Connecting to a place through plants

Working towards belonging like the Darley Yew

Finding yourself living in a new place after a big move can be very ungrounding. All the usual things that root you to place are missing, such as people, familiar surroundings, your home and garden. The things that especially rooted me to my home in Essex I found in the countryside where I walked my dog. This is where I belong, it said. The tree with the hollow. The old oak with five outstretched limbs like a hand. The poppies and camomile every summer in the field by the woods and the ever changing view of the creek and the tide ebbing and flowing: ever changing and delighting.  So this is what I have begun to look for in this new place I find myself in the county of Derbyshire.

To be able to go for new walks and name the trees, plants and birds of this new place is to feel the beginnings of a belonging. When I first arrived everything was so unfamiliar, but then I began to recognise the plants that emerged in the spring that felt like old friends. The dandelion, the bluebells in the woods, red campion and the buttercup, then new ones for me began to emerge. The first one was ramsons (Allium ursinum). These were found in Essex but nowhere near where I lived. To walk through the woods with the wondrous smell of garlic was a first and a wonder to me. The second new wonder was that of the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), found nowhere near to me previously, but found growing prolifically along most water courses and damp areas in Derbyshire. A plant that I was very drawn to but only ever seen on my travels. Just beginning to flower with its frothy blooms, this plant gives me a sense of a new place and my place in it; a new friend prior to me making new human friends.

How my first few weeks felt finding my sense of place
How my first few weeks felt finding my sense of place.

The beech (Fagus sylvatica) and the lime are two of my favourite trees, again not that common in Essex, but here they are found everywhere, avenues of limes and woodlands of beech. Happy days. In St Helen’s churchyard in Darley dale there is the 2,000 year old Darley Yew, an absolute delight to come across on my dog walk. You don’t get much more rooted to place than that.

Working towards belonging like the Darley Yew
Working towards belonging like the Darley Yew.

Coming across mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) was the moment I really felt at home as this is a firm favourite of mine and one I look forward to each year, waiting for the full moon to pick and infuse the flowers and leaves to drink as a tea. An inconspicuous plant but one I see as my plant ally.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).

I don’t want to fit into this new place, that somehow feels that I need to discard bits of me in order to do so, but I want to feel I belong and the plants help me do this; how can you feel lonely surrounded by all those plants, animals, birds and trees.

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