Painted lady, Peacock, Holly Blue, Gatekeeper, Small Tortoishell and Cabbage White enjoying the flowers while a skimmer dragonfly and dunnock forage in the shrubbery.
My blue tit babies are out! They were in the box at 6.30am this morning but by the time I came out of the shower they were fluttering around my garden like bits of coloured cotton wool blown by the wind. I feel as nervous as a parent watching a child head off for their first day of school. I want to watch over them and chase away the neighbourhood cat who has taken an unhealthy interest in proceedings, waiting with endless patience until I spot him and go haring down the garden in my dressing gown.
The first few days out of the nest must be the most dangerous time and I curse that I have to go out today and can’t help out these parents who have worked so hard for success. Their industry has inspired me. Round the clock they have flashed in and out of the box like winged jewels drawn, drawn, drawn by the endless begging calls. Now life gets even harder for them. They dash around after the babies, who tumble between tree and box and window pane on wings which seem to short to support them.
Jumped on my bike last weekend to undertake a pilgrimage to find Lena Kennedy’s woodland shack, the last remaining plotland home in what was once a thriving community of woodlands dwellings erected by enterprising East Enders wanting their own little country kingdom.
Lena Kennedy and her husband, like many others, came to Kent in the 50’s to escape the overcrowding and smogs of the East End of London, hoping for clean air and space for their children to spend their weekends. They bought a parcel of land with their limited savings, amongst the trees of Cliffe Woods and began slowly to erect their country home, first they bought a old railway carriage to live in and then slowly they began to build their little wooden shack, grow their vegetables and make friends with the other working class families who felt that, despite the lack of mains water, sewage or other facilities, they had found their little piece of paradise.
Many of these people showed a determination and resilience which can only be admired, some cycled out from London carrying the timber to build their houses on their backs or worked extra jobs to find the savings to buy their land.
Then in the 60’s the council declared the community of shack dwellers an unsightly shanty town and compulsorily purchased the land in order to build as Lena writes ‘small modern houses all the way over my lovely green hill.’ The shack dwellers were powerless to stop ‘this terrifying thing about to take over them all.’ Somehow Lena’s shack was spared and later, at the age of 60, when she became a best selling novelist, she wrote about her years in the shack in her autobiography, Away to the Woods.’
Early last Saturday I rode into an icy spring wind through the lanes of the Hoo Peninsula to Cliffe Woods. The woods are now tucked up behind the village and indeed the hill is as Lena feared, one big suburban sprawl of brick built mega bungalows and sprawling concrete drives. Very little remains of Lena’s lovely oaks and ash trees.
I had no idea where the bungalow was, but the plotlands, though vanished, retain their skeleton breath on the map, long gardens, regularly ordered, with little houses set well back in the plots. On View Road, I passed a wooden gate which seemed to lead onto a derelict piece of land. I would have walked by had not a glimpse of blue caught my eye. There, on what appeared to be a garden shed, tucked behind a tangle of hawthorn trees was a blue plaque, of the type which appear all over London buildings, drawing our eye to the homes of the wealthy and famous. Lena Kennedy was a prolific and successful author and this was where she came for over 30 years to write.
The shack, tucked away in its little garden full of daffodils and primroses was still a delight all the more so because it was now overshadowed by giant multi garaged monstrous homes. How could this little shack be considered ugly and inappropriate and the buildings that had replaced it more acceptable? Our sense of what is a correct and desirable way to live is all skewed, for me, I will take the simple life in the woods every time.
The title of this Beatles song has swum through my head all week following the 4th annual gardening garden party, which saw 15 people cram into my tiny house and garden in order to paint fence panels, weave willow fences, construct little hurdles around the flower beds, put up bird boxes, prune everything in sight and, blessed be, fix my garden gate (technically belonging to my neighbour) which has hung off it’s hinges in various states of disrepair ever since I moved in and collapsed all together in the spring. Now my gate is swinging freely and my garden looks lovely, lovely, lovely once again.
We finished the day by cracking open a bottle of champagne, cutting a ribbon to officially open the gate and cramming into my kitchen to eat baked potatoes and chilli, standing shoulder to shoulder.
On days like these when a bunch of lovely people are willing to turn up my house and spend the day working in my garden on the promise of a baked potato and a glass of mulled wine I feel that I am a very lucky girl indeed when it comes to friends.
Another attempt to turn my Lithuanian housemate into an environmentalist leads to more confusion when I show her the list of tasks I am hoping will be tackled tomorrow as part of my gardening garden party.
The gardening garden party is a fabulous idea dreamt up by my solicitor when I first bought my house. The idea is that a bunch of people come to your home and do the gardening and, in turn, you feed them. It works like a dream and has been running now for four years, the first year my solicitor came too.
This year, as well as weaving a willow fence panel, fixing bird boxes and cleaning the pond I have written ‘turn the compost’ on the list.
“What is this compost?” Erika says
I show her the bin of peelings. “You keep your old vegetables and tea bags and it all rots down. Then you spread it on the soil.”
She looks suspicious. “You are putting rotten food on the garden?”
“Yes,” I say, “but it’s not disgusting. It’s like food for the plants. It will help us get more flowers.”
“More flowers means more bees,” Erika says. Erika is allergic to bees and is, understandably, not a fan.
Still, she has taken to recycling with gusto, even keeping a graveyard of old shoes in the garden.
“You can grow plants in them,” she tells me.