And one for the road


Sunday 21st July

Woke up on the campsite this morning to find most of our neighbours gone, leaving an uninterrupted line of site to the wireless transmitter and a full signal. “Wonderful”, I thought, “I’ll be able to post today” But it didn’t last long – when we got back after today’s walk a whole line of lunking great motorhomes stood between us and the aerial – how on earth they imagine they can manoeuvre these behemoths around the narrow lanes without causing chaos baffles me. Yesterday our bus had to reverse 100 yards back down a steep hill and three blind corners because an oncoming car driver was either unwilling or unable to reverse. Pembrokeshire run a brilliant and cheap shuttle service around the peninsula and yet many people still drive here for the boat trips assuming there will be somewhere to park when they get here. Seeing the first and the second car parks full they invariably push on in the Trumpian hope that there ought to be a place. Eventually they reach a locked gate and the belated realization that you can’t make a an ‘ought’ into an ‘is’, and the lane near the gate turns into the purse net full of panicking trippers realising they’re going to miss their £60 adventure. Ah well, it’s fun to watch, and – for the record – our van, Polly, is the size of a transit – plenty big enough for us – and we park it and then, for however long we’re here, we walk or catch the bus.

Anyway, the days are falling into a kind of pattern and after a leisurely morning’s reading we generally wander off for another walk down one or another of the footpaths that lead eventually to the coast path. It doesn’t matter a bit that it’s repetitive because every occasion brings new plants and new things to look at. Today I was wading around in the edges of a bog trying to photograph amongst complicated mixture of Watercress, Hemlock Water Dropwort and Brookweed when I heard the loud sound of a dragonfly which, because I was standing very still, flew between me and my subjects about a foot from my nose. I lost sight of it for a moment but the noise continued – it was a big female Golden Ringed dragonfly over three inches long and with a wingspan not much less and then I was able to see it hovering vertically, head up, probing and testing the surface of the mud with its ovipositor until it found the right spot and then presumably laid its eggs barely three feet away. I watched, amazed, until it finished and flew off. The photos became a sideshow to a sight very few people will have witnessed for no other reason that I was crouching there quietly at just the right moment. Sadly the quality of the photograph was somewhat compromised by my distraction. Then, moments later I watched a pair of large white butterflies mating, the female much larger than the male; I guess it was my lucky day. In fact the hedges were alive with butterflies as we walked, and a little further on as we passed a pool the air was full of dazzling damselflies.

Elsewhere I returned to the Comfrey plant I’d logged two days ago because I wasn’t completely sure I’d identified it correctly and my doubts were confirmed as it was Russian Comfrey and not the native variety I’d logged – it’s all about attention to detail – and double, even triple checking. As we walked I was checking off more new discoveries and confirming old ones. It’s amazing how once you’ve identified a plant, you begin to see it everywhere. Today included a hands and knees search in the grass for some shy plants that I spotted when I was tying my boot laces. It’s amazing how much a change of viewpoint can throw up. When we eventually got to the café at Porthclais I did a quick count and once we got home and I’d identified a couple of grasses and some more photos I was astounded to have reached over 150 with another day left.

Returning to the beach at Porthlysgi bay, the children had all gone and it was quiet once again. I prowled around the margins to double check some of Thursday’s plants and found a group of Rock Sea Spurry clinging to life on a collapsing wall of mud alongside a similarly impoverished group of Hartshorne Plantain. On the other side of the bay the same plants were doing much better with some shelter from the prevailing winds,

And after a cup of tea at  Porthclaes, we caught the bus back to the campsite – this time driven by a much more sedate driver who kept the radio a good deal quieter.

By late evening it was drizzling and the South Westerly wind was getting up towards gale force so we battened down hoping for a better day, but after an eceptionally rough night we woke up to more glowering mist and rain and so we decided to cut our losses 24 hours early and drive back to Bath.

Monday 22nd July

Packing up the van has developed into a kind of silent duet because we’ve done it so often.  I remember someone telling me that submariners are obsessively tidy because they have so little space, and that pretty much fits the bill for living in a smallish campervan. It usually falls to me to empty the cludger and, trust me if you let it get too full it’s a nightmare to lug down to what’s euphemistically called the ‘chemical disposal point’, so we (I) have a strict routine to keep it simple.  On many campsites the CDP is a more or less separate building with all manner of facilities to make an unpleasant job as quick and easy as possible.  Not so here – it’s a manhole cover with ‘CP’ daubed on it in white paint. As I was strolling down I met our neighbour – the one in the twelve bedroomed pedestal bedded and complete with washing machine (no kidding), obliterator of all wifi signals, pantechnicon. Not that I ever judge a man by the size of his motorhome! Seeing that I was carrying the cludger he accosted me.  He was in full peacock glory with his permatan and much toned face, shorts and expensive trainers – the kind not made for running –  and damselfly blue reflective sunglasses moored on top of his head.  “Where do you take the stuff mate? ” he said in a slightly saaf London accent.  “Stuff”? – I thought to myself  …. are we talking ordure? sewage? night soil? crap? I explained the technicalities of lifting the manhole cover, ensuring that your mobile was not in your top pocket, tipping the “stuff” in and returning to the palace triumphantly dragging your empty elk behind you. I thought he’d probably get his wife to do it.

On my way back I spotted another plant.  Discarding my (smaller) elk for a moment I got down and had a proper investigatory look. It was – is – a Broomrape. I think that makes 154. Sadly no phone (for aforementioned reasons) so no photographs.  The identification stops there because they’re a complicated group of plants that need more time and much more expertise than I possess.

Home then in blisteringly humid conditions on a busy motorway, breathing fumes and being part of the problem rather than the solution.

Field trip? Well, we’re in a field

But the photo was taken yesterday and today, as I write this, it’s raining, Ramsey Island has disappeared into the mist, the St David’s lifeboat just launched and I hope no-one’s in trouble out there because the sea is fierce in a brisk SW wind.

The idea was to take a break from the allotment, and so we watered thoroughly on Sunday afternoon and set out first thing Monday morning to come to the most westerly point in Wales. I’ve got bit of a thing about West.  I’ll compromise with Devon and Cornwall which are South West, but North and East don’t do it for me. This is a favourite campsite, not least because the wildlife is so rich. In fact the gauntlet was thrown down as we parked when I spotted a whole group of Woundworts growing three feet away. I’ve still yet to find Betony, and yet the plants in question shared the leaf shape but that made it most likely taht they were/are Marsh Woundwort.  It’s taken 48 hours to establish that this apparently dry hedgerow is actually quite wet at times, wet enough to support several specialist plants.

I’ll just check out the plants in front of the van.

IMG_5751.jpgThe road to hell being paved with good intentions I thought I’d make a start with the grasses – principally because I’m not very good at them and since they’re ubiquitous it would immediately up my success rate.  This is one everyone will recognise – it’s the grass that you pull the seeds off between thumb and finger when you’re a child, and it’s called False Oat Grass – Arrhenatherum elatius – and when I pulled a bit up because I was curious about how it spreads I discovered these beautiful bulbules at the root. Of course five grasses in and my appetite was well and truly whetted and so I started listing all the plants in the hedge – which brought it up to 32 before Madame threatened to throttle me.

Since it was raining when we got up, I was searching out my waterproof jacket to pack, and I discovered my favourite pen inside the lining.  I lost it three weeks ago and it’s been bugging me. Quick confession time, my obsessive traits don’t end with gardening and botany.  I’ve also had a lifelong thing about stationery and I reckon I have the perfect tools for field botany, bird/butterfly watching, and shopping lists. The pen is called a Space Pen – designed for US astronauts, and writes upside down in rain or snow and at any temperature.  It even writes underwater.  The notebook is another American invention called “Rite in the rain” and I particularly like the 973T size and the combination means I can take notes at any time regardless of the weather.

And so today when we went for a walk I had a bit of a spring in my step and managed to get the total number of identified plants up to over sixty.  It might go up or down when I finish double checking tomorrow – I had no idea there was more than one Hedge Bindweed because I’ve never really looked at them that closely before.  I have to go back and check whether the epicalyx overlaps ……. I told you I was obsessive.  Back at the van I double checked and then filled in a County record card for the first time in my life. There are probably over a thousand plants this county, but to have found 6% of them in one day feels like an achievement.

I didn’t photograph what, for me, was the highlight of the day – a very small pink umbel of Upright Hedge Parsley peeping through the gorse, neither the Smith’s Pepperwort which I’d never even heard of, but I like the mundane just as much.  Here’s some Water Mint and, on the right, part of an enormous flock of sheep a farmer was moving to another field. He had three dogs working and he simply put them into the field and let them gather the sheep and and take them into a lane without uttering a single command. It was magical to watch, just as it was thrilling to see Cormorants diving in Ramsey Sound. The sky has finally cleared and the sun is dazzling across the water.

Potwell Inn – the return!


Sadly our week in Cornwall is almost over. We’ve walked somewhere in the region of thirty miles, identified no end of new plants (to us) including one (subject to the opinion of the County Recorder) that isn’t on the vice-county list. I’ve slept with a bunch of Mugwort next to my nose, in pursuit of lucid dreams – I certainly slept well, but I would need to talk to my analyst about their lucidity.

We’ve found moths, butterflies and birds that we’d not seen before and I managed to keep the blog going without an internet connection at the price of my entire data allowance. Life is good then.

I mentioned the multi sensory nature of field botany previously, but didn’t really explain what I meant by it.

The visual is obviously top of the list because we normally see things before we do anything else. Colours draw our attention as does anything unusually tall.

But touch too is diagnostic- today I was distinguishing between three kinds of Cleavers – Goose Grass or whatever. Proper Cleavers has rough stalks whereas the other two didn’t. Of the others, one was white flowered and the other yellow flowered, so that’s probably Hedge Bedstraw and Lady’s Bedstraw respectively. Square stalks too can point you in the right direction.

Smell – well try Hedge Woundwort for starters. Hemlock has a ‘mousy’ smell, dill, fennel, Ground Ivy, Mint, Elderflower- and many more – all easily identifiable when you crush the leaves or flowers in your fingers and smell them.

Taste – well yes – I’ll often taste things as long as I’m quite sure they’re not poisonous. It’s not always pleasant but you can often place a plant in the right family by taste.

Finally there’s sound. Try Yellow Rattle, for instance. OK after that I’m a bit stumped for sound, but you get my point I hope, identifying plants means pressing all the senses into service.

Why is this important? Well it seems to me we’re in a race to preserve not just rare species but the ordinary everyday ones as well, and unless we can know and name them they’ll slip away and we’ll lose a great chunk of our culture. As Robert Macfarlane argues, if we lose the names, the words, the properties, we lose bits of ourselves and we are impoverished.

Who on earth would actually want to be the last person to see a Barn Owl flying silently, low along a hedge in the twilight? How could you teach Hopkins’ poem ‘Windhover’ to children who had never seen a kestrel? and how ‘Kes’ for that matter. How the novels of Henry Williamson – notwithstanding his abhorrent political views? How Ezra Pound to anyone who has never seen an olive tree (same reservations!).

How Elgar to someone who never heard a lark sing? Now I’m getting emotional!

The New Testament word for “daily bread” is untranslatable because it doesn’t occur anywhere else but I’d argue that ‘epiousios’ means more than bread, however San Francisco and right-on sourdough! Perhaps it means something more like the everyday, around and about us things that give us meaning, nourish us culturally not just by maintaining our body. The plants, the birds, fishes, animals and the weather sustain us in ways we can barely understand. That’s it! end of lecture and back up the M5 to see the allotment in the morning.



Furbelow Mugwort and Pellitory.


One of the best ‘Old School’ solicitors in the country.

– in my inflamed imagination, but in reality just three bits of the day joined up because I love the names so much. Furbelows is a species of seaweed, mugwort I’ll come to in a minute and Pellitory of the wall because I only I/D’d it yesterday and today it was everywhere down the green lane from Gerrans though the Rosteague Estate.


The first photo shows it doing what it’s meant to do according to its name – grow on a wall – but the second photo shows enough of it growing below the wall to provide for the urinary problems of a small village – it is, you see, a medicinal herb, which is a good thing because it would never live by its looks.


So for the first time in my life I gathered a very small quantity of the herb to take home and turn into a healing tea. Then, seeing myself as something of a Gandalf I went mad and gathered a bunch of Mugwort as well. If things go on as they are, hedgerow medicine may be the only show in town if you can’t afford private care.

I had privately determined to try these nostrums first on myself, but Madame has been incredibly supportive. We are surrounded not simply by abstract beauty – whatever that might be – but by meaning. Intensively farmed food has lost much of its nutritional value over the past decades, and yet we are surrounded (where it still survives) by the means of alleviating those deficiencies.

It seems to me that knowing, naming and understanding plants and the natural world is the first step to embracing a new and less exploitative way of living. Today I identified a red bartsia plant. It was there all the time but until I knew it’s name it didn’t exist for me.

As we walked up the lane after an hour on the beach (where I photographed the furbelows – blown onshore by last week’s fierce storm winds) – I was gathering some seeds from alexanders, cow parsley, and hogweed, I’ll post the macro photos when we get back, and I was struck by how little I’d seen before I started to look. They are all absolutely beautiful and absolutely different. To walk down the lane between, say, February and July, you might think nothing had changed and yet even during that brief period three different species had grown, flowered and died. The hedgerow is a highly dynamic and ever changing theatre, free to all. There’s only one word for it and that’s Glory.

From left to right – Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Alexanders
This is a hoverfly of the genus Syrphus but without a microscope it’s hard to tell which species.



Mirror mirror on the wall …


In the case of the five spot burnet moth versus spear thistles I’m not sure I could choose. The first sight of the moths was a carmine red blur of wings supporting the black body. I’d love to know how they make such large wing structures move so fast – that’s two moths in succession with this mesmerising and exceptional gift. but the sheer structural beauty of the spear thistles is pretty mind blowing as well.

The common blue butterfly was obligingly still for me. 90% of the time I take photos with my phone, and that means stalking and getting well within my quarry’s comfort zone. Most butterflies will take exception even to a shadow, let alone my clumsy great body looming over them, and so you have to do a rapid mental list of the attributes to fill in the gaps left by a poor photo.

This, of course, is why my photos are so biased towards the more cooperative subjects like plants – because they stay still. As I reviewed the pictures I was thinking, why on earth spend all that energy and money on safaris when you can find all this right where you are?

Both burnets and common blues feed (we’re told) on birds foot trefoil and its close relatives. The field we spotted both in was full of trefoils and yet both were feeding (don’t like the word ‘nectaring’ it sounds a bit red lipped and over-excited) so both were feeding on the spear thistles. Just goes to show that creatures don’t read textbooks. That’s twice recently I’ve found things where they’re not meant to be and discovered that there’s no such thing as never in the natural world. ‘Normally’ is much less authoritarian but allows amateurs like me to think in terms of probabilities rather than absolutes.

img_5644Being slightly obsessive I caught myself naming plants – with their Latin names if I knew them – as we walked down to the village today. Thank goodness no-one can hear the conversation in my head – if they could I’d have been locked up years ago!

Just to finish, here’s why a bit of botanising can be such fun. If you’re out for a walk on an earth or grass track and you spot this plant – Matricaria discoidea – like Plantain it doesn’t seem to mind being regularly trodden on – pick one of the yellow flowers and rub it between your fingers and then smell it. Now you know why the English common name is pineapple weed – one for the children! Field botany is such a multi sensory activity.

So did we? Or didn’t we?

There are two very different ways of going out after plants. The first is to go for a wander and stop whenever you see something you don’t recognise. The second is to go out after one or two specific plants, which is a strategy that often results in disappointment.

This week has been a sort of field trip in search of medicinal herbs, and so that narrows the field down quite a bit. The Holy Grail – well, that’s overstating it a bit – but the plant I most wanted to find was Stachys officinalis – Betony. It’s a close relative of the Woundworts. Its cousins, Hedge Woundwort and Marsh Woundwort both grow around here. The problem is that the Vice County list doesn’t show Betony as growing in this part of Cornwall, although the floras aren’t nearly so certain it’s not here.

But before we get to that, I have to say that Madame has the most remarkable gift of pointing out promising plants. So today we walked the length of Porth Creek down to the ferry and then back via Bohortha accompanied for part of the way by quite the noisiest couple of walkers we’ve heard in years. They were so noisy I thought they were at least two families with children following us, but no- they were just two women with a lot to catch up on. Generally we walk in silence, for no other reason than the fact that we’re usually immersed in our own thoughts. On the way we found wild strawberries, pale flax which looked wonderful in profusion in a meadow, common mallow (a medicinal herb), sheepsbit, rest-harrow and loads of nipplewort and – of course- all the Stachys I wasn’t looking for. Then just as we were about finished Madame pointed to the one I was looking for down towards the cliff top. img_5629It was much shorter than I had imagined, but the upper leaves were unmistakable. But was it the real deal? – there’s a hybrid but without Stace (the bible) I can’t be sure. Then, just to cap a lovely walk we spotted pellitory of the wall hiding behind a gatepost. That’s another two medicinal biggies and then at the last moment a Silver Y moth on the roadside.

How does a respectable sceptic find a word for blessed except – we’ll – blessed?

And so some photos  – now edited after arriving home


Some old friends

Hedge Woundwort – Stachys silvatica
Fox and Cubs –


As I wrote on Tuesday, we’re here to see some old friends and these are two of them. Field botany is an odd pursuit because you never forget where you first properly identified something. In my case it’s a bit sadder because I can’t resist the temptation to see if they’re still there.

There is actually a non botanical link between the two plants because I found the second – Pilosella aurantiaca – Fox and Cubs, in search of the first, Stachys sylvatica – Hedge Woundwort about three years ago, when I identified the Woundwort and went back to double check. Naturally I couldn’t find it again but stumbled on Fox and Cubs on the village green in Portscatho as I wandered disconsolately back to the van. Like most of my favourite plants it’s not remotely rare but I’d never seen it before. It’s a lovely flower except when, like today, it’s been mown off by an overzealous person who thinks anything except grass is untidy.

The Hedge Woundwort was my actual quarry today because I was looking specifically for plants used for healing.

So today, without really trying we passed Selfheal, Cleavers, Ribwort Plantain, Dandelion, Blackberry and Foxglove. There were probably many more lurking in the background, but Madame was fixed upon hearing a Curlew again – one of the most lovely sounds on the Percuil River. Sadly none were to be heard but when we got back to the campervan we could hear one calling in the distance. Honour was therefore satisfied.


Still in love with Cornwall

Cornwall’s easy to love and easy to hate as well – overcrowded and over exploited in summer and yet in spring and early summer and again in the autumn it offers more moments of pure joy than any other place I know.

There was a fierce east wind gusting at nearly 60mph overnight, and although it moderated through the day it was one to tie the hat on tight. Curiously the wind was not at all cold, having come up from Southern Europe and taken a turn westwards.

We walked east towards Dodman Point and as ever I was looking out for plants. Is it weird to experience such a leap of the heart when you see something you recognise and can name? So wiping a tear from my eye (I’m exaggerating just a bit) my two plants of the day were wild carrot, looking stunning in pink and white. This plant looks lovely even in death, when the umbels form little dry cages like lobster creels. But the star of the show was undoubtedly the clump of agrimony in full flower on the cliff top. A herb with a history of use in healing, but not something I’ve seen very often. There’s a dilemma in gathering herbs for medicine and that’s the fact that so many of them are disappearing from the landscape. I don’t think I could ever think of gathering agrimony, for instance. But we’re growing some useful herbs in the allotment and I’m quite exited at the prospect of making use of them. It all points to increasing diversity at home in order to build up rather than deplete the wild population.

We felt uniquely privileged to be able to walk along the cliff top today. It’s fifty years since we lived here for a year and fell in love with the place, and I think we both experienced a rather strange sense that the long gap in time had been bridged and in spite of our knackered knees we were in our twenties again.

[and in a late addendum I remembered that we saw two hummingbird hawkmoths working some valerian in Portscatho – never seen one before, but they were unmistakable – we’ll go back tomorrow and try to take a photo.]


The Pale Rider of the flower beds


This is a white crab spider – I’ve never seen one before and neither had the gardener at Rosemoor who found it. I think it’s not so much rare as difficult to see, since it’s a bit of a pirate, ambushing its prey by sitting on a white flower and blending in until the unfortunate victim alights and gets more than it bargained for. If I’ve got the ID wrong blame me and not the gardener, I just googled “white UK spiders” and came up with this elegant assassin.

IMG_5498So our first day at Rosemoor was not nearly as wet as the forecast promised, although we kept our waterproofs on all day.  Last night’s rain was prolonged and heavy so we weren’t taking any chances. Our main interest was in the vegetable gardens because I wanted to find someone who could help us to understand what happened to our onions this year.  So I trailed around with the pictures on my mobile, accosting gardeners and largely discovering that they were no wiser than we were.  Aphids were mentioned, as were all the usual suspects – flies, fungi and eelworm, but none quite fitted the bill. In the end Madame suggested that it could have been that the sets, which arrived early and had to be stored for ages, had simply deteriorated before we planted them out.  The idea made sense to both of us, although it would mean that almost everyone else on the allotment site stored them badly as well. Anyway we’re getting an email address for a free ID service for members and I’ll send off the photos to see if there are any more suggestions.

As ever there were some wonderful things to look at – alliums were everywhere, as befits their recent ‘must have’ status; and as wide a range of plants as you could hope to see, but I’ll never be a gardener in the Gertrude Jekyll sense.  Notwithstanding the efforts to make borders and beds look “natural”, there couldn’t be anything less natural than this kind of English garden, absolutely stuffed with non natives and hybrids it reminded me of the way the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford used to be, apart from the fact that the labelling is a lot better. Two large tulip trees were still in flower, the photo on the right above is pretty much real size, and very spectacular they are.

I think the biggest question I came away with centred on the idea of nature. I have to confess right now that I’m a bit of a fundamentalist, and it’s not something I feel particularly happy about but my default position is that the less human intervention there has been, the better I like it. I can see a million reasons why that’s an unhelpful mindset because if anything is dynamic and ever-changing it’s the natural world and there’s no point in railing against Himalayan balsam, for instance because it’s here for good.

Much of the area occupied by Rosemoor is a relatively recent (1989) addition to the older gardens and involved digging out 13,000 tons of heavy clay and redistributing it around the gardens to achieve level beds.  That’s a lot of dirt being turned over and moved around, enough to keep a ‘no-digger’ awake for a week. So you just have to accept that this is a blank canvas garden of the kind beloved by hard landscape contractors, big flower shows and TV gardening programmes.

And I think I just have to accept that gardens like this are showcases where you can go and look at national collections of your favourite plants, and exquisite displays of plants from all over the world, and I’m sure that if I raised this with the RHS they would say ‘we’re not trying to recreate a natural landscape we’re creating a natural looking one’.

_1080773However, there came a moment when the dilemma became acute for me and that, ironically, was when the garden started to offer something I really wanted to see. There are now some quite large areas of wildflower meadow which I fell upon with joy. There were southern marsh orchids in flower, ragged robin, knapweed, oxeye daisies, umpteen grasses like crested dogs tail and so on, yellow rattle and an unexpected white flower that I don’t think I’ve noticed before which turned out to be Star of Bethlehem – Ornithogalum angustifolium . It was all too good to be true, surely? There, in a patch half the size of a football field, was a collection of plants I’d expect to find one at a time in a day’s search over a much wider range. All this in an area that had been turned over by earthmovers less than 30 years ago. It’s a wonder, a triumph of science and the gardener’s art.  A horticultural Las Vegas in the depths of a Devon valley.  I’ve never seen a better display of plants in a wildflower meadow; it exactly fits our current anxieties about biodiversity, and I don’t suppose the birds, the insects, moths and butterflies that flock to it will give a hoot whether it was there in 1930 . Compared with the usual miserable sowing of ‘wildflower mix’ that developers ususlly throw around their bleak gulags to persuade the planners that they really care about nature, this was xanadu. So why was I troubled? I think a large part of it was my stupid attachment to authenticity – whatever that means – and the truth is, starting from where we are (which is a pretty dreadful starting point) there’s no other show in town except the Las Vegas route, re-creating at great expense and with enormous skill, the flora and fauna of the environment we’ve allowed to decline to the point of no return. There’s no way back to the good old days before we lost nine tenths of our wildflower meadows, because simply abandoning a patch of ground to ‘nature’ can’t possibly succeed.

So my takeaway point is that there’s no cheap way of restoring these habitats.  If we’re serious about restoring them, throwing around a handful of imported and non-native wildflower seed is a dangerous distraction.  It will take time, skill and an abundance of resources.  Notwithstanding my reservations, I think the RHS have cracked it, bless them.

IMG_5512And just one more little joy – they’re developing a new orchard here and it’s dedicated to one of Madame’s old bosses – George Gilbert, a delightful man who probably knew more about apples than anyone else alive. We also saw a plaque in his memory at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, commemorating his contribution to the gardens there. He died in 2007, and took with him a lifetime of experience. His students are a big part of the future if we’re ever to rediscover and recreate the lost varieties of apples, pears and soft fruit, lost to careless agricultural policy, and that’s another star for the RHS who do so much to train the next generation of gardeners with apprenticeships, courses and such like.


Down in Devon in the rain


We’re in Devon in Little Torrington for a couple of days at RHS Rosemoor, but after a sunny drive down, the promised weather closed in and we enjoyed a magnificent thunderstorm coming in from the north west. The last two days have been very exciting and challenging and I’ll probably write more about them tomorrow, but several days of gallery visits, and a wonderful afternoon at one of my old parishes plus some pretty ruthless gardening by Madame have precipitated a good crisis – the origin of the word is a Greek word ‘crino’ –  to choose.  And so yesterday I gave an old friend most of my church music and today I gave away my piano and all my other music. Then I think there are many other books that need to go to the Oxfam shop. I need space and (because I’m pretty ancient) I need to focus on the things I really want/need to do. Time to let go of some precious things so I can focus on even more precious things. Far from being sad about letting these things go, I’m quite exhilarated.

I once met a man on a tram in Lisbon.  In the course of a five minute conversation he told me how he had become very ill and he had given everything – and I mean everything away, and started to travel in faith that things would work out for him.  I’ll never forget the end of the ride when he entreated me to pay attention. He meant it, I remember his eyes and the way he held my hands.

So we’re here in the rain in Devon and I’ve brought the laptop, a camera, three pencils, a notebook and some good paper and we’ll see what happens. Instead of coming down all the way on motorways, we split off and came down the B roads.  Now we really understand the idea of the rolling hills of Devon, but the rivers we crossed were running red with soil, presumably being washed from fields – most likely fields growing maize. The whole soil-wealth of this place seems to be in the process of being washed into the sea.