Well, the plan was to be writing from lovely Lucca to mark the fifth anniversary of La Vita Nuova, but fate has decreed otherwise. Instead, I sit contemplating the garden, and will shortly be going with Him Indoors on a bracing – though of course socially isolated – walk through @CUBotanicGarden . Some sunshine would be nice …

What we’re missing: San Michele in foro at Lucca.

Back in 2015, I was looking forward to a life of leisure with a little light volunteering, lots of travel (especially in my own immediate vicinity, about which I know nothing like enough) and lots of reading and gardening. It hasn’t worked out quite like that, because one of the bits of volunteering led to a part-time job, and that and the other volunteering take up half the week.

My two-days-a-week home from home – though currently the gates are closed.

Then there are the grandchildren, who were not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 2015. There is a rather large ocean between me and my grandson, alas, but the two granddaughters are happily not far away, and a non-stop delight – that is, until they get stroppy, at which point I hand them back. (I’m a great fan of Nigel Molesworth’s grandma, though my preferred tipple isn’t a G&T.) Sadly, of course, I am isolated from them for the time being …

A couple of generations down …

There has been a lot of travel, as diligently recorded in these pages, and a developing love affair with Eurostar, somewhat on hold now – but I’m so grateful that we got to Ghent to see the Van Eyck show before the mist of coronavirus descended.

In Ghent (as opposed to in Brugge).

However, the list of places in the immediate vicinity of home that have not been visited (or not for YEARS) stays long. Sudbury (with Gainsborough’s House), Clare, Norwich, Bury St Edmunds, even Royston, which is hardly a major expedition … It is not much of an excuse, but part of the problem is that I really loathe driving the car these days, and the less I do, the more reluctant I am to do any at all.

However, my current first-world problem is that, having started getting home food deliveries four years ago, after a health problem meant that I couldn’t drive anyway for a bit, I now can’t get a delivery slot for love or money (stop press: I have just managed to secure one for next Monday!). Many kind friends have offered to drop things off: but why should I – not quite seventy yet, hale and hearty (except for my nose), and with five ‘local’-sized supermarkets (which have the inestimable advantage of not being parkable-outside, and thus not susceptible to large-scale pillage) within a few minutes’ walk – impose on said lovely friends, who I believe should prioritise their own anxieties and concerns?

Mantua, where my nose made sharp contact with turf in 2018 and hasn’t really been the same since.

I am set up to work from home (I hope – I’ve practised with the technology, but my next work day isn’t until Monday, at which point the totality of my online incompetence will be revealed to an irritated world), and my dear work colleagues have set up a Whatsapp group: I have to confess I barely know what it is, but it does seem to be a good way of keeping in touch.

This is the sort of technology I can relate to … the proofreaders are in the top row.

So from Monday, at the end of our ‘few days in Italy’, Him Indoors and I will be sitting in the dining room swearing at our respective laptops in (I hope) an atmosphere of socially isolated harmony. (Though another dear friend has offered one of us the use of his (currently empty) flat if the harmony diminishes.)

The great recourse, as far as I’m concerned, in these trying times, is the garden (both my own and the Botanics), and I feel so very sorry for people who have only a balcony, or just windows, or in some cases not even windows. This is absolutely the best time of the year in my garden (largely because, in spite of several years of trying, I’m still not very good at summer colour).

The early tulip ‘Sunny Prince’ along with Windy Miller and a hedgehog, both needing planting out with something.

The real harbinger of spring, my lovely Tulipa turkestanica, is struggling this year, through my own grievous fault: I inadvertently planted an equally lovely Phygelius almost on top of it, and it’s blocking the light – but I see that I should be cutting it back to six inches now, so will now slip off and do so…

T. turkestanica, restored to light.

Clematis ‘Pamela Jackman’.

Magnolia stellata – not many flowers this year, must feed it.

Having snipped satisfactorily, I was standing there noting what else needed doing, when THE SUN CAME OUT!!! So we hastily got our coats on and toddled round to @CUBotanicGarden (for which, by a portentous concatenation, our new season tickets arrived this very morning). The whole Garden was very quiet – a few mothers with prams, a few elderly couples – and as stunning as it always is at this time of year. The gardeners were working away planting out on the chalk scree garden and in the systematic beds; meanwhile the research bed seems to be getting a grass path around it this year.

The research bed in its glory last year.

The view across the Lake.

(One cheerful sighting was of the Director, who has just taken the incredibly generous step of opening the Garden for free from tomorrow, walking round her domain.)

Frogspawn with a light dusting of cherry blossom.

Another reason to be cheerful is the first sight of frogspawn – not in the Fen area or the Lake but in one of the little pools in the limestone. Nearby, a Gunnera is starting to unfurl, and there are drumstick primulas, and of course hundreds of narcissi everywhere.

New leaves sprout on the Gunnera by the stream.

Drumstick primula (Primula denticulata).

The first Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) opening in the Rock Garden.

Pink primroses, among the masses of yellow ones.

The famous Yoshino cherry continues to delight, and a passing stranger pointed out to me that there is a lot of variation in the colour of the individual flowers, some of which have a rich pinky-purple centre while others are white.

Why the variation in colour? Do the colours change when the individual flower is fertilised, as with Himalayan chestnut?

Magnolia ‘Diva’.

But the undoubted stars at the moment are the magnolias. The wonderful ‘Diva’ (above), which I photographed last Friday, is almost over, but here are some more, equally spectacular.

Magnolia denudata, the ‘Lily Tree’.

Magnolia ‘Vulcan’.

Magnolia ‘Iolanthe’.

As we were walking home, it clouded over massively, and has rained in brief patches. So my plan to christen the new garden table (small enough for drinks and nibbles, not big enough for half-finished garden projects to be left on it) will have to wait a bit –

The new table, snatched from a garden centre just before the shut-down.

but I am mentally toasting the last five years, and the next five, and all the dear new friends I have made in this time, along with my dear old friends, and all the ones I haven’t met yet.


This entry was posted in Botany, Cambridge, Gardens, Italy, Natural history and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Quinquennium

  1. What a lovely distraction from the present troubles but sad, now, that I realise I’ve missed van Eyck

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Ruskin Relics | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

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