Do you remember, a few weeks ago, we were talking about Sweet Chestnuts and how Dr Edward Bach thought that the flowers were a handy thing, for someone who felt seriously – and I mean seriously depressed, to have around? Well, if you look at the picture, you can see the new nut and the remains of the flower, so everything in our tree seems to be working properly. The Romans planted the trees all over southern Britain, but they don’t do so well father north (except for the one growing in a hedge, along the margin of a field, just up the road from me). This made it difficult to have a decent battle round here. You see, you need a good bowlful of sweet chestnut porridge before you feel up to taking on a screaming horde.
We had quite a few Roman Legions around here – when they were the in thing – so the Roman quartermaster was constantly filling out long, involved requisitions (in Latin, naturally) explaining why he needed yet another delivery of sweet chestnuts.
The trouble was, those Brittunculi (or ‘wretched little Britons’) tended to go more for mead – made from honey collected by bees from the heather – as a pre-battle pick-me-up. The bees seemed to be totally unimpressed by the might of the Roman Empire and brazenly collected their loads of pollen with a complete lack of discrimination.
You can imagine how frustrating this must have been for the Roman generals – knowing that every bee that flew past was bringing comfort to the enemy. It’s no wonder they built Hadrian’s Wall, is it? I’m sure the bees soon learned to use the gates.
Seen from a distance, or perhaps glimpsed for a moment, her beauty is striking. If, in her youth, she had been a trifle more demure, or a little coy, she night have been called a rose. But she had never been either. She did not so much flaunt her beauty – more, she was fully aware of her charm and totally confident in herself. She did not try to impress she expected to impress, no, she didn’t expect to impress – she knew she would impress – her confidence never failed her. She strutted, convinced of her own uniqueness, through her life. So they called her Peacock.
Time, bolstered by the inviolability of her worth, has not taken away the foundation of her beauty. The line, the curve, all still survive. But now, what had been hidden and only hinted at, is in more open evidence. In another, this nakedness would have been an embarrassment both personally and to the world around her, but Peacock wears her age as she wore her youth, with supreme confidence. If it were possible, it might be said that the wisdom of age has brought her more of all she has always had in abundance.
As in her youth so in old age – she has no time for Time.
Have you ever arranged to transport someone to somewhere? You work backwards from the optimum time of arrival at their destination, say for instance the airport, taking into account the last boarding time. You factor in the number of seats available on the aircraft and calculate from this the likely length of the baggage queue. Next up for consideration is the distance from the car parking area to the airport concourse and the likelihood of there being a luggage trolley either, in close proximity to the only parking space left, or in a much more inconvenient position.
The distance to be driven is, of course, easy to calculate, but the traffic density varies depending on the time of day. If the journey is of considerable duration you may start out in light driving conditions but the latter part of the drive may consume the major portion of the allotted time. These are issues best resolved in a group discussion, not only for the application of multiple intellects to the problem, but also as a confidence builder, allowing our travellers to feel a part of the planning process. Having agreed this carefully calculated start time, when you arrive, on the appointed day, five minutes early, you find that they have been up since five o’ clock and have been sitting, ready to go, for the last four hours.
I was looking for a hazelnut to show you today, I found these instead. Hazel catkins aren’t due until Spring next year. Why are they sitting – with their bags packed, ready – here, by the front door, now?
I was thinking that this week, when I showed you this picture of a small tortoiseshell butterfly sitting in a butterfly bush, I would be able to tell you all about the caterpillars – who love nothing better than to munch their way through a patch of nettles.
Then, I thought I would draw your attention, through a tasteful and finely constructed phrase, to the gorgeous, deep colour of the flower. We had bushes with paler flowers earlier in the year and now they seem to be flowering again – but with much more definite colours.
But, now I come to the place in the tale where it is no longer possible to delay the awful moment. I have to choose which spelling of the plants common name to use.
Our critical senses have become totally numb, a simple ‘f” (or even a ‘ff’) sound becomes ‘ough’, ‘ort’ becomes ‘ought’ and ‘w’s and ‘k’s are splattered through written language with gay abandon – and complete lack of any logic, or even just the smallest touch of common sense. You will notice that I have forborne to mention the garden gnomes who, hopefully, have taken this opportunity to pack up and go off to do a little fishing.
Surely, but surely, this has all gone far enough. Buddleia? Buddleja? Pul-eeze!
OK. So, I can’t claim deep anguish, or that life is so burdensome that the future is bleak and lustreless. If I could, then it would be perfect. You see, today’s picture is of the flowers of the Sweet Chestnut tree. Dr Edward Bach, who we mention here from time to time, produced a flower essence from these blooms, but then Dr Bach lived in southern England and the sweet chestnuts grow well down there.
Up here in the north, the sweet chestnut tree is a bit of an oddity. We know its make and model number because, last autumn we collected several large spiky seed cases from this very tree and, not without a certain amount of personal damage – the spikes are very sharp, we prized the shells open to reveal the seeds.
At this point, had we been Roman soldiers and had we been about to go into battle, we would have made porridge from them. We gathered three spiky nut cases, which revealed a total of six small nuts. Not enough porridge for a real battle but perhaps enough for a heated argument.
We’ve been keeping an eye on these catkins as we trundle backwards and forwards on our daily amble. We were hoping that they would, well – flower. But today when we paused to inspect the tree – there where no flowers visible at all.
So it looks like that was it then.
Cherry ripe. Cherry ripe. Well, perhaps not yet.
I thought, that as I had let you in at the beginning – remember, we had a picture of the cherry blossom just before it flowered, heralding in the pollen season – I ought to show the fruits of your patience. Unfortunately, not only are they not quite ripe but these particular fruit are high in the tree, well out of easy reach.
Last year we collected half a dozen low hanging fruit and put them in a jar with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. We also added a covering of brandy, purely for its preservative qualities, of course. We had in mind an autumn treat, with possibly meringue and a few spoonfuls of ice cream – just to keep the cherries from scraping on the bowl.
Life, however, intervened. Have you noticed, it does this often. I think it begins to feel that it’s being ignored and it has to do something dramatic, just to get our attention. I wish it would just cough or clear its throat discretely instead – then we would glance its way and make an effort to include it in the conversation.
Anyway, as I was saying, last year popped in for a quick chat and then hurried off, muttering ‘I must get on!’ and, in all the hustle and bustle, we forgot about the jar of cherries.
Do you think they’re still edible or do you think they’ve gone rotten?
The verge, on the road down to the beck, is quite broad on one side. Once again this year, a huge bank of Rose Bay Willow Herb has appear out of nowhere. What, over winter, had become almost bare ground, with a few wisps of grass here and there, is now a bank of plants three or four feet high.
Google knows a great deal about Rose Bay Willow Herb. As with most of the information on the Internet, many of the sources are contradictory – but all of them are very authoritative. I thought I’d pass on a selection of the wisdom of the world so you could pick out the pieces that appeal to you.
One option is that this is a native of North America. It was brought over to Europe as a garden plant, escaped and made itself at home. Next, we have it as a native of the Russian tundra. Here, they have been using the leaves to make tea and fermenting the pith of the stems to make beer for ever. Then, there’s the opinion that it was known here, in the north of England, before its supposed importation – but was considered very rare.
This is an amazing plant – most of it is edible or drinkable, it can be used medicinally to cure a range of ills – from typhoid to nappy rash, and it grows in huge banks of glorious purple in summer and the leaves turn a fiery red in autumn.
And what do we do with this, natures bountiful largess?