Today’s review is a little different as I took part in the Chicken House Instagram tour for By Rowan and Oak that asked us to create a nature table to evoke the meaning across these two novels which tell the tale of a small group of Hidden Folk awakening in Spring to the realisation that the natural world they caretake around them has declined to the point that they are literally fading away and implores the reader to take up their stewardship of the world and save what we still have before it’s too late.
I don’t think I can better my assessment of the depth, techniques and wild messages in Harrison’s writing than I did in my review of By Ash Oak and Thorn the first part of the journey quest so to prevent repetition, I’m going to be more proactive about the meaning and activity of this review.
Across the sweeping journey quest of By Rowan & Yew by Melissa Harrison, the sequel to the incredible By Ash, Oak and Thorn we have been challenged by the Hidden Folk to reawaken our part in The Wild World to save it and as part of the launch fellow Bookstagrammers have been invited to express this by creating a nature table.
Melissa weaves into her journey quest a range of Wild World nature knowledge and asks us to pause and notice. That the worlds we construct around ourselves of busyness and society have no meaning or reach when we have no natural world to inhabit.
There are so many stories about fairies and gnomes and pixies…I felt like there must be a reason for all the storiesRo
Whilst By Ash, Oak and Thorn through the metaphor of Spring bringing new life and fresh growth after slumber focuses on the awakening of the intrepid trio not merely after a hibernating winter, nor merely to both the struggles and richness of the natural world outside the garden in Ash Row but reflecting the very human ‘I’m alright’ blindness to the problem that the Hidden Folk blithely ignored of the March of ‘progress’ over the wildness both within and around humanity.
By Rowan and Yew in turn resonates with its poignant, mournful autumn into winter setting reflecting the decay, the falling of the sap through the loss of habitat, the decline of the birds and bees, the ending of it all, the frustrations and hopelessness that things won’t ever change leading up to the point of the longest night and the light begins to return becomes a metaphor for hope that we can recover nature.
Melissa and her Hidden Folk implore us to empower ourselves to invest in our part of the wheel and return the light before it is too late.
I am lucky enough to have a good sized garden that we’ve worked hard with to encourage wild spaces and biodiversity, and it’s remarkable how full of life this space is now compared to when we arrived, with a family of starlings in our privet, an apiary of gentle bees with natures as sweet as the honey they make and recently a Robin who sings to us just like our chickens chatter excitedly when they see us. I often say to my mum that the Hidden Folk have returned in our patch of earth and that makes my heart glow.
One of my favourite sections in By Rowan and Yew is when they investigate Ro’s garden, and they are shocked at the care, thoughtful action and tenderness by which Ro’s family have encouraged the wild in the garden as much as possible rather than a sterile buzz-cut lawn with some ready-to-plant plug pansies creating neatly pretty islands in the ruthlessly and chemically weeded brown edges- and I’m sadly talking from observation of family gardens there not simply the book.
So I decided it was important that this display is from our own garden, if only to show how we can interact with the Wild World in less obviously ‘wild’ or ancient spaces too.
You don’t need a garden as large or diverse as Ro’s nor ours to make an impact, every little action adds up to welcome the Wild world into our sterile human spaces with bird feeders, bat boxes, birdhouses and insect hotels supporting the local fauna.
Ethically sourced house plants oxygenate and vitalise our indoor spaces. Whilst reputable sellers are a good source you should also check out if there are any plant swap or garden hobby groups near you who may hold meets or sales where you can pick up cuttings or ‘babies’ to raise on, learn about how to care from someone experienced and maybe discover kinship. Ethical choices are especially important if you want the fashionable and low maintenance succulents as the global demand has made a significant impact on vulnerable habitat loss.
If you can only manage a window box try perennial herbs that you don’t need to remember to sew each year!! Or for flowers layer with spring, summer bulbs and something for autumn or night flowering plants all will breathe life to an apartment space as will growing some pots of herbs, wildflowers and Pixie stock fruit trees on a balcony or in a fully paved backyard.
To those with even the tiniest of gardens let it run a little looser by letting annuals go to seed, many have STUNNING seed heads that not only will give you FREE plants next year but will feed wildlife into autumn and winter.
A huge well known campaign is to only cut the lawn once or twice a year, and if that’s just too much too soon (we found a grass snake nest two years ago that the Elf did NOT cope well with!) then cut shorter in ‘paths’ through the space with ‘islands’ left to grow wild.
Redesign your space to welcome nature in, or if too ‘big’ allocate a small corner to wild space to place softwood cuttings, branches, logs, allow beneficial ‘weeds’ to flourish (nettles actually make a cracking plant feed when steeped in water like a fresh tea!)
Soften our hard edges with nature and the Wild will reward us.
For me constructing my nature table I was particularly struck by how ‘pink’ autumn is in my garden, some of this is by our own hand in planting choices, but also the natural colours such as the cyclamen that poke through each September to shake out their fairy dresses and dance across our garden or our Peruvian guava shrubs (a very popular Victorian urban hedging plant now cultivated as luxury Tazberries in Tasmania) bubbling with strawberry ice cream coloured berries that when ripe leave a tint of candy floss on the tongue.
It also makes me pause to realise how I only had to check up on the identification of two plants and I debated whether to list common or Latin names showing much plant knowledge I have in my head! And equally how much I am passing onto the girls as both Littlefae but particularly my little Earth spirit Tinyfae helped me calling out the names of plants she has interacted with since she could toddle.
But more striking is how much life there still is at the time of turning inwards, a beautiful metaphor for the call to notice and embrace as Nature is in her own metaphorical autumn.
Whilst I have long known that roses and penstemon flowers bloom late into November, and we have autumn fruiting raspberries, I was really shocked to see blossoms and a new green strawberry fruiting in our strawberry patch!! Whether this is a last boost from the warmer autumn aka climate change or something that usually happens I don’t know, because before this nature activity I never quite investigated this patch after the bounty of summer- we all have more to notice.
You ain’t special. We’re all disappearing. And there’s not a bleeping thing any wild creature can do about itSpangle the Starling.
This is such a powerful outburst from the frustrated Starling who has had it up to here with the self pitying of the Hidden Folk when hedgehogs, starlings, bees and so many more are not just in decline, they just seem to have vanished, or vanishing from the world, and it is such a futile feeling of hopelessness to nature that only the destroyer of worlds, humanity, that can halt and make it anew.
It may seem grandiose to connect making a nature table with a call to save the natural world but it is a wonderful act of intervention to stop the merry go round and just notice the world around us. I highly recommend both children and adults to read this series and to have a go at the activity here yourselves to begin or boost your own awakening and empowerment as every heart and hand in the cause is worth it.
If you feel encouraged to try your own nature table, whether from your own space, locally or in a richly wild space check out this activity on the Chicken House website. And please check out the other nature tables on Instagram!
By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison is published by Chicken House and available now in paperback.
Thank you for my copy 💜