nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

garden escapes: balm-of-Gilead

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My mom used to take me for a walk around the garden when I visited. One of her favorite trees was the balm-of-Gilead. Her original tree had escaped into other places along the driveway and she loved its tenacity. She always pulled a leaf from a low branch and crushed it to bring forth the smell … slightly medicinal, aromatic and balsamic. I also love the colour, green with a tinge of orange bronze.

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The balm-of-Gilead (Populus × jackii or P.× gileadensis), is the hybrid between balsam poplar and eastern cottonwood. This hybrid is sometimes planted as a shade tree, and sometimes escapes from cultivation.

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As we drive the roads of abandoned houses and community, I often see balm-of-Gilead before I see any other garden escapes.

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In 1898,  Beaufort, Carleton County, was a community with 1 post office and a population of 100. Today, there is only one, modern house in the community. But remnants of old gardens still remain. We saw many garden plants, both persisting and escaping: monkshood, dropwort, orange day-lily and butter-and-eggs. There were also apple trees and a poplar I identified as balm-of-Gilead.

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Today Beaufort is a long, lonely road with only traces of the former community.

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I took a slip of Mom’s balm-of-Gilead and planted it at our cabin property. It is taking its time, growing a little more each year. I think, when I am gone, perhaps this tree will have grown and be sending out descendants of its own.

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Take care, stay safe.

Don’t get Covid-tired.

Be tenacious like the balm-of-Gilead.

Jane

Written by jane tims

August 3, 2020 at 7:00 am

garden escapes: learning something new

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The poems I am writing have two dimensions:

  1. consideration of the plant, its names and characteristics, and its tendency to die, persist or escape when a garden is abandoned
  2. consideration of the community or area where the plant occurs

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For the botany, I have my floras: Hal Hinds ‘Flora of New Brunswick‘ (2002), Roland and Smith’s  ‘Flora of Nova Scotia’ (1969) and others. During the project so far, I have learned about three new-to-me flowers: golden alexander (Zizia aurea), dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris) and narrow-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus sylvestris).

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For the history, I have the New Brunswick Archives site ‘Where is Home?’ which tells when the community was first settled, what the population of the community was in certain years and so on. I also have the Canada Census for various decades and some excellent local histories lent to me by a very good friend.

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For example, one of the abandoned communities we visited was Mavis Mills, north of Stanley. The community of Mavis Mills included a lumber mill and camp, post office and train stop. The community was named by a lumberman for his daughter, Mavis Mobbs. The community had a post office from 1922 to 1928. The 1921 Census shows a boarder and miller, John Mobbs, in Stanley Parish and below his name a mill camp with 31 men.

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Something that puzzled me was the entry of ‘last lumberman’ under occupation, beside each of the 31 names. At first I thought it was a mis-spelling of ‘lath.’ Then I read more about the mill, in Velma Kelly’s book ‘The Village in the Valley: A History of Stanley and Vicinity (1983). After World War I, metal was in short supply. So in 1919, the Mavis Timber Company was contracted to make ‘last blocks’ from rock maple.

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canvas 1921

a screen capture of part of the Canada Census for 1921 … under ‘Occupation’, the Census lists ‘Last lumber for each worker in the mill …

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I had no idea what ‘last blocks’ were, so went on a Google hunt. ‘Last blocks’ were used to make the wooden shoe forms used by shoe makers. From 1919 to 1924, the Mavis Lumbering Company made five million ‘last blocks,’ to be shipped to England.

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Mavis Mills abandoned property

an empty lot in a place in the community where Mavis Mills once stood … the lot is filled with golden alexanders

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Such is the learning from a project such as mine. The phrase ‘never stop learning’ comes to mind.

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Have you ever heard of a ‘last block?’ My great-grandfather, Josiah Hawk, who was a shoemaker in Pennsylvania, would be puzzled about the lack of knowledge of his great-granddaughter!

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shoemaker’s lasts (Source: Wikipedia)

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Note that this project ‘garden escapes’ is funded under a Creations Grant from artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board).

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All my best,

staying in as much as possible and staying safe,

Jane

garden escapes: vectors

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The term ‘vector’ has different meanings depending on the discipline. In university I took two engineering courses that occupied me in the study of ‘vector’ mathematics!

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In biology, a ‘vector’ is any organism or physical entity that moves an element from one place to another. The idea of vectors is used in epidemiology, in reproductive biology, and in ecology. When I try to understand garden escapes, I am interested in vectors for seed or vegetative dispersal.

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Once a garden is abandoned, the plants there will either die, persist or escape. They escape by way of rhizomes (horizontal roots), rooting of plant parts (suckering) or spreading of seeds.

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Seeds or pieces of plant can be spread to other locations by various vectors: water, soil, air or animals. Seeds, for example, can be carried along by water in a ditch, or can spread by wind that carries seeds on specially adapted seed parts.

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dandelion fluff 2

air as a vector for seed transport

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Animal vectors include insects, birds, mammals (including humans). Some of this is deliberate (a squirrel burying acorns) and some is accidental (humans spreading seed by moving soil from one area to another).

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squirrel as a vector

squirrel as a vector for transport of seed

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The various garden escapes I have encountered usually have their preferred vectors.

  • lupines- seeds carried through air as a projectile
  • orange day-lilies- rhizomes through soil
  • yellow loosestrife- rhizomes through soil
  • creeping bellflowers- rhizomes through soil
  • rose bushes- roots through soil; humans who dig up and replant shoots
  • grape vines – suckering, seeds, humans

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This is a poem about a human vector (me):

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paths to come and go on

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Old rugosa rose,

brought the stem and root,

across the ferry

from Grand Manan,

in a banana peel.

Every summer pale

pink blooms on an arc

of thorns, biggest hips

you ever saw. Rose

will outlast the house

and all who live here.

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Virginia creeper

dug From the river bank

below the willow

on Waterloo Row.

Overcomes the pole

and every summer

the power people

pull the creeper down.

Red in the autumn,

sneaks across the lawn,

started down the drive

and along the road.

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The staghorn sumac

pinnate leaves spreading

cast purple shadows,

give a tropical air

to the driveway.

Brought the root and slip

from the gravel pit

in Beaver Dam.

New shoots every year.

Headed direction

of Nasonworth,

last time I looked.

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34 Olinville road pink roses crop

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Note that this project ‘garden escapes’ is funded under a Creations Grant from artsnb (the New Brunswick Arts Board).

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All my best!

Jane

Written by jane tims

July 29, 2020 at 7:00 am

garden escapes: having fun

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I have been working at my garden escapes project for almost a month now. Many of the poems are simple free verse, usually evenly divided in stanzas of four to seven lines, often consisting of regular numbers of syllables. I have also tried some other forms, the pantoum and the ghazal. And most fun of all, for a few poems, I have tried shape poems, using the lines of the poem to create shapes reflective of the subject matter.

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Here is a poem that goes a step further. The shape shows the shape of lupins growing in the ditch; the colours are the colours of the flowers.

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lunpins Giants Glan

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And, a poem about chokecherries, in the shape of the hanging blossoms or berries.

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I will continue to work with these, perhaps aiming to make the poem read sensibly no matter which way you approach it.

I’d appreciate any comments, positive or negative!

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All my best,

doing my best to stay in my shape,

Jane

 

Written by jane tims

July 27, 2020 at 7:00 am

garden escapes: land use changes

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Last weekend, we explored the area north-west of Woodstock, New Brunswick. The area is very agricultural and rural, well populated and prosperous.

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There were many gaps in the landscape where small farms may have been located decades ago. Today, the area is populated by large farms. Huge fields of potatoes, soybeans, corn and Christmas trees continue all the way to horizon in some communities.

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59 Williamstown

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35

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What tells me a small farming family may have lived in a particular location if there are no ruins of habitation?

1. older trees planted in a regular pattern

2. presence of trees and shrubs not found in adjacent woodland, for example scarlet maple, willow, elm, mountain ash

3. presence of garden flowers on the property or in nearby ditches; for example, musk mallow, yellow loosestrife, creeping bellflower, lupines

4. presence of hawthorns along a roadway; John Erskine (‘The French Period in Nova Scotia A.D. 1500 to 1758 and Present Remains.’ Wolfville, 1975) interpreted the presence of hawthorn to settlers who used the thorny shrubs as a means of fencing

5. presence of apple trees, raspberries or grapevines (sometimes spread by cattle or other natural means)

6. local care of a property, indicating a continuing family interest in a property where an ancestor may have lived.

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7 rte 540 Bellflower cropped

creeping bellflower

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hawthorne cropped

hawthorn

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We found all of these types of evidence. All may be subject to debate, and local knowledge would fill in many gaps.

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homestead

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sugar maple—

nine trees, in three rows

a block of lupin, flowering past

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wind sorts

through leaves, launches seed

and a fox presses through

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sweet clover

heady perfume, landscape changes

even as we watch

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4 Lindsay abandoned lot

a regular planting of maple trees, perhaps evidence of a former homestead

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All my best,

Jane

Written by jane tims

July 24, 2020 at 7:00 am

abandoned gardens: how they escape

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“… some plants will

persist, some will languish

and die, some will escape into forest,

or edges of hayfields,

roads and ditches.”

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34 Olinville road pink roses crop

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Escape artists. How do those plants we see in ditches and fields get there?

Some move by seed. Some by vegetative reproduction (by horizontal roots or by rooting of a part of the plant).

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lunpins Giants Glan

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A good example of ‘escape by seed’ is the lupin.  The lupin sets its seed in pods.  When they dry, the seeds are launched as projectiles and so can travel quite far in a single generation. 

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28 Olinville road orange day lilies

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A good example of ‘escape by vegetative reproduction’ is the orange day-lily. It only rarely sets seed. It moves along ditches or into other locations by rhizomes (horizontal roots).

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” … its names describe

where orange finds a home:

ditch lily, railroad lily

roadside lily, wash-house lily

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outhouse lily.”

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31 Olinville road orange day lilies

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In New Brunswick, you don’t have to drive far to see an orange day-lily or a lupin.

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All my best.

Staying home,

wearing a mask when I escape.

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

July 22, 2020 at 7:00 am

garden escapes: lupins

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In late June and early July, the ditches of some roads in New Brunswick are filled with colour as lupins become the dominant flower.

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Lupins are legumes and enrich the soil with nitrogen. In spite of this, there is an old tale that lupins impoverish the soil, hence the name derived from  lupe,’  the word for wolf.

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Lupins make pretty bouquets but, in my experience, have an unpleasant, peppery smell that keeps me from ever bringing them into the house.

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Lupin has been grown as an ornamental and, in earlier times, as a food source. They are great escape artists and spread easily into the countryside. Some species are considered invasive in Europe, New Zealand and places in North America.

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Lupins along the road

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Lupins do not occur along all roads, but when they do, they may have originated in the gardens of early communities. For example, lupins line the ditches of the road to Giants Glen, north of Stanley, New Brunswick. Giants Glen was settled by the Irish in 1850.

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lunpins Giants Glan

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The Giants of the Glen

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lupins escape The Glen

scramble to roadsides

fix nitrogen

repair poor soil

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fingered leaves like hands

collect the river wind

lean together

work as one

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stand tall in spikes

pink, purple and blue

grey as summer wears

rattles their seeds

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All my best!

Stay safe.

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

July 20, 2020 at 7:00 am

abandoned gardens: rhubarb gone to seed

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When a vegetable garden is abandoned, not much will remain in a couple of years. Most of the plants are annuals and so will vanish; even though some may go to seed, most plants cannot compete with native vegetation. Perennial vegetable garden plants will struggle for a while, but few will survive. The exception is rhubarb.

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Rhubarb (Rheum spp.) is known to most of us as a component of the garden. The stalks are bitter, but cooked with sugar, the tart taste is a treat. My mom used to cook rhubarb with strawberry jello, if not real strawberries, to make a dessert. Rhubarb was grown in Europe both for food and for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and one source says this contributes to the success of rhubarb since it is not likely to be eaten by rabbits, deer and other garden marauders.

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When rhubarb is used in a garden, the flowers are pulled and discarded, to allow harvesting of the stems for as long as possible. When a garden is abandoned, no one pulls the flower stalks and the flowers stand high above the plant to say, “once there was a garden here.”

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37 rhubarb Dorn Sett

old rhubarb plants at Dorn Ridge

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We have found rhubarb growing at abandoned house sites on Dugan Road west of Woodstock and at Dorn Ridge, near Burtt’s Corner.

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63 rhubard Dugan Road cropped

rhubarb plants on the Dugan Road near Woodstock

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Rhubarb, originally prized for its medicinal uses, is always welcome when it sprouts in early spring.  In days past, it meant the end of a long winter and a fresh source of nutrients and vitamin C.  To me, it is a tribute to the gardeners who have worked hard to cultivate a garden plot and make life more sustainable.

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All my best,

Jane

 

Written by jane tims

July 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

wild gardens

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As I look for ornamental plants that have escaped to other places in the landscape, I often find plants so lovely, it is hard to believe they have not been cultivated at one time.

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One of these is chicory (Cichorium intybus), a lovely blue flower. We found chicory growing on the Dugan Road west of Woodstock.

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22 flax Watson Settlement Rd

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Also known as blue sailors and, in French, chicoreé, chicory is a tall plant, seen along roadsides and in other waste places. Sometimes chicory is brought in loads of gravel (used for road maintenance) to locations where it is not usually found.

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27 chickory (2)

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Chicory has basal leaves resembling those of the dandelion.  When broken, the stem exudes a white milky fluid.

The bright blue flowers of chicory occur along the length of the almost leafless and somewhat zig-zag stem. Each flower is formed of a central involucre of tiny blue flowers and a disc of larger ray flowers.  The rays are square-cut and fringed.  The flowers follow the sun, closing by noon, or on overcast days.

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25 cropped chickory

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At least one gardener I know has successfully transplanted chicory to his garden.  I think I will keep a list of garden-worthy wildflowers during my treks this summer and perhaps write a poem to capture my virtual wildflower garden.

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All my best.

Jane 

 

 

 

Written by jane tims

July 15, 2020 at 7:00 am

garden escapes: mallow

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Mallow was one of the first flowers I had in my garden back in 1980 when we started our own home. Musk mallow (Malva moschata) has deeply divided leaves, papery pink or white petals and a pleasant scent. I loved it so much, I included it in my bridesmaid’s bouquet when I was married.

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Mallow often escapes the garden to live in ditches and in fields. In his Flora of New Brunswick, Hal Hinds says vervain mallow (Malva alcea) has escaped to the borders of fields in the Woodstock area of New Brunswick. So, I was on the lookout for the flower when we drove west of Woodstock to look at abandoned properties. And mallow was one of the first plants we found, growing in the ditch.

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3 white mallow Dugan road

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3B closeup of white mallow Dugan road

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We also found mallow growing at the edge of cultivated fields.

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60B mallow edge of field BlowdownDSCN1223

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mallow

Malva moschata

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wind-blown and paper

petals transparent

veined, flutter

in wind

the leaves

frayed and notched

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petals, perfumed in musk

pale pink and white

roadside edged

in field-flowers, bedstraw

day-lilies, yarrow and vetch

and musk mallow, garden escape

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to the edge of the field

to the edge of the road

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2B mallow Digan road

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Stay home,

wear your mask.

You don’t have to escape.

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All my best

Jane

Written by jane tims

July 13, 2020 at 7:00 am

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