I’m remembering the radical ecologist (see Garden notes number three) and his airy contempt for gardeners. But also a few lines from John Clare:
Where last years leaves and weeds decay / March violets are in blow
I’d rake the rubbish all away / and give them room to grow
He isn’t ‘gardening’, certainly not designing or planting; he sees the violets and instinctively wants to tend to them, care for them. He’s like Adam in Eden, set there by God to ‘dresse and keep’ the garden. He’s the very opposite of the gardener who features in one of D.H. Lawrence’s rants:
Most of the so-called love of flowers is merely this reaching out of possession and egoism: something I’ve got: something that embellishes me.
Clare is so far from ownership that we don’t even know if he is in a garden or a wood. He scarcely distinguishes between private and public; for him there is just the one realm of nature. It says a lot about him that, when I enter the first line of that poem into google, to try to find out whether it stands alone or is part of a longer piece, up comes advice on making compost and leaf mould from the Daily Telegraph and the RHS, not a word about poetry.
The photographer also sometimes rakes the rubbish all away. Interestingly, dead stalks which you scarcely notice when taking a photo are intrusive or distracting on the image you later see.
But my interventions have gone further than I think Clare’s would have done. At the beginning of June last year I found a path leading into a wooded ravine in the foothills of Falakro, a mountain in Thrace, in north eastern Greece. The scene changed suddenly from parched, stony ground under a blinding sun, with pure white marble boulders in the dry stream bed to cool, damp, leafy woodland, as if I were back home. And on the mossy cliffs I saw my first – sorry about the name – Haberlea rhodopensis. This is one of several rare plants found in that area of Greece, and over the border in Bulgaria, which are thought to have survived the last ice age in sheltered places and whose nearest relatives are now in the tropics.
I felt concerned for them. Great long strands of ivy were hanging down, looking as if they might overwhelm them. So I scrambled a little way up and grabbed hold of some of the ivy and began to pull it out, greedy strands six feet long. How the radical ecologist would have laughed. And I don’t think Clare would have thought the ivy rubbish. As if the haberleas, though they had survived the ice age and ten thousand years since in that little hidden gorge, were in danger of extinction. I quickly saw that I needn’t have worried, because as I went further on I saw more and more of them.
Here they are. On the right in the first photo you can see ivy leaves, and on the left a leaf of Geranium macrorhizum, common in our gardens, struggling in the dark in that wooded ravine. In the second photo you see part of a reassuring crowd.
Maybe Lawrence was right, Maybe I did want to be embellished by my discovery of the haberleas. In my travels through Greece I had been guided by books and websites, but the dark little gorge above the village of Pyrgoi was my discovery. And it could be one of the very best sites for Haberlea rhodopensis, a strange conjunction of separate worlds: the damp woodland with hazel and dog’s mercury and its almost British feel, a secret corner of a mediterranean marble mountain, and the tropical flowers, cousins of the gloxinia.
Aren’t they lovely?