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.
Before the rain the peonies were perfect.
Before the deluge the roses were pristine,
The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,
But after the storm, in the snail slimed, dripping quiet,
The perfume was divine.
Today was the sound of kestrels learning to fly, keening, crying , mewing, mewling, over and over as they flopped and fell and soared and swooped for the very first time out of crowed malodorous nests in dark church towers out, out into the wide blue sky flying with clouds and martins and jackdaws and the clacking of stork bills and the unrepeatable perfume of lime trees in flower for the first time, the first time, the very, very, first time in to the new world.
I have always wanted a rose bower.
The very word bower sounds secret and enclosing.
I have trained roses up wrought iron arches with varying degrees of success, but our wild dog rose has produced the longest, most exuberant arms of flowers to wrap around the old wheel barrow and make marvellous the compost corner.
Its simple pink blossoms are transient, perfumed and perfect. No dog ever wagged so wonderfully!
TS Elliot said « April is the cruelest month » as it stirs dull desire, but I dont think he was a gardener. Shoring up the ruins of Western civilisation in his poetry must have left him little time to appreciate that March is a far crueler month, as the anticipation of spring is so sharp it hurts.
I am impatient by nature. After the first snow drops and catkins prove winter is dead, then I want full leafed, green pulsing life back in my garden and in the fields and fast! I want long grass and swaying trees, butterflies, birds and moths, but must make do with worm casts and buds that seem clenched as tight shut as a fist.
To compensate I turn to the garden centre and buy spicey perfumed pinks and heady jasmine to speed things along. I know they will languish before long for lack of light, but for now I can bathe in thier perfume between the pepper pots and salt cellar, as I wait for the firsfists to unfurl.
The autumn leaves were falling in a dry rustle around us as the trees slowly, reluctantly gave into the darkening days and sighed down to the woodland floor. My eye was caught by something bright red: careless trash, I assumed, but stopped a moment to check.
Among the leaves was something far odder, older and much fouler than a discarded sweet wrapper. Spongy, fleshy, organic and disturbing, on an October afternoon I had stumbled upon a witch’s heart lying decomposing on the forest floor.
Clatharus ruber has many names: witch’s heart; stinking basket; Stinking cage and it is found in Europe and also in the Americans. The cage of rubbery bright red life erupts from a white egg and the first naturalist to describe it in the 16th century thought it was a marine animal . This fungus appears and decays into a stinking mass in 24 hours. This film clip shows the whole gruesome process:
It took the contents of my water bottle to wash the stinking fungal spores off my fingers. The smell is utterly repellent. You would have to be a carrion fly to appreciate it, but I am glad I got to hold the heart of a witch for just a few jellified, soul shuddering moments!
Eve reached up,
The tree was small and her arms were long and strong.
The dry stem snapped between her fingers
And red fruit fell plump into her outstreched hand.
She inhaled the perfume, felt the cool skin against her warm cheek and
The first bite was deep.
The knowledge bitter,
But the taste was so, so sweet.
Stripping lavender flowers from their stalks is the most peaceful task I know.
As you sit beside a basket of trimmed flowers and rub your fingers along each stem, the seeds are crushed: gently releasing a perfume that soothes the soul and relaxes the mind as it rises. The bowl slowly fills with soft light flowers. Plunging your hand in and stiring releases more perfume, until you can taste lavender on your tongue and feel it on your eyelashes. The world is slowed down. You breathe deeply and everything seems safe and clean, fresh and very very young.
I always leave the lavender until it is seeded, as the flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees that I would not deprive of their perfumed food. The seeds smell just as intensely as the flowers and this way I have the pleasure of their perfume and the sight of the butterflies too.
A few bunches are hung up for decoration and the rest will fill cotton bags to scent pillows and sheets in the linen cupboard. The smallest lavender bag will go in my work bag. When I need reminding of my garden I rub it between my fingers and I am back in the green shade inhaling the complex glory of lavender in a safe, perfumed summer garden.
Sometimes the garden grows so fast there isn’t time to breath. Our weather has been very hot and very wet. The air is saturated in moisture and the garden feels like a hot house. The weeds are growing, the trees are growing, the flowers are growing and the slugs are multiplying.
The air is perfumed. Lime trees are in full bloom and the perfume somehow reminds me of my mother’s washing powder and all seems clean and safe. The sweet chestnut is also in flower and the feathery blossoms are heavy, exotic and unfamiliar and they make make me sneeze.
The moth trap is full of the usual suspects. The light emerald wouldn’t leave my finger and the little emerald with its raggy wing seemed determined to make a point, but what it was, is as elusive as perfume and the racing days.
This article says it all! Maximise every millimetre of growing/ life space in your garden and make friends with the world!
Living like an eastern potentate, this bejeweled rose beetle staggers through the pollen laden flowers of late spring gorging himself on plenty.
The Dame’s violets or gilly flowers are one of the great successes of my garden. Hesperis matronalis grows wild in Europe, but has long been cultivated in gardens for its sweet smell and tall purple blossoms. I dug this up from the green waste site in the village, when I first took possession of my utterly empty garden and could not wait to populate it with plants.
I bought all sorts of exotic flowers that secumbed to slugs or drought or rot, but the Dame’s Violet grew and multiplied steadily each year, until now it makes a spring show to over shadow everything else. It seems the best things in life really are free and you can share them with the birds and bees and the Eastern potentates too!
Our flat in Switzerland was like posh student accommodation. Two very small bed rooms and an open plan room with a lot of glass, but no window sill to rest my plants upon.
I never realised how much I needed walls until I moved to Switzerland. Before that I had taken them for granted, but the Swiss are very modern, love glass and see little need for walls. If you couple this with a very high population density then you have dinning rooms that loom strangely in space, over each other. You can admire each other’s cooking, cutlery and even flatulence at disturbingly close quaters with total strangers. I couldn’t get used to such intimacy and did the same as we did in Brazil, blocked it out with plants.
We bought weeping fig trees that loved the reflected heat of our “ wintergarten” and raced away. In the wonderful Swiss second hand store or “brokie” I found a set of shop shelves, with wheels which I loaded with devils ivy cuttings, filched spider plant babies and some geraniums abandoned at the end of the summer that I fed and costeted. They responded by flourishing and giving us some semblance of verdant privacy.
The flat had no balcony, but it did have a set of concrete steps up to the front door that were ours alone. As soon as our first winter was over, I started to buy plants and to move them outside. I started with yellow primroses from the coop and graduated, as the sun strengthened, to ivy leaved geraniums, that trailed red flowers over each open step. In the wonderful botanical garden I snipped a few modest cuttings of lemon, peppermint and rose scented geraniums, potted them up and nursed them and soon it was almost impossible to get up the step and into the flat for perfumed and coloured plants.
Watering became an obsession, as each plant was in a planter small enough to fit each individual step and one day of sunshine could dessicate the whole pot.
We had been given very precise instructions when we rented the flat about what was allowed and what was “verboten”. Using the washing machine or showering after 10 at night was not allowed; hanging out washing was not allowed and shaking a table cloth out of the window was punishable by death. I was therefore very careful not to irritate my neighbours below by over watering and dripping on their doorstep. However after two years of squeezing more and more plants into our improbably small space, My Swiss neighbour actually volunteered to water my babies when we went away and started to talk to me!
At the top of the steps we put the tiniest BBQ known to man and if we each sat on a different step there was just space for us both to eat a chicken leg and for our cat, Bonkers the Magnificent ( who had survived Zambia, Kazakhstan and six months quarantine in England) to survey his new, peaceful and eminently edible kingdom.
© cathysrealcountrygarden. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and images without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cathysrealcountrygarden with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This is great post by a blogger with a real appreciation of how trees have shaped the world we live in, the food we eat and the way money makes the world go round. Enjoy !
This weekend we went looking for a flower. We were told about this flower a year ago, by an elderly botanist who showed us pictures of the great pink spikes of flowers as we ate dinner in a vineyard last summer.
In a mixture of broken German, French and English we discovered that this very rare and very strange plant grew close by and he tried to describe exactly where he had seen it.
The next day we also tried to find it. We tramped over the wonderful limestone cap of a hill that was covered in fly orchids, thorny roses and pinks. We found the most extravagant orchid I have ever seen in Europe outside of a green house. Large and smelling powerfully of goats, the tongues of its greenish flowers cork screwed down and seemed to lick the stems, giving it the obvious name of lizard orchid. As we dipped back into the neat rows of vines, a bird was startled up and the great parti coloured crest of a hoopoe was plain to see, as the heavy bird lifted up and gave its unmistakable hoopoe call : familiar in the Mediterranean, but so strange here in central Europe. This little patch of limestone protected for nature amidst the closely planted vines, is a truly remarkable place and is home to so many species that are rarely seen in the Alsace.
Eventually we wandered our way back to the car, stopping only to cool off in the wonderful cave of the local winery. Swallows nested high up in the eves of the old roof and swooped in to chatter noisily as we sampled some Alsace Pinot Gris and Muscat and chatted to the young woman who lamented Brexit sadly, as she had enjoyed working in England for a while, loved the people and could not see what Britain had to gain by cutting itself off from Europe ( and good wine!).
A year later, we tried again. We tramped the same hill in the sunshine; saw more hoopoes and clouds of Marbled White butterflies, Banded Graylings, Swallow Tails, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and man, many more. The lizard orchids had gone to seed and we were tired. There had been no seats on the walk so far and so when we found one with the most wonderful view of the village below, I remarked the only thing that would be even better would be if the elusive flowers were right next to the seat – and there they were – also all gone to seed!
If you look closely at the photo you too can see the robust glossy leaves of the plant and the tall brown stems of the seed heads. This is Dictamnus albus or Fraxinella. A strange plant that is unique in its own genus (rutaceae) and very unusual in the wild. It exudes a curious smelling perfumed oil, that clung to our hands after we had touched it. In fact it produces so much of this oil that it is also called the Burning Bush as in very hot weather it has been known to spontaneously combust and may well have been the burning bush of Moses in the Bible. The oil can be ignited by a lighter as you can see in this you tube clip of the garden variety.
We were too late to admire the great pink flowers we had seen in the photo. You don’t always get what you want, but in pursuit of this rarity we had seen and enjoyed so much, that I think you could definitely say we got what we needed!
The elusive catch of sweet lilac blossom spilling into rain washed morning air; the spicy cloves of pinks and carnations redolent of weddings and button holes; the unexpected tang of soapy irises caught in a cloud on a still afternoon; the honey sweetness of tiny alyssum flowers foaming unnoticed around a warm stone. An English bluebell wood shouting heavy luxuriant hyacinth to a slope of spring sunshine; the cacophony of exotic orchid voices spilling from marvelous and manifold flowers pressed and sprawling against the glass of a hot house.
One of the hardest things to describe is the perfume of a flower and yet so often it is the most wonderfully intoxicating thing about it!