Just as the sun’s warmth begins to tease the spring worm from the ground, this blog is also emerging after a long winter absence. Three weeks ago the lapwings returned to the valley, rolling in the thin sunshine with their lovely peeee-WHit calls, strutting around on the haugh in their fabulous head-dresses and generally calling the Spring forward. Today they were out in force. It was not a day to stay inside, so I walked out to the moor spring. This is the heart of the Hepple estate, cocooned in heather, cupped by the sandstone hills and hushed by the sound of wind in the pines.
One day I’ll be burnt to a crisp and scattered here, but for the moment it is entirely uncontaminated by human remains. The spring that rises here from a long journey through five hundred feet of peat, sandstone and limestone, making it not just crystal clean, but also slightly alkaline. It is this gentle alkalinity that our junipers love so they tend to cluster around these alkaline flushes.
This male juniper drinks direct from the burn, its roots straddle the rocks either side. It looks sensationally vigorous.
All the female junipers in this spring area are named after family aunts. This grand old lady is called Horizontal Hester.
The real Hester was anything but horizontal. Spry, sparkling, somewhat to the left of socialist (I used to be be given airfix models of Russian bombers, or Russian dictionaries at Christmas) she was a most original force. She would be tickled to think that her juniper namesake was producing berries so prodigiously at such a ripe age. The crop for this year is still woody and small, but it already has that smoky sandalwood taste that we so value in our green juniper berries.
It is hard to estimate juniper’s age but our Hepple juniper has 150 rings in wood the spread of a man’s hand. Hester is at least three times the girth. I would put her at somewhere between 300-400 years old. The exceptionally slow growth of juniper at the altitude and latitude of Hepple means that juniper lives much longer than they do in the South. It might seem odd that constant adversity aids longevity, but that is how it is.
Further up the colony stands a majestic male we call The Major.
This old gent stands ten foot tall. Last spring he turned a rather splendid yellow as he strutted his stuff for the ladies. How old is he? Ageless. The Major’s undercarriage is considerable – if we may have a closer look:
The Major must be 400 years old and still going strong. Who’s going to compete with that? Rod Stewart?
Finally, here is Aunt Anne. She is old but absolutely undiminished.
All the green juniper for our inaugural batch came from this Aunt. She produced green berries so furiously that a majority remained after our harvesting despite her diminutive size. This year the berries will turn purple and be carried off by the birds. There has been some bracken overshadowing so this year we will try to ensure nothing disturbs her aged boughs. She more than any other juniper at Hepple deserves rest.