Falling Down in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Swamp cypress leaves

Dear Readers, those who’ve been following me for a while will know that I have a strange tendency to trip over the smallest of imperfections in any surface. Some people think that I could stumble over a misplaced molecule, and they are probably right. However, today I fell in spectacular fashion over a pothole in one of the paths that could have been seen from space. Fortunately both my camera, my knees and my ankles survived, though my hands smarted for a while and I think my poor husband will be traumatised for the rest of the week.

I suppose it’s something to do with the fact that we are finally holding my Dad’s memorial service in a fortnight’s time – I have always found myself rather distracted when significant days that relate to Mum and Dad are coming close. The service will be at St Andrew’s Church in the lovely Dorset village of Milborne St Andrew, and it will be a chance to see some people that I haven’t seen for well over a year. Covid numbers are rising, which is concerning, but the vicar is asking for social distancing and face masks, and I suspect that things will get worse as the year wears on, rather than better. At any rate, while I hate the word ‘closure’ because it implies drawing a line under an event that can only be integrated rather than tidied away, it will feel as if Dad has been honoured properly, and that people who have not had a chance to mourn communally will have been able to do so. I shall keep you all posted on how it goes.

Anyhow, although it’s a very damp, drizzly day, there is much to enjoy in the cemetery today. Everything seems to be on pause, but there is such bounty in the shrubs and trees.

This is why a cherry laurel is called a cherry laurel. Don’t eat these though, they contain cyanide.

I am watching the progress of the conkers and the leaf miners on the horse chestnut trees with equal interest. The conkers are growing nice and fat, but seem to have some kind of rust growing on them.

The leaf miners are having a great time. I’m starting to see the little holes where the tiny moths have exited (as at the end of the long brown streak on the left-hand side of the central leaf). I just hope that some Southern Bush-Crickets find the tree soon.

I was rather taken by this lonely Fox and Cubs (Pilotella auriantica)…

and I love the constellations on the flowers of the ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)…

But this plant stopped me in my tracks completely. It’s so perfect that at first I thought it was plastic. It’s a houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) though I’m not sure which variety. How splendid it is, and how utterly perfect.

There is a smaller plant in the other corner of the grave. Clearly this one isn’t in such a prime location but I have a suspicion that it will do its best to catch up.

It’s going to be a great year for hawthorn, my tree is bowed down with them.

It’s a good year for pyracantha, too.

And finally a long-standing mystery has been solved. I have been puzzling over this shrub for months – it has silvery, strap-like leaves. But finally I’ve seen the berries and all is clear. This is sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), rare as hen’s teeth in the wild but flourishing here alongside the North Circular Road. You honestly never know what you’re going to see in this uninspiring little strip of shrubs and wildflowers.

Sea buckthorn berries have featured heavily in the menus created for cookery show ‘The Great British Menu’, where established professional cooks compete to have a dish at a banquet to honour a particular group of people – D-Day veterans, health and care workers, musicians, children’s authors. Sea buckthorn is universally hated by the judges, but the chefs seem to think that if they can only come up with the right dish, they will win. It hasn’t happened yet, sea buckthorn berries being something of an acquired taste – Wikipedia describes them as ‘astringent, sour and oily’, which doesn’t sound like a winning combination. They do have medicinal qualities, however, so all is not lost.

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Anyhow, by now it’s pouring with rain, and so we turn for home. I’m aware of a sudden chorus of agitated crows and jays screeching and cawing, and turn just in time to see a heron flying over, probably headed for the Dollis Brook or the lakes of Hampstead Heath. It looks more like a prehistoric animal than a bird, but of course birds are basically little dinosaurs so this isn’t surprising. What I need now is a cup of tea and some arnica for my grazes.

4 thoughts on “Falling Down in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Anne

    It is good to know that you are relatively unscathed by your fall – tea and arnica would have helped to restore you. That houseleek is such an interesting looking plant that I looked it up and read that it has been ‘cultivated in the whole of Europe for its appearance and a Roman tradition claiming that it protects buildings against lightning strikes’. I note that it is available from some South African nurseries too.

  2. gertloveday

    Sea buckthorn is a very popular cure all in Finland; heart health, anti inflammatory, skin care. It grows there quite prolifically. Unfortunately very hard to find in Australia.

  3. Liz Norbury

    I have a special affection for horse chestnuts, as I think of them as my birthday trees (I mentioned a coupe of weeks ago that my dad gathered conkers on Hampstead Heath on the day I was born). I don’t know of any mature horse chestnuts round here, but I have discovered five saplings in my local wood. They were being strangled by rampaging brambles, so a couple of months ago, I cut the brambles back during one of my early morning walks, and it’s been very satisfying to see so many healthy new leaves sprouting on the trees since then. Fortunately, there’s no sign of any leaf miner damage.

    A plant which we do have a lot of here in the far west is sea buckthorn. I don’t think the Wikipedia description does them justice – I find them quite passion-fruity. I see they’re now being marketed as seaberries – https://www.cornishseaberry.co.uk/ – presumably to make them sound more attractive! Much of our local sea buckthorn was planted around 30 years ago to help stabilise the sand dunes, but it can be extremely invasive, and in recent years, our conservation group, Friends of the Towans, has been cutting it back. It’s not the most pleasant task – I’ve found sea buckthorn to be even more vicious than gorse! We’re now involved with the national Dynamic Dunescape project), which aims to restore life to dunes by encouraging natural movement – a complete reversal of the old stabilisation policy – https://friendsofthetowans.co.uk/archive/funding-boost-for-west-cornwalls-dynamic-dunescape/

    I hope you’ve recovered from your fall. I’ll be thinking of you as you prepare for your dad’s memorial service.


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