Many of us have seen an image of the Green Man, his face made of hawthorn leaves and acorns, symbols of fertility. Many of us have no idea of why such an image might exist. And yet this ancient symbol was found in cultures older than the Roman empire, expressions of birth and death. The carving of a Green Man in what is now Iraq may date from as early as 300 BCE (Before the Common Era).
There are many images of the Green Man, sometimes solemn, sometimes smiling, and sometimes grimacing and biting on a branch. Many of these images are to be found in early Christian churches, a reminder of the cycle of life.
The images and beliefs in the power of the Green Man indicate that the human race recognized its dependence on nature in those ancient times. Many of us in these modern days are still, or again, realizing the importance of caring for Nature.
Celt Grant grew up with legends of the Green Man from his Scottish father. Grant’s father grew up in the North Pacific forests of Canada and was devoted to his Scottish heritage. He even named his children to reflect that heritage. I met Celt, but his siblings are named Scott and Gael.
“My father had milking cows, but mainly he was a woodworker and kept his own woodshop. We all became woodworkers,” Grant said, adding that he is also a woodworker, and spent many years working as a preservation contractor.
“I’ve known about the Green Man since I was a teenager. He is the guardian of the forests and gardens. A benign force. He is very well known in Britain and Europe,” Grant said. Today his retirement house in Bernardston has Green Man images on the walls, a reminder of his Scottish heritage.
But clearly small Green Man plaques were not enough. A spring windstorm last year took down a large maple tree in his front yard. “What was left of the tree dried out over the year. The bark peeled off. I looked around for someone who could carve a Green Man out of the part of the trunk that was left.
“I found a woman in Royalston, Sue O’Sullivan, otherwise known as Chainsaw Sue. When she finished with her chain saw I painted the leaves and finished his face.”
I could not help admiring this congenial looking Green Man with his shining beard who watched over the hedges and flower beds at the edge of the green lawn.
Of course, many of us may be familiar with the experience of making a wonderful change in our gardens and then realizing that now it needs something more. “I began to rethink this whole front garden. I’m thinking about building a very low stone wall around the Green Man and planting a ground cover – maybe Waldsteinia,” he said.
After admiring the Green Man from every angle Grant showed me the way to the gardens behind the house. I was startled to realize that the house sat on top of a high hill with a steep drop to the lawns and gardens below. A graceful stone stairway led past the terraced plantings to the right and a dense planting of vinca to the left. From the stairway I could see a handsome shed, and a lush fenced vegetable garden.
Grant said when he bought his house six years ago the back yard was full of farm junk and a dead elm tree. I could hardly take in the transformation.
Grant showed me the brick seating area that he calls his Folly. He seemed amused as I tried to figure out the use of the device set on a pedestal. “It is an Aeolian harp, a wind harp” he said with a smile. Then he confessed that it took more wind than was produced in that spot to really make much music. The harp, the pedestal, and the circular white seating were all picked up at the Brimfield Antique Flea Market – and other places. He told me the spring and fall Brimfield Markets were enjoyable, but I should never go to the summer Brimfield Market. Too Hot!
The Aeolian harp might have been a disappointment, but not the view of the back of the house. A long deck was high above the three terraces. It provided the necessary anchor for five trellises from the deck to the highest terrace. Grant explained that he was working to discover the best plants for those trellises. The clematis was doing very well but the others less so. Shade is the problem, but also an opportunity. At least that is the way I try to face a problem in the garden.
Grant and I share an appreciation for Martin’s Compost Farm soil. The soil there is stony and not very fertile. He needed good soil for his vegetable garden, and to create the terraces. My problem was flooding, but we are both grateful for Martin’s Compost Farm.
When it was time to leave I spent a few silent minutes communing with the Green Man. I thought of the cycles of a garden year, and the cycles of life. I also thought about the cycles of nature. I thought we should not take the benign powers of the Green Man for granted.
Between the Rows August 3, 2019