16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.
St Mary’s, Cavendish
Indoor temperature: 19.5˚C, humidity: 69%
I had an appointment in Glemsford to pick up some relatives of Badger the Rat who were coming to live with me, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit Cavendish and Clare churches on the way. They are two contrasting villages along the upper reaches of the Stour much frequented by tourists, and rightly so. Cavendish possesses one of the most picturesque village greens in the county. I knew the main route through the village well, as this was my father’s preferred driving route from London, and I had made a couple of visits to the cane furniture shop, from which he bought a few chairs. Although it’s likely I must have visited the church at least once during my childhood, I didn’t remember it, nor its location.
10/7/2018 The only times I remember getting up in the morning and taking for granted that I would open the curtains to sunshine and warmth have been in Spain or the south of France. But during the last two months I have noticed myself doing just that. I get out of bed with a spring in my step, and I feel as though I am on holiday even if I have so much to do that I barely stop all day.
The grass is parched for the first time in a decade or more, and the words that I could never understand hearing my friends say, ‘it’s too hot for me’, have definitely passed through my head, if not my lips, on more than one occasion. I have been finding it preferable to embrace the sweat by undertaking some active job in the garden than to engage in futile efforts to stay cool by sitting still in the shade. And – unbelievably – I have found myself taking respite in the house during the hottest parts of the day. Which, admittedly, has proved of benefit to the decorating jobs required in my recently renovated bedroom, and my desire not to miss all of Wimbledon.
St Petronilla’s, Whepstead
Outdoor temperature: 22.5˚C; indoor temperature: 17.1˚C, humidity 65%
It was with some trepidation that I set out on my next church visit nearly a week later. I was heading in the direction of Bury St Edmunds and knew that in the area south of the town I was far more likely to encounter open churches than locked ones, but still I was dreading the next occasion when I might have to phone a keyholder.
While for many 19th May 2018 will be a day to remember, it is a day I will be happy to forget. It was the first time, and, I hope, the last, that I have walked away from someone who arrived to let me into a church, so upset was I by the treatment I received.
Of course, if I had realised that so many churches in the area around Ipswich are kept locked, even on weekends in May, and such is the distrust that no one will lend you a key to get in – they have to open it themselves, and, I expect, wait until you leave again – I would never have chosen this glorious Saturday morning to attempt visiting the area. But I didn’t suspect a thing. Until I got to Copdock church, found it locked, and was met with the rather aggressive question, ‘Who are you?’ three times on the phone to everyone I spoke to about acquiring a key. After the unpromising start to the first two conversations, the churchwardens did relent and became friendly, but they were both either watching the royal wedding or too busy to come to the church, and so gave me the phone number of another key holder.
2/7/2018 Since the appearance of the first shiny, translucent lime leaves in April, which I considered including in my spring highlights, I have had no thought of writing about lime trees. But when I walked along a country lane during a short break in the Norfolk Broads last week and passed under a lime tree in flower, it stopped me in my tracks.
I heard it first, and then smelled it. Only then did I look up to see what was above my head. They are not the most eye-catching of flowers – except when lit up by the evening sun – and I find it hard to use the word ‘blossom’ to describe them, though strictly speaking it is the correct term. I associate this word with colourful clusters of small flowers covering a tree, such as fruit tree blossom, which differs greatly from lime flowers. But the bees love them, and the smell is heavenly.
St Andrew’s, Darmsden
Outdoor temperature: 23.8˚C; indoor temperature: 15.7˚C, humidity: 63%
Searching my map for churches near Barking – which I planned to visit in conjunction with Priestley Wood, a bluebell wood across the road from the church – I discovered a village I had never heard of: Darmsden. That was the first surprise. The second was when I reached the turn off to the village to discover it was a dead-end road, signposted ‘Darmsden: public footpath only’. It is the only Suffolk village I know of – yet – which is officially only accessible to the public on foot.
24/6/2018 Just in time for the summer solstice, I spotted my first field scabious of the year on the wide field verge at The Hobbets. This is a flower that takes me instantly back to childhood, to bike rides and walks with my father, and to the look of glee on his face when he would ask us the name of the flower. Though he tested us on many flowers, trees, butterflies and birds, for some reason it is this flower that sticks in my memory. I think it must have been the one he tested us on most frequently; perhaps because we were bad students and kept forgetting its identity, or perhaps because he particularly loved it. And, judging by the way he said it, I suspect he also delighted in the sound of its name.
These associations along with its beauty and popularity with bumblebees mean that I have inherited his love for the field scabious. But now I have become aware that this explanation barely touches on the truth.
The truth is that I look at the field scabious and I see my father. Loving the flower is almost indistinguishable from loving him. Realisation has come late, but what a wonderful and comforting thing it is to understand, finally, that I can find my father in a flower.
21/6/2018 I am so late with my last two spring treasures that they have spilled over into summer. I mustn’t use this as an excuse to abandon them though; they have been flitting around in my head, even if they have not alighted until now.
I thought pyramidal orchids would be my choice of penultimate spring treasure. They grow in my wildflower meadow – though I have only found one so far this year – and there is a forest of them at the Hobbets. In the end, however, I realised it isn’t just the orchids I love, it is their context: the sheer abundance of them at the Hobbets amongst the oxeye daisies, meadow vetchling and black medick. What’s more, there isn’t just one species of orchid there, but two. At first I thought they were a variation of the pyramidal orchid – which is known to range in colour from pale pink to deep pink-purple – but now I know better. They are marsh orchids. To my shame, I haven’t yet identified which type of marsh orchid they are, but I will make the time this very week and take along my plant identification guide.
18/6/2018 It has been a good spring, despite its late arrival. After a wet and boggy start, leaving everyone desperate for sunshine, its end is dry and sunny, leaving everyone (with a garden) desperate for rain. Some rain would indeed be welcome, but guests, creatures and I are having no trouble at all appreciating the good weather…
This season has had many highlights. To mention just a few, we have welcomed four new cuddly ratties (Badger’s relatives) and four new chickens, who have settled in well and are laying beautiful eggs. There were one or two adventures at the start due to my forgetting to have their wings clipped before I brought them home. It took me nearly two days and a fair bit of neighbourly detective work to track down one of the girls who had made her way to someone’s garden down the road after the goats frightened her over the shed roof…
I also had a friend to stay last week for a two-and-a-half day intensive gardening session. In that time we managed to transform a cage full of weeds back into a fruit cage and raised beds planted with courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, kale and tomatoes. I still have to check regularly to make sure I’m not imagining it! Thank you to my friend Gina for all her hard work and weeding enthusiasm.