Country diary: from garlic mustard, through a glat, to the pulse of spring


There are rights of way, and there are rites of way. One thing leads to another, and this way began with garlic mustard and led into the white pulse of May.

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, has toothy, nettle-like leaves that have a garlicky pong when crushed; its 120cm stem is topped with a cluster of X-shaped flowers, each of four petals, that look like little white butterflies.

Along the byways, now that the blackthorn has passed, garlic mustard is joined by the true wild garlic, cow parsley, hogweed, stitchwort and a blast of hawthorn may blossom.

In the brightness of the hedge whites, a way through them was almost invisible. Between the lane and a field with a public footpath across it, the glat – a gap in the hedge – was no right of way but a narrow squeeze up a medieval bank through the hedge’s dark interior.

Within the closing chamber – as if the trees were growing to heal a wound – was a grey feather, lodged in a blackthorn fork. Dropped by a wood pigeon, or left by an unknown agent of secret entrances, the feather felt preternatural, a quiet yet uncannily resonant object.

Around the glat, the impenetrable boundary of field maple, ash, hazel, blackthorn and hawthorn was busily throwing leaves and flowers into the sunlight. Inside was thorny shadow and a feather marking a place in a processional ritual.

Through the portal and out in the field, a path wavered towards the wood edged with may blossom and then to deeper green. In the wood, ways of deer, badger and fox wound upwards through thorn to what remained of the original hilltop after quarrying was abandoned a century ago.

Here was an ancient crab apple tree the size of a small house, in full, lunar flower, a slight breeze drifting white petal rain into the crawl space under its boughs. This was the flowering henge at the end of the processional journey into the pulse of spring.

The way out to a lane beyond the wood was a struggle, but there, in another hedge, another place, another time, the flowers like little white butterflies were as sharp as garlic, as keen as mustard.


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