My mother taught me to peel back the cases when I was little in our garden near Liverpool. I was enchanted then and am enchanted still. I want the honesty to grow everywhere in the garden, but it will only flourish in the cracks between the paving stones that it finds for its self.
The virus has done so many things, most of them bad.
Closing international borders has been one of the oddest results of a virus that can be sneezed across a transatlantic airplane or between lovers walking in a forest.
I cross between France and Switzerland six times a day to get to work and back. At the weekend I often cross into Germany and back a few times to buy cat food and to get a kebab at my favourite Turkish kebab shop. This has all stopped.
Even the crossings in the forests used by cyclists and hikers and runners every day have been boarded/ bordered up!
Due to the unfathomable decision of the UK to leave the EU, I reclaimed my Irish heritage, so I could continue to be European. The open borders within Europe seemed to me a slice of sanity, sophistication and friendliness in an increasingly fractured world.
Then the borders were closed.
It felt like a real war, not against the virus, but against each other. If ever there was a time for the EU to work together, this surely was it. All of the countries working together on health policies, quarantine advise, common lockdown could have been so powerful, but instead each country went their own way.
I dont know which country got it right and which got it wrong, but I do know that closed borders have increased unease and even fear for so many people who were used to living in this open area that used to seem like it was my extended home.
On Monday they open the borders between France and Switzerland and Germany for everyone. I took some photos of the little closed borders between neighbouring villages and even between neighbouring trees.
I hope I never see them closed again.
It is the celebration of Pentecost today and the first day the church bells have rung for a real church service, not just to show solidarity and thanks to all the carers during this strange and awful time.
The extraordinarily, peerless blue weather has continued; linnets have sung from the birch tree; red kites have quatered over the garden and swifts have screamed down the sky for the sheer joy of being alive.
Pentecost or Whitsun has an ancient history and the Christian celebration of the holy spirit descending from God has its roots in the Jewish harvest festival which took place 50 days after Passover.
It is seen as a renewal of life and rose petals are showered from ceilings of some Italian churches and alters decorated with red geraniums, roses or even poinsettias in the Southern Hemisphere as the red is the penetecost colour of the spirit.
Whitsun is the time to start summer outdoor activities. In England Morris dancing should be in pub gardens and village greens. It is the day for Cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill just outside of Cheltenham in the Cotswolds. This year it was cancelled because of the virus, but I was delighted to hear that a local rolled a proper double Gloucester Cheese down the hill, with no cameras or social media hordes, just to keep the old tradition going.
I didnt use litterpicker tonges to collect the news paper from the box today; my neighbours are sharing Sunday lunch with friends in the garden today and I collected a meal for the first time from my favourite local restaurant, wearing a face mask, but with a huge smile underneath ! This is virtually the first food, for three months, that I havent prepared or cooked myself and every single mouthwatering, three course morsel, was magnificent. I had to load the dishwasher, but hey , the sun is shining, the roses are perfumed and spirit is definitely on us all!
Sorry for the bizarre typo ! Spirit, not spitit!! Still thinking about transmission of the dreaded lurgy, I am afraid!!
It’s snowing here, but soon the sun will be out again and the dandelions will be in flower again – such is the fickle nature of spring. Faffing about flowers when the virus has us all enthralled seems absurd, but we must stay sane and nature turns unperturbed by our concerns.
Those of us fortunate enough to have lawns are watching them grow and as the world beyond the garden seems increasingly unsafe, we attempt to impose order on our own small patch. I think the first blog I ever wrote four years ago was a plea not to mow the lawn in the spring time and here I am again with the same plea for peaceful inaction!
Dandelions are beautiful.
Their huge golden flowers are the first food for so many bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. If you are home instead of the office, then lie on the grass and watch a bee burying itself in the profusion of pollen that dandelions offer up. Watch the bee revel in the yellow gold, its whole body dusted in it and the pollen sacs on each back leg bulging with the riches it will take back to the hive.
Then put away the mower for a few weeks and let the dandelions be.
The English name for them is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” – lion’s teeth and they are “ lowen Zahn” – lion’s teeth in German too. Both names come from the shape of the seed, not the flower. The common French name is “pissenlit “ which literally means piss the bed, which is the diuretic result of eating too many of the delicious leaves!
I am eating a lot of dandelion leaves at the moment. I am eating them Greek style which is boiled or steamed for a few minutes and then dressed in olive oil and salt. You will be relieved to know they have not lived up to their French name so far!
So enjoy the spring flowers on your lawn: feed the bees: eat free greens and stay healthy!
This swallow was nesting above the cutlery shelf in a busy English beer garden. Drinkers clattered by collecting knives and forks, ketchup and vinegar and bar staff plonked down ploughmans’ lunches, Sunday roasts and Branston pickle sandwiches on their way to tables ringed by hungry drinkers. The swallow ignored them all and safe between the electrical wires and heating ducts brought butterflies and bugs back to its brood of hatchlings .
I have put up artificial, purpose made nests for swallows and house martins all round my house, just above my garden which is heaving with insect banquets and the birds have spurned them all. I have laughed at the improbability of my neighbour ever populating his huge new house martin monster hotel as he insists on constantly shaving the grass beneath with noisiest lawn mower known to creation. However, it seems I have been totally wrong about what these birds want, as this picture proves. To attract swallows to nest in harmony give them chatter, clatter, the smell of cooking and the fumes of plenty of good bitter beer!
( For those of you who have to study this poem for an exam – trout are fish that make a circular ripple on the surface of the water as they come up for air hence “trout ringed pools”)
Watching fat flanked trout flick in a clear stream as evening fell, reminded me of the lines from the Kipling poem The way through the woods:
“when the night air cools on the trout ringed pools,
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(they fear not men in the woods because they see so few..)”
I love the repeated oo sound, which makes the line so wonderfully peaceful and elongated like a sigh of satisfaction.
As with all poems worth loving, you should read this aloud to yourself, just to feel the words roll in your mouth. Enjoy!
The Road through the Woods.
THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I thought of this much anthologised and loved poem as I walked in the woods today.
Frost wrote this poem in 1915 and sent it to his great friend the English poet Edward Thomas. The American and the English man were walking in the woods in Gloucestershire, as they often did. They were talking about the war that was engulfing Europe and wondering which path to take, both literally and metaphorically. A game keeper challenged them with a gun and an altercation ensued that continued at the game keeper’s cottage and saw both poets threatened. Frost laughed it off and used the event to inspire this poem, which he sent to Thomas. Thomas saw the poem as a gibe about his indecision about if he should enlist as soldier or not. This poem was apparently instrumental in his final fatal decision to sign up .
Thomas signed up and was sent to France. Two months later he was dead, killed in the terrible slaughter of Arras.
“The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost is a great favorite of mine and so is “Adlestrop”
by Edward Thomas, but ( “telling this with a sigh” ) one poet lived a long and productive life and the other died young. Hopefully not all of our choices have such profound consequences.
Snakeshead fritillaries have lots of names inspired by their nodding flower heads and extraordinary chequered pattern. Sulky lady appeals to me as I imagine a petulant girl with her face hidden in her bonnet, but I can also see the snake in the garden of eden with its head rearing out of the grass.
The wet winter has favoured this wonderful flower in my garden this spring and as its natural habitat are water meadows, this makes sense. Before we drained so many meadows it was common in the south of England and great bunches of flowers were sent to market in London. You can still admire them in meadows of Magleden College Oxford and other nature reserves where they are protected . The Oxfordshire village of Ducklington http://www.ducklingtonchurch.org.uk/fritillary/the-background-to-fritillary-sunday/. has a snakeshead fritillary day on to celebrate their outlandish beauty.
On our walk through the fruit orchards today we spotted a newt in a pool and when peering down to get a second glance we realised that there were lots of leeches in the mud at the bottom of the clear water. It is the first time I have ever seen leeches . They had obviosly not fed on anything and were thin, but hungry looking! I took one out to admire it and it didnt have time to attach and feed. If it was a medicinal leech then it was a rare beast, as just like the snakeshead fritillary, they were collected almost to extinction. One for it beauty and the other for its blood sucking ability.
I know which one I would rather have in the garden!