Coun­try di­ary

New For­est, Hamp­shire

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Fas­ci­nated by JEC’s ac­count of her search for the bog bean

( in a

Coun­try di­ary dated 5 June 1933

(I’d come across it in the slim grey se­lec­tion of her di­aries pub­lished posthu­mously in 1939), we tried last year to re­live the ad­ven­ture.

When Janet El­iz­a­beth Case (1863–1937), a clas­sics scholar who had taught Vir­ginia Woolf, was writ­ing eight decades ago, the for­est re­tained a sense of wilder­ness that it is hard to find now. Cars were around but did not in­fest it as they do in this cen­tury, and car parks were vir­tu­ally un­known.

JEC de­scribes leap­ing from clump to clump of sweet-gale (bog-myr­tle) to get a foot­ing as she and a friend named only as

“E” crossed ground that was sticky and treach­er­ous, even on a hot day, their path im­peded as bri­ars snagged and en­tan­gled them. Per­sis­tence was re­warded when they came across “a great stretch of its shin­ing triple leaves and – best of all – spike on spike of its amaz­ingly lovely white-fringed flow­ers and rosy buds”.

To­day there are sev­eral bog bean sites that can be reached eas­ily from nearby car parks. Last year we vis­ited some we thought fit­ted her de­scrip­tion but there was no trace of the plants.

It’s said that the bog bean gets its name from the triple clus­ter of leaves that are rem­i­nis­cent of the broad bean, but its en­chant­ing flow­ers are un­like any­thing else. This spring the plants are com­ing into flower some­what later than in re­cent years – we have seen them here in late April – but, be­cause of the drench­ing we have had over past weeks the for­est is very wet, the ground in­deed sticky and treach­er­ous. As we found out, keep­ing a sure foot­ing re­quires good bal­ance.

Per­haps, though, the real ad­ven­ture be­longs to the mod­ern age. Even with­out bri­ars to snag and en­tan­gle, get­ting into po­si­tion to frame a good pic­ture from a low per­spec­tive is a chal­lenge. The for­est’s boggy ar­eas of­ten con­ceal sink holes, just where bog beans thrive, of­ten in shal­low water with a gluti­nous muddy bot­tom. A chance, maybe, to get stuck in!

Gra­ham Long

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