge had been grubbed up, the ditch levelled, in the name of efficiency, today’s acceptable euphemism for laziness and greed. Cropped to the edge with spring-sown maize, year upon year, when the late winter storms came nothing could hold the top layer of soil from being scoured, and a stream formed around the little willow, undermining it. This tree was part of the informal hedging our friend had planted below the field edge, six feet on her side of the fence.

Now the willow lay across the bench that commands a view across lawns, trees, bushes and beds, bulbs in season, and always the birds. This tree had grown from an osier thrust into the ground and now had half a dozen stems, twelve feet tall and more. Only one was near vertical, the one that before the landslide had leant towards the field. I set myself to rescue the bench by cutting back each leaning trunk to a vigorous vertical shoot while leaving that one upright trunk to point the way.

There were plenty of shoots to choose from, some of them six feet high already. Unchecked, the weight of this vegetation would have brought the willow right down onto the bench and maybe have broken it.

I would have enjoyed having Dermot with me, with his love of trees and quirky insights, but had to commune with myself and Whoever might be listening. And I had to listen to the tree: where do you want to grow? How can I get you back to a pleasing shape? And my apologies for tearing a strip off your bark, misjudging that first cut across the front of the stem.

Squirrels had barked the tree before me: did they use it as a painkiller? A few days later, Dermot didn’t think so; he says they’ll go for any bark, just to be destructive. Dermot doesn’t like squirrels.

Job done as the ladies returned from the village; logs, pea-sticks and rubbish sorted. ‘Wait’, our friend said, as the barrow was laden with bonfire fodder. She took a handful of vigorous twigs and thrust them into the soil nearby. ‘You never know!’

I wonder: the next time we come, perhaps they will be six feet and we will know they have taken.

More Firsts: Little Things

More Firsts: Little Things

Not yet have we heard the first cuckoo of Spring, but even so: the first local strawberries, tastier than Spanish imports; the first rose of summer, sprung in time to welcome St George, though neither white nor red factions would have worn the yellow Mermaid in their lapels, no doubt deeming it more patriotic to boast imports from Ecuador in their tribal colour; the first clamouring baby blackbirds and magpies in different neighbours’ gardens – though not in ours which is still a building site; cow parsley everywhere, even on the altar at church; the first cut of what grass remains in the Turnstone garden; so it is time to say, with the Welsh poet,

Good morning Life

And all things glad and beautiful. W.H.Davies.

Davies gives us a reminder that St David on his deathbed urged the people of Wales to be faithful to the little things; WHD is by no means the only Welsh poet to live up to this command. Dylan celebrated small town life Under Milk Wood.

One little thing leapt out at me the other morning: I walked round the corner to find that the back garden wall is a mass of purple wall-toadflax. A few years ago we were at St David’s Cathedral, where the boundary wall carries a thriving colony of a white variety of this beautiful little thing. I hope no zealous tidier-up of unconsidered trifles ever weeds them all away. The Turnstone toadflax can rest easy. Even if Mrs Turnstone does turn her hand to repointing our wall, there will always be a crack for a seed to take root and start the colony again.Image