I come into the garden and witness three mesmerised volunteers. I quickly join them as we watch hundreds of tiny spiders crawling on the edge of a plastic table or dangling from threads. They are about 2mm across, and have obviously just hatched. The mother spider lays her eggs in autumn and wraps them in silken threads, making an egg sac. She dies, her life cycle over. And the eggs hatch in spring. These are late; the cold weather has held them back. But we are now getting sunshine and warm days, warm enough to hatch the brood. The threads they dangle from are a remnant of the sac.
Most likely, they are garden crucifer spiders. They live from spring to late autumn, killed off by the first frosts, leaving an egg sac as their legacy. We were held by the sheer number of offspring. Most, of course, won’t survive to adulthood. At this size almost any predator will make short work of them: ladybirds, beetles, birds, and bigger spiders.
Watching these tiny mites I am reminded of the end of Charlotte’s Web, the children’s book by EB White. Charlotte the spider has died in the autumn, leaving her friend, the pig Wilbur, her egg sac.
‘One sunny morning, after breakfast, Wilbur stood watching his precious sac. He wasn’t thinking of anything much. As he stood there, he noticed something move. He stepped closer and stared. A tiny spider crawled from the sac. It was no bigger than a grain of sand, no bigger than the head of a pin. Its body was grey with a black stripe underneath. Its legs were grey and tan. It looked just like Charlotte.
Wilbur trembled all over when he saw it. The little spider waved at him. Then Wilbur looked more closely. Two more spiders crawled out and waved. They climbed round and round on the sac, exploring their new world. Then three more spiders. Then eight. Charlotte’s children were here at last.’
In the triangular bed, near the pond, I see a number of bristly ox tongue. They will flower in a few weeks, with dandelion-type blooms. The large spear-like leaves are somewhat like lettuce leaf, or the shape of an ox tongue, I presume. There are prickles along the veins at the back of the leaf.
The pond irises are out. This is their time, the last week in May. They are reliable. When I used to go camping with Woodcraft Folk this time of year, we would walk to the Lost Pond, in Epping Forest, and the irises were always in bloom.
The neighbouring estate, getting close to completion, is to be called Earlham Square. At its far entrance, there’s the ventilation shaft and escape stairs for Eurostar which runs almost beneath the community garden. Near the shaft, there’s a short cul-de-sac that once housed the Upper Cut which was a music venue in the 1960s. Jimi Hendrix wrote Purple Haze in the dressing room there, while waiting to go onstage. A blue plaque has just been installed on the pharmacy wall next door, marking the link to music history. Yesterday, I watched its unveiling. The story of the Upper Cut and its Hendrix connection are explored further on local history website E7 Now & Then.