Ah, hush! Tread softly through the rime, For there will be a blackbird singing, or a thrush. Like coloured beads the elm-buds flush: All the trees dream of leaves and flowers and light. And see! The northern bank is much more white Than frosty grass, for now is snowdrop time.
Mary Webb, Snowdrop Time
Mrs Turnstone and I had just left the train at Edinburgh Waverley Station and were making our way into Princes Street Gardens. It was one of those warm February days when Scotland feels almost temperate. We walked down beside the Scott Monument and stopped as one. We were not expecting scent in February! The bank to our left, west-facing, was in full sun, with thousands of snowdrops at head height, releasing sweetness whether anyone was there to appreciate it or not.
Later in the week we visited the Botanic Gardens, by no means bereft of snowdrops. There was one, a specimen, that had a greenhouse all to itself. It was raised up on the shelving the better for us to see its golden stripe on the inner petals, gold instead of the classic green. I don’t know if someone deliberately crossed two flowers in their collection, or else got down on the ground, close enough to discern this special snowdrop. Thanks be to them!
Mary Webb’s north bank would, of course, have faced south, so plenty of time in full sun to add scent to the glory of the flowers’ appearance. Snowdrops do belong together in hundreds and thousands but it is worth looking at a singleton to appreciate its graceful form. Look, and see, and wonder; laudato si’!
Rime is a ground frost; the snowdrops here were growing in Fletcher Moss Park, Manchester.
While Mrs T took our grandson to the swimming pool in Faversham, I wandered the streets. I took myself to St Mary of Charity church for the first time in years. Although the tower with its ornate spire stands out for miles around, especially on the marshes, it could easily be missed close to, with the approach to the West Front through a narrow canyon of a back street behind a supermarket.
Once there I saw clumps of hollyhocks, some well over 2 metres tall, along the iron fence between the churchyard graves and the path. Lovely in the group, lovely each spire and individual bloom, and nature’s way of pushing the boundaries between tame and wild.
The church yard would be tidier without them but something better than tidiness would be lost. The ancestry of these blooms must be quite diverse – white, cream, yellow, apricot and magenta – but they also probably derive from a small number of parent plants, their seed blown around town till it found soil to root into. What were the great-grandparents like?
Let’s be thankful for beauty in diversity, in humans as well as flowers, and let us strive to make everyone welcome in our church communities.
Let us also take courage and find our own ways to push the boundaries in favour of beauty and of our climate.
The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.
Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.
After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.
Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.
Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.
In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Walking home from the Cathedralin the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.
Sheila Billingsley has had her eyes open! On the edge of Saddleworth Moor, spring has arrived! She gives this poem the title ’14th March 2022′. We hope Spring is enchanting your eyes, ears and sense of smell. Those cherry trees . . .
14th March 2022.
Today Spring arrived!
Slipped in!. . . Quietly!
Bright blue sky,
Pushing out thoughts of rain,
. . . until tomorrow!
The cherry tree in the lane is in blossom.
Delicate, tiny, hardly pink blossom.
Not the blowsy in-your-face Japanese,
Today the gardener arrived too,
To clear the detritus of winter.
Cheerful and happy within his whiskers.
Did many thank you?
Did many even notice?
That your world was still struggling to obey you,
Despite what we do?
At least your world obeys you,
While we fight and kill and poison.
Do they know that you exist ?
Do they know that you suffer?
I just wanted to record that Spring arrived today.
I wonder if the sap is stirring yet, If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate, If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun And crocus fires are kindling one by one: Sing, robin, sing; I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.
I wonder if the springtide of this year Will bring another Spring both lost and dear; If heart and spirit will find out their Spring, Or if the world alone will bud and sing: Sing, hope, to me; Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.
. The sap will surely quicken soon or late, The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate; So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom, Or in this world, or in the world to come: Sing, voice of Spring, Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.
It feels here like Christina Rossetti never got out of doors, which was sometimes the case as she often was in poor health. The last verse reads like, ‘Pull yourself together, girl!’ She doesn’t much feel like rejoicing, but all the same is listening out for the voice of Spring, the sound of her Creator at work.
However miserable we may feel, let us pray this Lent that we may hear the voice of spring, ready to bloom in this world AND the world to come.
Nature rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets, —
Prodigal of blue,
Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover's words.
from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, by Emily Dickinson.
I’m not sure I agree with Emily Dickinson about yellow! Think of all the daffodils, dandelions, marigolds, groundsel … The sunflowers seen above owe their presence in a Canterbury garden to more than a little human help: pre-Colombian American people saving the seeds, choosing the best to produce future crops; immigrants sending seed home where the process began again to find the best varieties to feed Europe and fill our gardens. The seed that grew this specimen was from a packet of bird seed.
So let’s be grateful for yellow, for daffodils and sunsets, cats’ eyes and sunflowers, and remember that they are embodied words of a lover, the Lover:
And he said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And it was so done.And the earth brought forth the green herb, and such as yieldeth seed according to its kind, and the tree that beareth fruit, having seed each one according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Listen out for the Lover’s words this Advent! O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.
The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’
Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’
The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.
Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
This maple burn itself away;
Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair,
Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
And many a rose-carnation feed
With summer spice the humming air;
Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon or when the lesser wain
Is twisting round the polar star;
Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
Or into silver arrows break
The sailing moon in creek and cove;
Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow
Familiar to the stranger's child;
As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year our memory fades
From all the circle of the hills."
(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)
After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete.Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.
The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.
During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *
The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
* Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.
September! We are moving into Autumn, fruit, grain harvest, swelling pumpkins … return to school, reluctant scholars yet glad to see their friends. remembering Oscar Wilde yesterday, here is the XVII Century English-speaking Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan, looking for the luxuries of out-of-season flowers and fruit. He’d find them today of course, rushed to us from around the world. But note his conclusion!
The tender vine in our garden suffered from the North’s cold wind last winter, but we have a few bunches of grapes swelling; are they to be food for humans or starlings?
Who the violet doth love,
Must seek her in the flow'ry grove,
But never when the North's cold wind
The russet fields with frost doth bind.
If in the spring-time—to no end—
The tender vine for grapes we bend,
We shall find none, for only—still—
Autumn doth the wine-press fill.
Thus for all things—in the world's prime—
The wise God seal'd their proper time.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. Matthew 6:28-29
The other day, as you can see, it was raining when I got to the Glebe, and it stayed that way all the time I was there. That’s not the reason for the post, though, but the plant the pictures show.
You’ll notice that it has no hint of green about it; this is because it is a parasite and cannot make its own chlorophyll. It derives this vital fluid from tapping into the roots of its host plant, which is ivy. It’s name is Orobanche hederae, or ivy broomrape.
When I was identifying this at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland there were very few records mapped in Kent, the nearest being at Eastry village 14 miles away. That of course does not mean there are none nearer than that, they may even be relatively common since ivy, the host plant, grows almost everywhere. I don’t think anyone has introduced it here on purpose, especially to the awkward corner it occupies, so the guess has to be that a highly favoured seed – they are like specks of dust – blew here from wherever the parent plant was growing. The third picture shows that there are more shoots to come, so it’s well established with us. Let’s hope we can keep it thriving.