Tree Time: October…

Well, really, it hardly feels like a couple of days since I was writing about September – what’s happening!

Yesterday I took this photo of the oak…

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I had intended to write this post yesterday afternoon, but events got in the way. So, roll forward twenty-four hours and this is what it looked like this morning…

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What a difference a day makes (and the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo) – the branches were being seriously tossed about – I imagine there will be significantly fewer leaves on it by the end of today.

Until now, I’ve felt that autumn was drifting in rather slowly this year.

The bracken is fast turning brown and starting to wilt,

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this week I’ve started spotting a lot more toadstools,

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and the holly berries are looking succulent,

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but I suppose because it’s still quite warm, it hasn’t felt especially autumnal – not enough mists yet and only the one cursory frost.

Here’s the oak at the beginning of September for comparison.

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If you want to watch the almost daily progress of the oak over the next couple of months, do follow me on Instagram.

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Self-discipline…

When you’re really busy and need to focus all your energies into one project, the thing you don’t want is a major distraction…

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Oops.

When Jenny mentioned The Wake to me last week, I knew it was going to be right up my street. I should really have exerted some self-discipline and resisted it. But there you are, look what turned up in the post this morning.

I now have to be extremely strict with myself. Stitch – read – stitch, stitch, read…

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This and that…

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I just seem to have too many plates spinning this week. Nothing special or particularly exciting, but you know how some days you’re busy all day and go to bed wondering what you’ve done with the time.

One thing I have done, is to finish the latest stitched tapestry. Well, when I say finish, I mean I’ve stitched it, but there is still all the stretching and coaxing into shape to do and then the mounting onto canvas – but that will have to wait for a few days. Here it is in its raw state…

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At last we seem to be having proper autumnal weather and the colours are well and truly turning now.

We’ve just had our first frost.

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Only mild, and most of it had steamed away by the time the Delinquent Dog and I got out, but still a change.

Then we had rain – heavy showers, but not nearly enough to make a difference to the garden.

And then the sun came out and we had marvellous rays through the trees. I took this picture on my phone (well actually I always do, not having a camera), but it still looks a little odd – ephemeral things sun-rays.

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Right, back to the plates.

Have a lovely week/weekend!

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The Year In Books: October…

In which I come over all contemplative…

IMAG7609I seem to have given up on fiction for a while. Looking over the most recent reads, it’s all been factual.

I thoroughly enjoyed Marc Morris’s The Norman Conquest and was going to go straight on to read his book about castles – rather succinctly titled Castle – except that somewhere in between, I bought a copy of Katherine Swift’s book about her time creating the garden at Morville in Shropshire – The Morville Hours – and found myself immersed in a wonderful way that wouldn’t allow me to put it down until it was finished.

I had intended to read it when it was first published – am I right, was it serialised on radio at the time? But I never got around to it. I used to drive through Morville regularly at one time, before Katherine took over the garden, so I was intrigued to know more.

But this is far more than a gardening book. Oh yes, there is a lot to interest a gardener, but Katherine cleverly arranged her chapters in the form of a medieval Book of Hours, and so, following the turning year, in rhythm with the turning offices of the monastic day, she gives us glimpses of her own life, the history of Morville and people over the ages connected with the area. I was spellbound. I read a review of the book which described its tone as melancholy. I agree, but it felt totally appropriate and I felt sad when I came to the end.

I cheered myself up by going back to Castle. If castles are your thing, this is going to please you, but perhaps not the best reference for your thesis on medieval architecture. My only problem with it though had nothing to do with the content, but with the paper it was printed on. The hardback copy I have uses thick shiny paper – very pretty, but dreadfully difficult to read in bed with the bedside lamp – I had to keep moving the pages around to avoid the reflections (I know, never satisfied some people…). I hadn’t seen the TV series which went with the book, but having finally managed to get Channel 4OD to work, I might seek it out.

It hasn’t been the best summer for history trips for me this year, so reading all these history books has gone some way to sooth a need, but reading The Morville Hours, had renewed an interest in these medieval books – the Books of Hours – each one a magnificent work of art, combined with a story of the men and mostly women who owned them and used them daily. I love that rich mixture, the sense of connection both with the medieval artists who slowly, religiously, wrote and decorated the pages and with the women in whose hands these very pages were held. I suspect that it’s a similar sensation I get from looking at ancient needlework.

So when I was out yesterday on an entirely different mission, and I saw John Harthan’s Books of Hours, I couldn’t resist. It is a book for a history junkie to drool over. There are many colour pictures from Books of Hours throughout the middle-ages, accompanied by a description of the work and details of the owners.

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This is just a tiny detail from The Hours of Isabella Stuart, Duchess of Brittany (c. 1417-18). So much crammed into that space – but what I adore, are the little black lines, deliberate, but also free, can’t you just feel your own hand making those marks. There’s much, much more inside – I will have to restrict my time looking at each example or nothing else will get done around here.

And then, all my Christmas’s coming together, I also found the Sue Clifford and Angela King book, England In Particular in the Oxfam bookshop in Berkhamsted. (Thanks Sue for the recommendation – it’s even better than I’d hoped).

This is another book that could easily keep you engrossed for hours. It’s an A-Z of England and its special ways. I like the blurb that says “…offers a way of looking that makes the mundane magical. It will change the way you see the world”. 

So I’m starting October with two gems. Do you believe in serendipity? I certainly think I was extremely lucky to find these – maybe magical? Who knows, it’s something to contemplate…

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Changing the subject completely – I’m currently gorging myself on Cox’s apples. My mum craved them when she was expecting me, which is my excuse for eating pounds of them at this time of year. Is it me or are they especially good this autumn?

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Show and Tell…

As promised, here are a few pictures I took at the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire’s exhibition last weekend. This was the first time I’ve ever shown any of my stitched tapestries to anyone ‘outside‘.

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You’ll no doubt remember my problems with getting anything from the ‘stitched‘ state, to the ‘showable‘ state over the years. The brilliant thing about having the opportunity to show at this exhibition, was being gently forced to face up to the issue and find a solution.

Thanks to Kathy (Of Gardens, Grandmothers and Gleanings), blogging about the The Eye of The Needle exhibition at the Ashmolean, I went over to Oxford and saw how the Feller Collection had mounted some of their fragments of needlework, using calico stretched over a canvas frame, with the needlework stitched to the calico. Ta Dah! At last, a way to do it that seemed sympathetic with my pieces and achievable without too much difficulty.
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Here’s my table with Firmament, Hedonism and Brian.

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So what did I learn over the weekend?

IMAG7479I discovered how good it feels to be part of a group of like minded people. Making art in many forms is a largely solitary existence, so getting together with other people was a wonderfully uplifting experience. It’s wonderful to find kindred spirits out there! And as you can see, they’re a talented and versatile lot around here.

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I also learned that people are very interested in how we make our pieces. I hadn’t anticipated how chatty visitors would be, and it was quite an eye-opener to realise that complete strangers might actually want to know more about the process and the inspiration behind our work. I also discovered how much I enjoy talking about my stitching (I do hope I didn’t bore for England, but once I got going, I found I loved explaining all about it).

So my first foray into the real world was a very happy experience, and now I know that I can do it, I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.

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Tree Time: September

In which we know it’s autumn…

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Nothing quite like a blue sky for lifting the spirits...

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Nine months of watching the changes to the oak tree on the lane. Above is a picture from each month of 2014, starting in January and ending with the picture I took this morning, showing how the tree – and the hedge – has changed over the weeks and months.

In August, although I felt that something was beginning to be different in the air, you still couldn’t really say that we’d moved into autumn, but now, despite afternoon temperatures on many days reaching summer levels, you certainly know at 8am in the mornings, that the earth has turned into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

The oak is changing colour now. There were hints of change last month, but they were difficult to pinpoint, the quality of light makes such a difference to what you can see each day. Now I can see the beginnings of a golding, as if someone has lightly sprayed antique gold paint across the leaves. But it’s still subtle, green continues to dominate.

But change is more obvious in the lane.

The lush growth of midsummer is dying down now. Bracken is tinged with brown as the first fronds die back. The cleavers that I thought would strangle the nettles have all but disappeared. And everywhere, the huge abundance of fruits is evident. The hedges are red with haws and hips, and sloes and blackberries hang heavy along the way.

Gradually I’m beginning to be able to see through the hedge again to the fields beyond, which until now have been hidden behind a curtain of tall, thick green foliage.

This month I’ve surprised a couple of pheasants and been mocked by dozens of squirrels – they obviously think that teasing the Delinquent Dog is a jolly good game. And is it me, or can I hear more birdsong now – it certainly seems so.

I haven’t quite had to resort to gloves and a scarf yet, but it didn’t feel far away today – I might get them out ready.

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I post my daily photographs of the tree and other snaps from walking the Delinquent Dog on Instagram – either follow me there, or see the mini-versions on the right-hand sidebar of the blog for regular updates.

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Scotland and other news…

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Scotland is very much in the news at the moment with the vote less than 24 hours away! But I shall have Scotland in mind throughout 2015 thanks to Jo Woolf at The Hazel Tree, who has produced a fabulous calendar featuring her wonderful photographs of Scottish scenery – and best of all for me – Scottish castles…

If like me you’re in love with Scottish countryside and history and you’re not already following Jo’s blog and website, do go over there right now and have a look around. I thought I knew Scotland pretty well, but since I’ve been reading Jo’s posts, I’ve acquired a long list of places I must visit the next time I go north for a holiday.

I’m not sure how many calendars Jo has available, but there’s a link here to take you to her Etsy shop if you fancy a little piece of Scotland on your wall next year.

(I’m sure you know me well enough by now, but just to reassure you, this is a personal recommendation and not sponsored in any way – I am just a big fan!).

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And in other news…

Well, I’ve finally done it – I have decided to dip my toe tentatively into the real world with my stitchy stuff. At the weekend, I’m hoping to have a small number of my stitched tapestries on display at the Ivinghoe Community Hub, (really close to Ivinghoe Beacon for those in the know) as part of the Artists’ Network Bedfordshire September Art Trail.

Having played around with various ideas, I’ve finally come up with a simple, but I hope effective way of presenting the tapestries, so the last few days have seen me busily putting them together, stabbing myself in the finger far too many times with a very sharp needle and having much more fun than is strictly allowed with a roll of bubble-wrap.

If anyone is in the Beds/Bucks/Herts borderland this weekend and fancies tea, cake and original local art – Ivinghoe is your place to be (the tea room in the same building is absolutely first-rate – it really is extremely good, and you know I’m fussy about these things!).

Wish me luck!

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Little treasures…

The other day, while I was looking for something completely different, I came across this little box which had belonged to my grandmother.

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Not very exciting is it. But then, what happens if you take off the lid and peep inside?

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Here are the sides…

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I’m sure many of you will know now exactly what it is…

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…opened out, it’s obvious – a needle-case.

Dozens of rusty (but still very sharp) needles. And what’s in the middle?

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Just more needles – still wrapped in their black tissue.

A gift to my grandmother from her brother, fighting in France during The Great War. (He survived).

Not all family heirlooms are valuable, some are priceless.

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A sense of home…

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I was delighted to read Catherine’s latest post over at Knotted Cotton – part of the current blog hop that’s introducing creative sorts from around the world and giving us glimpses into their individual processes and idiosyncrasies. Catherine kindly mentioned Dreaming In Stitches (thank you Catherine). 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my own creative process, which I think includes most of the questions covered in the blog hop – the link to it is here if you’d like to read it again. But one question I didn’t cover then was  -‘Where I live, or have lived’.

This for me, is both the easiest and confusingly also the hardest question to answer.

The simple and straightforward response is that I currently live in the Home Counties, just inside Bedfordshire, but so close to Buckinghamshire that I cross into it every morning when I walk the Delinquent Dog.

I was born and raised in rural Worcestershire, went away to university in Yorkshire and lived there for near-as-damn-it ten years, before coming south to work in the 1990s.

I met the Other Half here. This is where we married, where our children were born and where they are now at school for a few more years at least. I have lived here longer than anywhere else, it is where the others call home. But is it where I call home?

And this is where it becomes complicated.

Because although our house, our family home, is undoubtedly home, my home, my nest, my sanctuary, – at the same time, I can’t put my hand on my heart and honestly say that this area feels like home.

Deep inside, with a yearning that is so powerful it makes me come over all emotional, I want to go west. My body may be in the Home Counties, but my mind and my heart are somewhere between Hereford and Harlech. It isn’t a recent thing, although as I get older, the desire gets stronger. I long for hills and mountains, for rivers and streams, for castles and hill forts, for history seeping out of the stones.

I ache to go west and I suspect it may be in my genes. My paternal grandfather retired to Pembrokeshire and my brother has now retired to Carmarthenshire – coincidence? My mother’s family were Jones’s, so perhaps the pull comes from both directions, who can say. All I know is that if I stand for a while in the garden, I swear I start to lean over towards the west.

I’m acutely aware that this could be a recipe for huge discontent, especially since without the Other Half making major changes in his working life, it’s not likely to happen soon. Even tentative ideas for retirement are still rather more in the realms of fantasy than reality. Dwelling too much in the land of what-ifs could blind me to the beauty of what-is and I’m determined that that won’t happen.

So I make the conscious effort to tune in to the patterns of nature, to go with the same rhythms of the year that I’d experience wherever we lived and to appreciate the elements from the flat-lands as much as I’d do if I was on top of a mountain. I don’t put my enjoyment on-hold until some future time.

It’s just that when the spirit of a place burrows into your soul, it’s very difficult to ignore. I live here and I live there too.

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Standing on top of Raglan Castle, looking west… pure heaven.

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Tree Time: August

Shhhh! If we all keep very quiet, I might manage to write this before the teenage daughters materialise from their beds. I don’t generally find August compatible with blogging – we’re either out and about doing too much, or we’re in, but I can’t get anywhere near my computer for girls watching YouTube or playing fantasy games. So let’s be quick…

When August started, you could still make a fairly convincing argument for it still being summer. We had plenty of hot sunny days with a few gloriously blue skies off-setting the wonderful greens from the oak and the hedge in front of it.

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But it wasn’t long before I felt there was quite a change to the air on the early morning walk. A tinge of coolness on the edge of the breeze that hadn’t been there before. Much of the hedgerow undergrowth has died back now and views are beginning to open up again through the gaps in the hedge.

By this morning, there really isn’t any doubt that we’re now at the beginning of autumn.

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Thick dew on the field this morning. And berries appearing all along the lane.

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There was a different quality to the light through the trees.

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Autumn is my favourite season.

I’m not going to dwell too much on this, but this morning, I noticed how extremely glossy and gorgeous the holly bushes are at the moment – and how many berries they seem to be growing – isn’t there some country saying about the amount of berries and the harshness of the winter?…

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Too soon to be thinking about that.

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Sounds from upstairs – time to be off.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, back into the swing again very soon.

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For more or less daily pictures of the oak and what’s happening on the lane, follow me on Instagram or watch the bar at the side of these posts.

 

 

The Year In Books: July & June

A literary pick ‘n’ mix…

So it’s summer and of course that means we’re all sitting by the pool, reading something light and airy.

Or maybe not…

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To be entirely truthful, my reading over the last few weeks has been extremely patchy. I’ve certainly downloaded and read a lot of sample chapters on the Kindle, but as for actually reading through a whole book, ummm, well.

The trouble started when I decided after buying the next Gareth and Gwen novel, not to read it straight away. I’ve gulped down so many series novels over the years, I suddenly thought I’d wait and read this later in the winter. But what to read instead?

I won’t bore you with all the titles I tasted. In the end, on the Kindle I have lined up the following;

  • The Passion – Jeanette Winterson (thank you to My Search For Magic for the recommendation)
  • The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris
  • The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim (guaranteed to make you feel good)

While I was dithering about what to read, Jo at The Hazel Tree posted her review of the classic The Old Straight Track – Alfred Watkins.  This is one of my favourite books, so after reading her post, I dug out my copy and promptly starting dipping in again. Not only is it a fascinating read, but for me it’s quite nostalgic, bringing back lots of happy memories.

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Then my yoga teacher lent me her copy of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness – Erich Schiffman, so I’m gradually reading through that too.

Which would probably have been more than enough to get my teeth into. But then, a few days ago, I happened upon the new Marc Morris history book – The Norman Conquest. What is a history junkie supposed to do! I like Marc Morris’s style, and I thought before I buy the new book, I’ll re-read his previous one, about Edward I – which I did.

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And then – big mistake, I looked Marc Morris up on the Kindle and found he’d written another book, about castles – Castles: A history of the buildings that shaped medieval Britain. It’s at times like these someone should take my Amazon account off me. Naturally I demonstrated no self-control whatsoever, not only did I order Castles, I also found a copy of Prof R Allen Brown’s classic, English Castles online, which I’ve also ordered.

Which would have been alright I suppose, if I hadn’t then decided I might as well buy The Norman Conquest anyway – which I have…

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My name is Anny and I am a history-bookaholic.

Happy reading

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Tree time: July…

Phew, we made it to the last day of term! Things are a bit behind around here, but I’ve just stolen a few minutes to write up the latest from my daily tree project, before I pour a large glass of something red and delicious and head to the sofa.

This was the oak at the beginning of July

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As the weeks go by and the hedges fill outwards and upwards, it’s getting harder to see the tree behind the green screen.

And here it is today (July 23rd) – the bird box is now almost invisible behind all the growth.

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Seven months in and the best thing for me about this whole project so far, is that I’ve gone from sort of noticing what was going on around me, to really being interested and looking out every day for changes in the hedges and trees along our route. I’ve become much more aware of what’s growing where and the developing leaves, flowers and now fruits too. I wish there was a pet naturalist handy to come along on the odd walk and tell me more about what I’m seeing, but I’m definitely learning a lot about the local plant and animal/bird life.

A while ago, I realised that I’m inevitably going to want to be able to compare what I’ve seen this year with what happens next year. At first I tried keeping a daily diary – on paper and then digitally, but I just don’t have the time to keep up that pace, so I thought I’d try to do a summary here once in a while.

So the highlights of July on our daily walk have been…

IMAG6720_BURST001Seeing the baby conkers start to form.

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But being concerned that the horse-chestnut trees already seem to have gone into autumn mode – they’re all like this, is that normal or are they ill?

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Ok, you’re probably wondering why I’ve put this picture here. Well, until mid-July the whole lane was a mess of huge, dangerous pot-holes (which it has had for as long as I’ve been walking this route) Then one morning two weeks ago, as the dog and I stood clear of a fast approaching Audi, we watched him hit a particularly big hole and blow out his front tyre. I stopped to talk to him and he said the council should sort out the road - oh yes, I thought, and pigs will be sprouting wings any day now, but just look what happened a week later!

Mind you, it was a very patchy job to say the least, as you can see by the amount of water still filling the holes after the mid-month thunderstorms…

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Can you see the squashed traffic cone in the hedge – it used to mark the biggest hole. You’d still be foolish to drive, walk or cycle in those puddles.

Talking of rain, we’ve certainly had our share this month. The lane becomes a fast-flowing stream – which I love, but the dog hates…

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The sky has been wonderful

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But perhaps the best part of the month has been watching the fruits arrive in the hedgerow…

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elderberries, not ready yet, but there will be plenty.

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Hazelnuts,

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and blackberries, although there are still a lot of brambles in flower.

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These thistles are nearly over now, but I loved their shape and texture.

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The lane feels more like a tunnel now that the hedges are so high. This was the lane in February

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And today.

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I think I may have become a tiny bit obsessed with all this :)

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