25 June 2015
How many gentle flowers grow
in an English country garden?
How many gentle flowers grow
In an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some I know
And those I’ll miss I hope you’ll pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and flox
Meadowsweet and lilly stalks
Gentain, lupine and tall hollihocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden.
I have been spending the last few days in Lichfield, with a preaching engagement in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and celebrating the anniversaries of my ordinations as deacon and priest 15 and 14 years ago.
Each day, two of us have slipped quietly in the stalls by the High Altar in Lichfield Cathedral for the mid-day Eucharist, which is normally quiet reflective with no more than ten or a dozen people present each day.
On Wednesday, we celebrated the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist; tday we were back in Ordinary Time, liturgically speaking, with green frontals and vestments.
But for me, time like this in Lichfield may be in Ordinary Time, but it is more than ordinary time and it is a very special place for me.
Today, we wandered from Leomansley Woods through Beacon Park and its gardens to the Cathedral.
Before the mid-day Eucharist, we spent a little time in Erasmus Darwin’s Herb Garden in Vicars’ Close, between the Cathedral Shop and Erasmus Darwin House on Beacon Street.
Later, we strolled up Beacon Street to the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, where we lingered over a lazy lunch in the gardens – a lunch that was extended a little longer than we expected when it was accompanied by a jug of Pimm’s.
But then, a jug of Pimm’s always adds to the feeling that summer has arrived in an English garden.
Because schools in England continue a lot later than school in Ireland, the summer calm was even more noticeable in the gardens of the Hedgehog this afternoon.
Below us, we could see the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral rising above the house tops of the city. The warmth of the summer sunshine and the stillness of the garden were going to be savoured a little longer.
Jimmie Rodgers recorded the popular folk song In an English Country Garden in 1962. In the half century since then, it has become part of the staple diet of Morris dancers, banjo players, and school orchestras throughout England, and the lyrics paint a colourful image, from the flowers to the wildlife that visit English gardens.
Walking back down Stafford Road and Beacon Street this afternoon, I was aware of how an English garden is a matter of culture and pride, and not just in the countryside.
The gardens were rich with roses, rhododendrons, lupines, dahlias, foxgloves, ladies bonnets, fuchsias, irises, lavender, proud lilies, tamed poppies in every variety … and there was every shade and mixture of blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, green … and more.
On Wednesday, there were similar delights and unexpected pleasures when I stumbled for the first time into Lombard Gardens. This hidden terrace of Georgian houses is in the heart of Lichfield, off Lombard Street, but with its “country garden” feel it could be miles outside in the countryside.
I got out into the countryside for long walks on Wednesday afternoon, when I went to the tiny village of Wall south of Lichfield, and its excavated site of Roman ruins.
Once again, I had a long and lingering lunch – this time on the terrace of The Trooper. Although we would catch a glimpse and of traffic on the motorway nearby and hear its muffled roars, it was a pleasant afternoon in the countryside and in the summer sunshine.
Later, we strolled through the countryside, under the motorway and along the lanes that led us through tiny Chesterfield. The village may have appeared sleepy, but the fields were busy and the farmers were working in the heat of the afternoon sunshine.
Each farmhouse and country cottage had an English country garden, and the sights and smells of the countryside were enthralling until we arrived at Shenstone and caught the train back to Lichfield, in time to preach in Saint John’s.