Sarah Coles

Herbs and more in England’s Ancient Garden Map

‘Dulwich?  How dull!’  joked Bob when I was going there.  So I looked up the name, and found Dulwich originates from Dill – it was the place where dill grew, where they went to harvest and infuse it in gripe water for infant and other ailments.

Suddenly I saw a map of England, alive with all the plants which give places their name.  Not just dill at Dulwich.  Alresford, where I live is the ford with alders.  Woods of oak, ash, beech and birch abound at Oakhampton, Ashridge, Beecham, and Birkenhead.  Bexhill is the hill where box grows, and aspens flourish at Apsley.  The ghosts of elms still show in the name of Elmhurst.

Beneath the wood are other plants.  Farnborough is full of ferns, and Muswell hill has a mossy spring.

Like Dulwich for dill, Croydon is a valley where wild saffron grows – it’s a crocus for  dye, and food flavouring.  And of course it also grows at Saffron Walden.  Arundel is the valley where horehound, handy for coughs, grows.  Rue grows at Roudham, and Rudheath has marigolds.

Crops are growing, like Benacre with its beans and Barlow with barley.  Rushes are collected from Rushden, handy for thatch, flooring and candlewicks.  But Bentfield is a place overgrown by bent-grass, and alas for poor starving Hungerford.

My map has bridges, streams and rivers.  And Finchley is full of birds, and crows are cawing at Crowborough.  Pigeons, delicious food, thrive at Cushat Law, cushat being dialect for them.  There are swans at Swanage, badgers at Brockenhurst and rabbits at Coneyhurst.

My map dates from the dark ages with the arrival, of the Anglo-Saxons.  The ancient Britons have been pushed west to Wales and Cornwall.  England is only partly Christian, so there’s a temple at Harrow on the Hill.  Woden is worshipped at Wednesbury, and Thor at Thursley in Surrey.  There’s Holywell with its holy well and Hollywood with its holy wood.  Grimley is haunted by ghosts, the cliff of Shincliffe is haunted by a demon and Shobrooke by goblins.  Elves and sprites are everywhere.  My map quivers with the presence of things seen and unseen.

(From Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, Caroline Taggart’s The Book of English Place Names, and the web.  Sometimes origins are murky …sometimes clear)









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