Saturday, 28 March 2009

Hyacinths on the Fen

For one weekend only, timed to coincide with the clocks moving forward, a small fenland farm on the outskirts of Cambridge opens it's doors to the public.

Stretching out over a 2 acre site, the row upon row of Hyacinths lie like candy sherbet, earthed up against the black fen soil.

Old Mr. Ship holds the National collection of Hyacinths, some 200 varieties, some of which are hanging onto their very existence, thanks to the efforts of this one man.

In a cold wind that whistles across a flat patchwork of fields, long straight farm tracks and deep ditches, a small group of people follow the old boy around like lovelorn puppies, hanging on to his every word.

Stories, knowledge and passion flows out of Mr. Ship in abundance, a rare breed amidst a field of rare breeds, stopping periodically between the rows, he picks a few flower stems to pass around, making sure we have all noted the shape of petal, the history of each cultivar and the subtle differences in the perfumes.

Dutch nurseries cultivated 2000 varieties in the 18th century to service the flamboyant needs of the Victorians, today only a small remnant of those original cultivars remain. Who would haver thought that a windswept 2 are plot in the Cambridgeshire fens would hold such beautiful gems, teetering on the brink of production.

Every word Mr. Ship speaks is snatched away in the wind, melting with the rain into the damp dark earth beneath our feet. It's all in his head, no books, no thesis, no dreaming spires.

Between bouts of hail and heavy showers we take shelter under the corrugated metal roof of an outbuilding, drinking tea out of polystyrene cups, chatting and buying plants off the back of a tractor.

A small group of Linnets bounces across a loose hedge at the far end of the field. A few brave souls brace the elements, walking between the lines of flowers, marking down their 'wants' on a yellow order form.

As we leave with armfuls of gaudy blooms, the dull thud of a shotgun scatters the crows and we back track along an endless narrow farm track deeper into nowheresville.

Looking over my shoulder I see the ribbons of Hyacinths receding into the dirty puddles and slanting showers, until all I see is wet ditches and a rough road slicing through the black fen.

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