Saturday, 12 November 2011

The bitter herb in the garden...

There they hang. A remembrance of Kent's heritage, symbolic of beer's favouring. Each flower now dry, delicate, poised almost on the cusp of dust. Just decoration maybe but a decoration redolent with those things now lost and forgotten.

Here on the island few hops are now grown but the memory of them remains - the sunny summers when East End families decamped to the Downs to harvest the female hops ready for their marriage to John Barleycorn. The oast houses - now fine homes for wealthy stockbrokers and successful businessmen - still exist making, with the rolling down and salt marsh, the uniqueness of Kent.

Today Kent feels less like a garden, the fast motorways, the high speed rail make it more an adjunct to London - the Patio of England rather than her garden. A nice patio for sure with block paving, elegantly planted pots and carefully trimmed trees but no longer an orto, no longer a place that feeds the cities.

That growing is still there if you look - at the right time of your there'll be a dozen or more apple varieties for sale in Brambledown Farm Shop plus local cherries, pears and even apricots. And people work hard to preserve the bits of garden that remain - to protect the rare varieties, to beat at the doors of the shopkeepers in the cities reminding them how these fruits are the best.

Things changes, some are lost but the spirit remains in those hops hanging from the pub beams, in the local cider and in the damson hedgerows. Kent may be an ordered, tidy, over-fussed garden but garden it is - the Garden of England.


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