Thursday, 20 June 2013

Walking with Walnuts...

I had to use that title, it's so alliterative

The house that I rent here in England is small, so small that I call it The Doll's House, it's about one fifth the size of my house in France and very, very expensive. I know, it's a little crazy, this situation, but it is as it is and for now it must be tolerated.

There are compensations.
Here is the principle one...

Welcome to the green...

As seen from my bedroom window which I keep wide open for most of the year, even in winter, so that I can sit in bed and gaze at the green

  At four o'clock on a June morning when the green is shrouded in mist the dog and I are out early, too early for other walkers, we have the green all to ourselves.

I always try to walk into the mist and the mist always eludes me. I love that! Maybe one day I'll catch the mist.

In winter I sometimes wake with the scent of snowflakes in the air and I leap from bed and look out on this scene...

This is my favourite weather, I am addicted to snow and should probably live north of the Arctic circle.

When it snows we spend a lot of time on the green, of course.

Those trees are walnuts. When I first moved here I was delighted to discover them, partly because I am a faithful forager and in autumn I love to return home with my pockets full of walnuts, and partly because they are such magnificent trees.

Walnut trees are good for us.
And all parts of the tree are useful...
The leaves have laxative, astringent and detergent properties. They can be used fresh, when their oily aroma is delicious, or dried, seeped in water and drunk daily or applied externally. I have to admit that I haven't tried them, not being in need of them medicinally, but now I'm curious...   
The bark can be dried and crushed and used as a purgative. I think not... 
The nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, B vitamins and antioxidants, they help to lower cholesterol and keep blood vessels supple and free of deposits. All of which adds up to wonderful mood-enhancing, brain-boosting, heart-healing goodness.

Walnut wood makes beautiful furniture, but years ago we British fell in love with mahogany and our walnut plantations were abandoned when we preferred to import that hardwood from the ravaged rainforests of its native lands. Mahogany makes strong, sturdy furniture but it takes a long time to grow, it costs a great deal to transport and it's felling causes a lot of damage to its forests. I think it's better to stay local, to grow the food, to make the clothes, to manufacture the goods, that a community needs, close to home.

If I had the means, I'd have a walnut plantation. I wouldn't be able to chop down the trees, I'd be too sentimental, they'd have to grow until I am no longer around and someone else would have to harvest their wood. Which reminds me of my former partner in France and the irony of a fate that brought together an unashamed tree-hugger and a skilled and enthusiastic carpenter. 

But science and sense aside, walking with the walnuts does wonders for my well-being.
I can't even begin to describe how relaxed and happy I am when I'm out there on the green, or how much better I am because I live next to it. It's unquantifiable. Suffice to say that I am grateful to have found this place.   

So I adore the walnut trees
And I worry about them
Last year the weather was so wet and so cold that the trees succumbed to a nasty blight, the leaves rotted on the branches and fell much too early. And, having unfurled their flowers in the midst of a monsoon, they were unable to produce any nuts. Last year the walnuts suffered and I fretted...

 This year winter held us in its icy grip for a long, long time. It was the coldest March on record. Some days it felt as if spring would never come. I watched the walnuts and I worried...

And then, suddenly, it was spring...

The tight little buds on the bare branches of the walnut trees burst open...
Delicate red/brown leaves unfurled...

The male flowers appeared...   

And the small, yellow female flowers could be seen sheltering shyly in the tips of the branches....

And every day as I walked among the walnuts I watched over them, as anxious as a doting parent

And the sun continued to shine and the rain was light and infrequent, and the walnuts flourished and I breathed a sigh of relief.

And now the walnut trees are growing well in the sunshine that we've enjoyed for the last few weeks. The nuts are swelling nicely, the leaves are glossy and strong and I am content, although I still watch over my walnuts and I still inspect them during our thrice-daily walks.

Life isn't always easy and often it doesn't go the way we'd planned
Some years are good, some years are bad
We have to have faith that finally, tout serra bien

Last summer was not kind to the trees on the green...

This autumn there will be walnuts to gather...


  1. Rarely have I read anything that bespeaks of a writer so lovingly at one with their environment. You made 'the green' come alive in a way that was almost pure sentience. Thank you.

    1. Bless you Tom
      I love the green, without it my life would be a great deal poorer and a lot less fulfilled.
      And best of all, it is natural, beautiful and absolutely free

  2. As Tom said. I too love the green and could not live without it around me. Your walnut trees sound marvelous to be in a public space.

    I was made to think of walnut ink, though I've never tried it. Some artist friends used it to stain paper to make it look aged.

    I also just learned something a bit horrific: "An ancient use of Walnut ink was to stain the hands of criminals in gypsy communities. Once stained, it is impossible to wash off and remains in the skin for long period of time."

    1. Yes, the green was once an orchard belonging to a local farmer and was acquired for the millennium and turned into a 'green breathing space' for the benefit of the community. A neighbour, who is artistic, made mosaics for a wall around a sun dial.

      I just read that about the ink also...

      But how nice to use it to age paper, I could start producing my own 'manuscripts', that would be rather fun. I shall experiment!

  3. Oh,'s so wonder it gives you a sense of peace and happiness!

  4. I love all your photos here but that last one is delightful.

    When I was a child there was a walnut tree in a garden that hung over our primary school playground. The elderly couple who owned it grew fed up with kids trying to knock the walnuts down, and it was always a point of contention at school. Oddly, I don't remember many walnut trees otherwise in the UK, and became much more aware of them here. Our neighbours used to make an aperitif from the green nuts and young leaves, it was nice, but ever so slightly medicinal-tasting. There's a large tree that overhangs some steps coming down from Moncontour, and they get slippery with the dropped leaves and husks in autumn, picking up the nuts stains one's hands and there's the oddest, iodine-y sort of smell to them.

    I think the trade in mahogany is more or less banned now; one of the few family treasures I have is a beautiful simple mahogany gate-leg table which my parents bought when they were first married at the start of the War (2nd World!) from a wealthy family who were throwing it out in favour of figured walnut! Fashions must have come and gone.


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