I’ve been walking around for a week with a box of pearls in my coat pocket, little green clasps attached to their tops, like beads from a broken necklace. Though it doesn’t seem the season, these milky, translucent spheres (like trout eggs) are mistletoe berries, ripe for planting.
I have always loved mistletoe’s hovering, misty globes, green-leaved and netted in the branches, round as squirrel dreys. I bring it in at Christmas and ‘plant’ it in the New Year. Over-Christmassed berries are not the freshest, and the traditional way of squishing them under a chink of bark probably sabotaged my own efforts; although I’d had some successes. Twenty-five years ago, I set it in our apples and poplar at our old home, in Smallridge, Wash Water. I don’t know whether it took in the apples, but the poplar, visible from the road, is baubled with it.
When we lived at Highclere Stud, I’d loved to push the pram down the lime avenue to the Castle. In one tree, more than 40 ethereal balls (one 4ft across) hung like lampshades grouped in an art installation. Song and mistle thrushes, redwings and fieldfares eat the berries whole, dispersing seeds randomly in droppings. But blackcaps swallow the pulp, wiping seeds more effectively onto branches.
And this is what I must mimic. I bought my fresh berries off the internet, planting them with reverence in ‘host’ trees we know; particular hawthorns, oaks and a chestnut in the park, a line of poplars and limes. The children grapple with tricky winter tree identification, telling oak from ash; and so must I, it seems, with crab apple in the hedges.
We make new and ancient connections with a place we love, where we have loved and where they are growing up. I can’t plant trees unless invited, but I can do guerrilla-planting. There will perhaps, be something of us left here: traces of us in a plant that appears to have no beginning and no end, that lives when other things appear to sleep, the pliable brassy twigs knotting and repeating in a complicated Celtic way.
We pop the pearls for the hard, green-striped, heart-shaped seed inside, gluing it to the underside of young branches with its own viscous, sticky adhesive. If it survives to germinate, bend, make contact with its host and not get eaten by birds or insects, in 4-5 years, there may be fine, wispy knots – and excuses for kisses, all over the place.
It’s a hit and miss affair, but on the little apple tree in the garden, a surprise find: a wishbone of golden-green twigs and a bright symmetry of paired leaves sprouting from a healed-over nick I’d made in it three years ago with my pocket knife.