Traveling through England in September on the last leg of a Marseille/Giverny trip, I happened to drop into a local bookstore, The Bell Bookshop, in the nature-rich river town of Henley-on-Thames (pronounced "Tims" as I was constantly corrected by locals), near Oxford. I entered the shop to obsessively browse English garden books, and after barely mentioning Cutting Back-My Apprenticeship In The Gardens Of Kyoto, they ordered it on the spot! Hence, Bell Bookshop, a fifty-year-old independent bookstore became the first bookstore in Europe to carry my memoir. Thank you Bell Bookshop for having faith in a woman's garden story.
A big part of Henley is seeing rowers on the Thames River, dusk to dawn, in preparation for the annual Henley Regatta race. Strong men of all ages (not that any girls were looking), row with vigor and loud breathing. I witnessed as many female crews, including several sightings of the "women over 80's" boat (so cool and inspiring!) out just after sunrise. These long boats, filled with one, two or more rowers fly down the river, barely avoiding "The Queen's Swans" who refuse to budge for these human paddlers needing a boat to float. Bikers and walkers journey up and down vast walking paths on either side of the Thames ("Tims"). Although it is frowned upon, sometimes the coaches ride bikes rather briskly along the path, yelling instructions to rowers. It's mesmerizing to watch training in progress, but it is best to step out of the way. There are trees and all sorts of flowering plants lining the river with a tinge of orange or yellow fall color in early September.
I got to take a field trip with a local arborist, Hugo London of the English Arborist company Heritage Tree Services Ltd. to find sweet Chestnuts Trees that were thought to be 800-1,200 years old! Hugo talked to me about how arborists in England are leaving old stumps of felled trees and often some parts of large branches on the ground (rather than mulching and removing everything) due to current research that microorganisms live on different parts of dead wood--crucial to the health of our overall ecosystem. I appreciated this news for I love dead wood in forests, its usefulness to birds, and beauty. I'd heard of leaving small piles of cut branches in gardens (even a hidden spot in back, but not near the house) so helpful insects and animals can live in the piles, protecting gardens from harmful critters. It felt so relaxing and magical to stay on a friends' new boat-situated on the Thames ("Tims"-your getting it!), right next to a willow with a view of an alit Temple Island Folly one warm evening. Thank you Darrel, Suri, Hugo, Ingrid and particularly Bell Bookshop for making my stay at Henley-on-Thames so personal, with nature close to my heart.