Bee heaven, first days of autumn

Kerridge Hill

Kerridge Hill, looking west from Rainow

Today Jane, Wyn and I walked the length of Kerridge Hill, a ridge of millstone grit that rises quite suddenly to 800 feet above sea level east of Macclesfield. It was sunny and calm, with swallows hunting over the stunted hawthorn and hardhead, thistle and woundwort alive with insects. Nectar is still abundant, even more so a little higher, where the flowering heather spreads like great bruises on the hillsides.

But the plant that had summoned the bees from miles around was a fantastic Chilean leatherwood growing in a front garden in Rainow. I’ve never seen one of this size and certainly never seen one so covered in flowers. They’re very slow growing, and the ones I looked after at Kew were pretty miserable in the dry sandy soil, in spite of our conscientious mulching and summer irrigation, reaching no more than 2 metres in 10 years.

The Rainow leatherwood

The Rainow leatherwood, Eucryphia glutinosa or hybrid

The Rainow leatherwood was at least 8 metres tall – possibly 10 – and growing at the lowest point in the village, where Tower Hill dips steeply down to Mill Brook, in a sheltered, south-facing fold that obviously mitigates against the harsh winters hereabouts.

Mass of leatherwood flowers

Mass of leatherwood flowers, teeming with bees

Eucryphia glutinosa comes from the forests of Chile and can’t stand lime. The fragrant flowers have four white petals and a central pom pom of yellowish stamens with tiny red anthers. Its pinnate leaves are semi-evergreen or deciduous and put on fine colour in the autumn. The Rainow specimen could have been the species, or perhaps, E. x intermedia, a hybrid between E. glutinosa and E. lucida, which is said to be the hardiest of the evergreens, and flowers like mad. Maybe the exuberant flowering confirms that it’s the hybrid.

Kerridge Hill is an abrupt end to the west-east sweep of the Cheshire Plain, forcing the cloud upwards and wringing the rain from it.  I know a plant that clearly revels in it.


About Katherine Price

My creative non-fiction has been published by Litro, Caught by the River, The Clearing and Earthlines. My short fiction by the Lampeter Review and Worcester Literary Festival's Flashes of Fiction. I wrote 'Kew Guide' (2014) for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I wrote 'Get Plants: how to bring green into your life' (2017) for Kew Publishing and my writing about plants and gardens has been published in The Plantsman, The Alpine Gardener and the English Garden. I worked as a gardener at Kew for ten years and I am currently writing a novel. I live in Twickenham, a suburb of south west London. @wildsuburban
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