We’re lucky enough not only to live in the country but to live on a lane where the only traffic is a few tractors or on a busy farming day, huge farm machinery. As that only happens on a handful of days a year the rest of the time the lane is a peaceful place to walk the dog and enjoy nature at its very best. The hedgerows are of particular interest to me as in these days of clearing everything in the name of progress they stand out. As I walked along last week I took a few photos of the plants growing on each side of me. Such a fine selection there was too. I know they are mostly what we called weeds and I suppose I’m a hypocrite in some ways as I dig them out of my own flowerbeds but here on the lane I can appreciate their individual beauty especially up close.
As a child I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who were interested and knowledgable about plants and gardening. Both my parents and my aunt and uncle were avid gardeners and all four had a deep appreciation for nature. I often went for walks with my Dad in the early morning and he would point out wild flowers and different plants as we walked the land. My father was a butcher and a farmer and fattened his own cattle. As we walked accross a field he would point to clover or wild sorrel growing in amongst the grass and proudly proclaim he had never added anything to the soil apart from cow dung.
We would walk the lane to his farm which and he would point out primroses, violets, cowslips and lady’s fingers. One of my favourite memories is of vetch or wild pea which in mid summer would ripen and yield a small hard black pea with a really strong taste. We would pick the wild sorrel and chew it as we followed the track made by the cattle that meandered accross his largest field. Another favourite time of year was late summer or mushroom season as we competed to see who could collect the most mushrooms. Dad would pick a long piece of grass with a seed head and thread it through the mushroom stems to carry them home.
My mother would pick dandelion leaves and add them to our nightly summer salad telling us they were full of iron. My father would carefully pick them out and toss them onto her plate telling her she was the one that needed it most. She experimented with nettle soup which was delicious and to this day I’m always delighted to find the cure for a nettle sting generally growing right beside it in the form of a dock leaf. Although the nettle stings hurt the fun of finding a huge dock leaf and rubbing the offending area until your skin went green almost made up for it. She made white wine from elderflowers in summer and red wine from elderberries in the autumn. I now look forward every year to gathering huge handfuls of elderflowers to make the more innocuous elderflower cordial. We scoured the hedges in late summer for blackberries and I have the fondest of memories of going blackberrying with my Uncle John on a summers evening in the fields behind his house. In later years when I was working he faithfully gathered blackberries for me every august and froze them until I could come to collect them. We gathered rose hips by the bag load to send to Africa. I was motivated to help as I felt sorry for people in a faraway land having to eat rose hips. It was only many years later I discovered in fact the rose hips were high in Vit C and used to make a syrup to help children in a famine ravaged world. Every year when I see the wild roses growing and later in the year the bright red hips form I think of all the ditches I was sent into as a child. These snapshots in time stand out for me and I enjoy reminiscing as I take my daily wander on the lane.
On my walk last week although its too early for the mushrooms or the blackberries there was a lot in bloom and a lot of interest and I enjoyed thoroughly the trip down memory lane as well as our own lane.