The overwhelming colour impression when one comes to England is that of green-ness. It seems such a strong green lasting all the year round, not only in luxuriant leaves, but also in flowers in the spring, dog mercury for example and lords-and-ladies; no end of garlic mustard and a number of other plants uncommon on the continent, which we identified by means of a book, trying not to forget their names again. I learnt that one can eat garlic mustard and that it is good for dogs chopped up and mixed in with their food. I must confess that any new wild vegetables like the afore-mentioned garlic mustard or ground-elder or lesser celandine I tried out on Steve first and then, if successful, subjected the whole family to them. How healthy they are, how much stronger and richer in all these precious nutrients than cultivated plants ! No need to eat a lot of them, a few spoonfuls – that was all the family were having anyway. I had to strike a compromize and mix my wild darlings with plenty of onion or spinach. Nettles and dandelion, leaves and roots, were the only ones that really survived the test. The dog had to have garlic mustard, though. He did not seem to mind.
In the autumn England has the unique phenomenon of the Bramley apple – so green when harvested. I did not believe it could contain brown pips ! After Christmas it turns colourful, yellow and red, and its taste mellows. It will keep in our loft until May, a wonderful apple.
In the winter England is still green, in spite of our children who would love to see it white – after all we had brought two sledges with us. There are all these evergreens : holly, ivy, rhododendrons, lots of evergreen ornamental shrubs in hedges and gardens, and the magnificent holm oak ! Spinach, parsley, fennel, chervil – they all stand through the winter here, available all the year round. Unless winters change …
As a child I learnt a song in my English lessons “Green lanes of England, oh little green lanes”. How green, how beautiful they are indeed ! Patiently winding their way uphill and downhill, through villages, fields, woodland, flanked by hedges containing brambles, fuchsias, dog-rose, hawthorne, hazel, beech, holly, elderberry and many more plants, not selected or disciplined, just left to grow as they – no doubt many of them – planted themselves; sometimes arranged in layered hedges, a typically English way of making for dense hedges, sometimes allowed to grow tall, forming a dome above the lane, in which one feels wonderfully sheltered. How distressing to see these hedges trimmed, no ! ripped, mutilated by heartless machines leaving an awful battlefield behind them, so it looked to me. I was horrified when I saw it for the first time : bare, naked, white, helpless, exposed; half pulled, half broken, battered, mangled, torn to pieces … until the new growth came.
There are many trees, and fine ones, in this country, but not many woods, and what is called wood often resembles a park where dogs can run loose, because there is no game except for rabbits and pheasants.
Most woods are private property. Many are considered as timber and treated accordingly. We are lucky to have a small piece of woodland next to our house, so small that it is not worth exploiting. It is more or less left to itself, so that one finds all generations of trees, and nice and crooked ones, too – they would all be straight in Germany, friends of ours from across the channel said. There is also a lot of undergrowth, dead trees, fallen trees, wood that has not been cleared up. We have flowering cherry trees in the spring, a tent of beech leaves in the summer, a carpet of beech-nuts in the autumn and red-berried holly-trees in the winter.
In all this greenery you have the redbrick houses, cottages, thatched some of them, farms big and small, one or two manor houses with a Lord or titled Lady who will officiate in village celebrations, making presentations to deserving members of the community, like the organist after sixty-five years of service or the headmaster retiring or anything else of moment.