Friday, 18 May 2012

The Good Topiarist

My train from Wrocław to Warsaw was a typical Polish train journey. To travel between these two cities, one either has to go via Poznań, taking one west of Wrocław and north or Warsaw, or via Częstochowa, which is further south than Wrocław. Or even - as in the case of my journey home this week - via Katowice, which is even further south than Częstochowa (see map at the bottom of the post). Whichever route the train takes, it's bound to take at least six hours.

The train itself left on time, and being InterCity, was composed of new carriages; six seats to the second-class compartment, each with its own power plug. In the dining car, I would later enjoy schabowy (fried pork) with potatoes and surówka (side-salad of cabbage, carrot, onion) washed down with a bottle of Konstancin Brewery's excellent Dawne unpasteurised pale ale.

But for the moment, as the train slowly through Wrocław's outer suburbs, past Oława, then Brzeg, I relaxed, watching the działki (summer-house plots) passing by. And then suddenly - I saw to the left of the train, a most wonderful hedge - or series of hedges, cut with geometric precision, putting me immediately in mind of the gardens of England's stately homes. Thanks to my note-taking, I found it on Google Earth - ( 50°50'33.43"N, 17°29'16.21"E).

How lovely they looked, these hedges, how beautifully maintained, cut square at the top. Yet I'm sure that the owner, who has spent a vast amount of time on keeping them trim, sees them regularly, from close-up - small gaps here and there, yellowing leaves elsewhere - and yet he perseveres. Year after year, watching it grow, years of pride, years of disappointment, of worry - about frosts, about floods - and yet and yet.

I'd like to think the owner of these hedges tends them to delight the more observant souls who pass by on the train to Upper Silesia - how wonderfully selfless. Poland's aesthetic appearance would be immeasurably improved by hundreds of thousands of hedges - żywopłoty (literally 'living fences' - as well tended as these.

A propos of hedges and topiaries, while reading up about this subject, I came across a most interesting and largely unknown fact. In the 19th Century, the British Empire in India maintained what was the world's longest live hedge, some 800 miles long, between 8ft and 12ft high and 4ft to 14ft thick, thoroughly impenetrable, with openings every four miles, to stop salt smuggling from province to province. Part of the 2,500 mile-long Inland Customs Line, the Great Hedge of India was abandoned in 1879.

Above: Wrocław has been an integral part of modern Poland for 67 years, and yet over that time no government has seen it as a priority to give the city a direct rail link to the capital. Incidentally, I can't work out why Grodno has been named Kastrycniski on this map...

This time two years ago:
Wettest. May. Ever.

This time four years ago:

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