There is a battle of the reds going on at either end of the cattle gate. To the left, a rose bush, leaning on an elder. Its ordinarily slim hips are an eye-popping scarlet and unusually plump. To the right, a hawthorn, its darker berries swollen from the standard petits pois size to that of garden peas.
This year, nature weathered a wet winter, a spring of perpetual sunshine and sustaining showers through summer to produce a supersized harvest. Other than elder, I do not think any fruiting tree or bush has had a better year here. Our shrunken horizons make me wonder in ignorance if the rest of the country is sharing the greatest glut in memory.
The softer, earlier fruit – blackberries and damsons – have their bounty preserved in our bottles, jars and crammed freezer. It looks as if whole apple carts were upset under every crab tree, for they lie bruised and blemished, two or three thick on the ground. The blackthorn is still all blue-black, with not much thorn on view.
Ivy, the last to fruit, is only now ending its long flowering season, with dense clusters of green beads promising a late winter bonanza of black berries.
Such was the productivity of the ivy’s nectaries that they held swarms of wasps in buzzing attendance through late summer, leaving our picnic table virtually untroubled. I thought the ivy blossom smelt a bit rank, but it was evidently more appealing than anything we could cook up.
The rose and hawthorn, two plants that put out a spring display in pink and white for pollination rights in the spring, would appear to be in an autumn “Eat me”, “No, eat me” competition. A blackbird on the other side of the gate is working its way through the back of one of the bushes.
The bigger rosehips – full of body, glossy-coated and shining under a blue sky – are irresistible. The smaller hawthorn berries are dull, matt and partly obscured by still green leaves. But the haws are winning the feeding race. I reach out and press a hip between thumb and forefinger. It resists. The time will come when it softens and satisfies. But not yet, and the birds know it.