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Hallo again to all.

Even the most casual skimmer of Anglican news over the past week couldn't avoid the sorry mess that is the tale told in the 'Slee memo'. No principal player in this memo comes off admirably; in fact, rather the opposite. The atmosphere of manipulation and manoeuvring described in rather dry and matter-of-fact terms makes it all the more appalling to read. We wanted to leave that room after having entered it through Andrew Brown's initial article and then through Colin Slee's document itself.

So we did. And we went straight into the garden.* And a very Anglican thing that is to do.

Dean S. Reynolds HoleUntil very recent history, a parson of the Church of England had a vicarage with a glebe, where there would be a kitchen garden for the growing of food and a flower garden for truth, beauty, and goodness. The flower garden often contained an abundance of herbs, for cooking and for medicine. Indeed, in earlier times (say, to 1800) the flower garden was mostly herbs, with a few flowers grown primarily for the medicinal properties. Vicarage gardens could be relatively small or extend to a vast number of acres, depending on the benefice. In the cities, it might be a small plot, but there would be green space somewhere. From the earliest times of the Ecclesia Anglicana, we find clergy in the garden, not simply strolling and sniffing, but planting and propagating.

Do you know the Reverend S. Reynolds Hole (1819-1904), better known as 'Dean Hole'? He was quite besotted by roses, loving them nearly as much as he loved fox hunting. As Vicar of Caunton, he grew 400 varieties and later when appointed Dean of Rochester, 135 roses filled the deanery garden. From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'The establishment of the National Rose Society in December 1876 was largely due to his efforts; his Book about Roses, How to Grow and Show Them (1869; 15th edn, 1896), though of no great scientific value, did much to popularize horticulture. The work was translated into German and circulated widely in America. Hole presided at the National Rose Conference at Chiswick in 1889, and Tennyson, in writing to him, hailed him as "the Rose King"'.

Canon Henry Nicholson Ellacombe (1822-1916) was a charming generalist gardener. Vicar of Bitton for more than a half century, his garden of 1.5 acres contained nearly 3000 variety of plants and 'it was said there was no garden of its size in England that contained so manCanon HN Ellacombey varied, rare, and interesting plants'. He not only gardened, he wrote on it. His very successful In a Gloucestershire Garden (1895) ran into numerous editions and in his book, The Plant-Lore and Garden Craft of Shakespeare (1878) he listed, identified, and commented on every plant mentioned in Shakespeare's works. He urged country parsons to take up his passion and not neglect their vicarage gardens. Alas, the vicarage at Bitton was sold in 1951 and little remains of the great garden Canon Ellacombe created.

The Reverend Joseph Pemberton (1852-1926) was another rosarian, focussing on the breeding and propagating of what he termed the hybrid musk rose. By 1896 he and his sister were growing about 4000 roses, many of them the once-blooming old-fashioned roses. 'He set out to breed such varieties, with the intention that they should outbloom his grandmother's, most of which were finished for the season in July, by flowering as long as the winter allowed, even up to Christmas Day. He wanted roses which would survive and bloom after all around them had perished, rather than those cosseted and nursed through their sickly lives by the showmen'†. Pemberton's roses are found today in numerous garden catalogues. You can grow one in your own garden, if you so wish.

This trio of Anglican gardeners couldn't have imagined a garden without fragrance, a fate it seems our garden centres condemn us to in the present day. So much attention on size and colour and so little to fragrance! There is some movement to restore that important dimension in flowers (David Austin and his roses being a major triumph), but it remains neglected, alas. Rosa Moschata, the true musk rose

We owe the survival of fragrance of the original musk rose — mentioned in Shakespeare and mysteriously blooming towards the autumn of the year — to the detective skills of the great gardener Graham not-in-Holy-Orders Thomas, who was determined to track down this puzzling flower that seemed to have been lost by 1960. (There were many roses masquerading as the original musk rose, but they were not.) Learning that there might be a bit of a bush left in the garden of EA Bowles, Graham Thomas pursued the trail there and indeed found the rose that had been nearly lost to cultivation. Years earlier, Mr Bowles had obtained his specimen from Canon Ellacombe's garden. Shakespeare's musk rose was rediscovered at last‡.

It is a small irony that the Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking on Shakespeare last week at the Hay Festival. Rather than Shakespeare's flowers it seems there was a discussion of his religious beliefs, with the ABC intoning: 'He wasn’t a very nice man in many ways – it’s always very shocking, that. The late Shakespeare was hoarding grain and buying up property in Stratford – it was not terribly attractive'.

Well, the Slee memo shows a man who seems not nice in many ways — and 'it’s always very shocking, that'. Rather than pinching a bit of rosemary for remembrance — for the Slee memo is not likely to be forgot — we'll head out into the garden to bury our nose deeply in the rich and heady scent of the ancient rose Maiden's Blush.

'Smell was the first of our senses, and it was so successful that in time the small lump of olfactory tissue atop the nerve cord grew into a brain. Our cerebral hemispheres were originally buds from olfactory stalks. We think because we smelled', writes Diane Ackerman in A Natural History of the Senses.

We recommend more time in the garden, especially for bishops and archbishops. Perhaps if they smell, they'll think

See you next week.

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Last updated: 29 May 2011


* We'll admit a northern hemisphere bias to this essay, as it's just early summer in this upper half of the world. We know our brothers and sisters in a southerly direction are just entering into their winter, so some of these musings don't apply directly.

† From 'The Makers of Heavenly Roses', by Jack Harkness

‡ The fascinating story is told by Graham Thomas in his classic 'Climbing Roses Old and New' (1965)


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