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.
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.
4/6/2018 Almost two years ago I wrote of a sound that I associated with childhood summers in Suffolk, but that was now missing from my garden: the purring song of the turtle dove. I read, then, that their numbers had decreased by more than 90% since the 1960s; now, I have found a figure of 93% since 1994 . Forgetting momentarily that these are migrating birds that spend their winters in Africa, I thought it was yet another indication of the devastating effects of the changes in our farming practices in the last half century. These may have caused some of their problems, but clearly they are not the whole picture.
I have been listening out for the turtle dove ever since I became aware of its absence. Every time I thought I might have heard one and stopped to listen, I realised it was actually a wood pigeon: they also ‘purr’ sometimes, in addition to their usual cooing song.
Last year I may have seen a juvenile turtle dove. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I did eliminate every other possible dove or pigeon from my enquiries. It was too far away to photograph, but I spent a long time examining it through binoculars and comparing it with photographs, and it seemed the only likely candidate. I didn’t hear any though, and adults are usually only heard, not seen.
It was my first church outing since my Badley concert the previous Sunday, and I was feeling achy – probably more from my week’s gardening efforts than any residual concert tiredness – but I went out for the day with the aim of ‘tinkering’: it felt like a pleasant change to be able simply to have a quick play through a few pieces that I would be preparing over the coming months, in order to establish what needed most work, rather than having to sit down with the intention of practising seriously in each church. It also meant I could enjoy more church visits with rather less effort than in recent weeks.
St Mary’s, Earl Stonham
Outdoor temperature: 22˚C; indoor temperature 13.8˚C, humidity 61% Read more
31/5/2018 I have resorted to partial cheating again. May possesses so many treasures that I could only get round to writing about a few of them, a problem that was exacerbated by the late arrival of so much that ordinarily belongs to late winter and early spring. But then growth and flowering caught up, and many weeks of flowers and blossom were condensed into just a few. This year there were barely two weeks, instead of two months, between the last of the blackthorn blossom and the first of the hawthorn; a very strange state of affairs.
May isn’t only the month of cow parsley, but also of wisteria, laburnum, wild garlic and bluebell woods, all of which I love. Due to bad weather, time constraints and timing misjudgments, I didn’t make the most of the woods this year. Bull’s Wood is my favourite place to go for oxlips in late April and wild garlic from April to early May, but despite my good intentions, I didn’t manage to get there. Bluebell woods are to be found in many places in Suffolk: Priestley Wood in Barking, Captain’s Wood in Sudbourne and Dollops Wood in Polstead (photo right), to name just a few. This year I went to Dollops Wood, but I forgot that my garden’s seasons are usually at least a week or two behind everywhere else. My bluebells were at their peak, so I thought I would be in time to catch them in the woods, but as soon as I arrived I realised they were on their way out. There were still enough flowers for me to enjoy them, but the blue haze would have been far more luminous a week earlier.
St Peter’s, Nowton
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature: 14.8˚C, humidity 66% It is rare that a church visit makes me cross – at least, if I manage to get inside. Nowton did, however. It reminded me of my potential for extreme irritability with both locked churches and stained glass.
23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.
I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.