);

Soft and Prickly

It’s strange when I think back about it, but it is because of a thistle that I am now living in a house I love.

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I loved our last house too, but it was rented, with a landlady who lived nearby and walked past it on a daily basis. It had a large garden that was a magnet for wildlife: birds, bees, newts in the pond, and we even caught a glimpse of a hedgehog on the camera trap once. As a result, I admit we let the garden get a little wild around the edges, especially in the spring and early summer when the birds were nesting.  It also meant that plants some people might consider weeds, I let grow – including a thistle.

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I had been watching one particular thistle grow for weeks; they grow incredibly fast and this one would be flowering very soon.  Yet one day a gardeners’ truck turned up, sent by the landlady.  I explained about the nesting birds, about how we would cut things down and return the garden to a slightly more ordered state in another month once they had all fledged.

But it fell on deaf ears: they were paid to do a job and they did it.  Hedges? Trimmed to within an inch of their lives. Planters? Things that were not yet in bloom were pulled out.  And the thistle I had been watching? Cut down.

I realise now that this was wrong on several levels.  First, it’s illegal to disturb nesting birds.  Second, we should have been given 24 hours notice before anyone came on the property.  And third?  Well, a sympathetic eye to what they were actually doing to the garden would have been nice. Instead, it was left feeling sterile and overly tidy. It was also the impetus we needed to begin hunting for a house of our own.

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So this is why these photos I snapped over the weekend mean a lot to me: we are now able to have a thistle growing near the front door, attracting not negative attention but a number of bees and other insects, and adding a much wanted touch of wildness to a suburban garden.

Elaine Massung Off the Beaten Track
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