Accidental Beauty

Dear Readers, this week I have been filled with rage, horror and sadness at the unfolding tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. The completely needless deaths, the cynicism of those in power and the divide between rich and poor in the capital in particular and the country in general has made me feel physically sick. I look at the photographs of the dead and missing, and I see everything that makes London rich and meaningful to me: the handsome Syrian man who had finally reached ‘safety’, the woman sitting in her tiny sitting room like a queen surrounded by the beautiful things that she had made and scrimped to buy, the elderly man sitting serenely with his grandchildren. I donate, I sign petitions, I look at the faces of the refugees that are in my English class and I know that it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

And then, I walk. Because unless I reconnect to the real world around me, I can feel myself starting to grow thin and tattered, and I need to be strong. I have people who depend on me, and things that I believe in, and I need to have my feet on the ground in order to  serve them.

Community is not just some abstract concept, though the way that the word is sometimes bandied about might make you think so. For me, it starts with the soil under our feet and the plants that grow in it, and the creatures that visit it. Each garden  has its own style, the inhabitants of the houses announcing their particular tastes and preferences through the things that they plant, and the things that they allow to remain. The grace and beauty of an area comes often through the accidental juxtaposition of different elements, the way that things just ‘happen’.

The lavender is in full bloom outside my front door. This year I thought that it had grown too  woody and was thinking of replacing it. Then the bees came.

A few days ago, I came back from the shops and a little girl had paused outside with her Mum. She was counting the bees.

‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!’ she shouted, her voice rising higher with every bee spotted. ‘They’re so happy!’

And so, I think the lavender is reprieved, again. Bees like a lot of flowers, all of one kind. They can remember up to three different ‘designs’ of flower type, but when they encounter a fourth, one of them has to go. I sometimes think that humans can’t hold too many paradoxical ideas in their heads at the same time either, so it doesn’t do for us to feel superior.

I note that there are several very interesting plants just coming into flower. The Passionflower is said to include the crown of thorns,the nails and the scourge from Christ’s crucifixion.


The solanum is a member of the nightshade family.

This jasmine is exquisite, and flowering much better than mine which produces masses of leaves and nary a flower in my north-facing garden.

But wait, what is this? Has the summer of love returned to East Finchley? I feel my spirits lift.

What a very fine camper van. I hope that the inhabitants will wear their tie-dye teeshirts and loons to keep the ambiance consistent.

I particularly like the sign in the window.

Further along the road is my favourite hebe: I would say that it flowers for ten months out of twelve, and is a go-to pitstop for early emerging queen bumblebees, and those in need of a snack in the winter. I do hope that the owner of the house knows how much the plant is appreciated, and how valuable it is.

I cross the road to have a look at where someone has planted up the tree pit on the corner. I love these acts of unnecessary kindness. Goodness knows we need it, and cosmos is another great choice for pollinators.

The air is heavy with the sickly-sweet smell of privet flowers.

There is a big patch of a yellow-flowered daisy-like plant, possibly a santolina – always a favourite with hoverflies, who can’t cope with the complicated flowers of lavender and foxglove.

And goodness, haven’t hydrangeas come a long way? I remember when they were big, blousy flowers in blue or pink, according to the soil. I have a climbing hydrangea in my back garden, and in five years it has reached the level of the loft on the second floor. But look at these! Truly East Finchley is a hydrangea hotspot. I’ll forgive them for having no wildlife value whatsoever.

Oh, I spoke too soon. Look, somebody loves them.

I love the accidental beauty of some of the paths, where yellow corydalis and ferns, bellflower and green alkanet have created something as pretty as anything you could create on purpose.

There is one garden that is different from all the others around here, and I stopped to admire it.

I was taking some photographs of the Queen Anne’s Lace (Cow Parsley) when the owner of the house walked up to the front door.

‘What a lovely garden!’ I said, ‘I love how fresh it looks’.

The man looked a bit sheepish.

‘I keep telling my son to tidy it up’, he said, gesticulating at the bits and pieces that were laying about, and which I hadn’t even noticed.

‘I think it’s gorgeous’, I said, but he wasn’t convinced. And so I’m glad that I have a few photos of it in all its glory, before the strimmer gets into action.

I love these glass birds, nesting in a terracotta pot.

And a bank of trailing rosemary provides a home for lots of spiders, judging by the webs.

A blackbirds sings from a chimney pot, but then the air is filled with the racketing of a helicopter. The sound always fills me with a sense of foreboding. Helicopters mean a terrorist attack, or a terrible accident, . But then it veers away, and peace returns, and the blackbird is still singing.

At the corner of the road is a huge ceanothus (California lilac) bush, absolutely alive with bees. There are clouds of hoverflies, and each one seems to be laying claim to a few inches of flower. They may, in fact, be males, each one guarding some flowers in the hope that when a female comes to feed they’ll be able to ‘persuade’ her to mate. I took a short film to give some idea of the hectic activity.

And then, I spotted this lovely front garden.

This is just my kind of garden – a mixture of plants, not too tidy, full of life. The front door opened and I complimented the owner on her quirky choice of plants.

‘It’s a happy accident!’ she said. ‘Most of them have self-seeded, or just appeared’. And she told me about when her cat caught a pipistrelle bat (fortunately unharmed, and subsequently released) and when her son took a picture of a local fox asleep on her shed roof. When the picture was enlarged, it revealed her cat sitting happily next to it.

I am reminded that this week is the anniversary of the murder of MP  Jo Cox, with her famous quote that ‘we are far more united than the things that divide us’. She was right, of course. But  we should recognise cynicism and venality and disdain when we find it, for the sake of the most vulnerable, the people who are ignored and treated with contempt, the people who may have lost their lives for the sake of a few pounds more expenditure on fire-proof cladding.  There are so many experiences, so many different perspectives and stories, so much richness that is never reflected because it doesn’t fit with the way that the media moguls and the powerful view the world. I hope that things are changing, that Grenfell Tower will be the point at which people say ‘never again’.  I look forward to the music that will arise when all of us are heard.


16 thoughts on “Accidental Beauty

  1. Anne Guy

    A heartfelt but uplifting post after another shocking news week thank you for your sensitive caring words and fabulous photos from your part of the greatest city in the world

  2. Andrea Stephenson

    We have an accidental beauty in our front yard – purple toadflax – I don’t know where it came from but it now grows out of a crack in the front wall and in every one of the pots that are out there – beautiful flowers and the bees seem to love it, so it was definitely a happy accident. This is a touching post about the power of place, community and nature during terrible times.

  3. Jane

    Lovely heartfelt post. I love the “natural accidental” gardens and just how much of beauty can be found in your neck of the woods (or any neck of the woods if we only take the time to see it. Like you I am feeling such a mix of emotions at the recent news and like you I find that a bit of greenery and nature helps to calm my spirits. Thank you for your lovely words.

  4. Fran and Bobby Freelove

    Tradgedies like these are dreadful but it makes it all so much worse when they are avoidable. How ironic for the poor Syrian lad that had come over here to escape attrocities only to meet his fate in such a cruel way. Thank goodness we’re lucky enough to be able to go and see what’s wonderful in nature. You did make us laugh about tie-dye and loons, oh how we remember them!

  5. Veronica Cooke

    What a lovely post.

    The Grenfell Tower fire is a dreadful disaster and the grief and pain it has caused is unimaginable. Once again the cost of something outweighs the value of human lives.

    I was cheered and delighted by your photos. I have several of the plants you featured in my garden. I loved the ‘wild’ garden. It reminded me of the brief period when our local council encouraged the planting of wild flowers in unused spaces; in front of some tower blocks, for example. The following year they turned that wild space into another car park. There are still a few remaining; my daughter lives on a newish estate that has a large pond which has been planted up with wild flowers and grasses; including cornflowers which I love.

    I had never hear of a tree pit – what a wonderful idea!

    I remember loon pants and tie dyed t shirts so well…

  6. theresagreen

    A thoughtful and thought provoking post that closely echoes so many of my own thoughts and feelings on the seeming madness of the world at the moment. I loved the van; it took me back to the late ’60s early ’70s when some of us had already begun to crave a more united world. I was never into loon pants though!

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Theresa, thank you….the world does seem to have gone mad, doesn’t it,, but I guess we’re reaping the fruits of decades of neglect of our poorest people.

      The Bugwoman community seems to be split between loons and non-loons, but that’s a nice split to have 🙂

  7. tidalscribe

    I love your photos, I also enjoy looking at everyone else’s gardens and my own of course. My Hebe has grown from a tiny twig I took from the cliff top and i loved by the bees. Even in the tiniest garden bees, blackbirds and flowers make a peaceful contrast to the rest of the world.


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