AN ALMOST TOTALLY WILD FLOWER GARDEN

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These days as we find ourselves getting towards the end of the beautiful month of May, I am delighted with the many birds, bumblebees and other insects that I am finding in our half wild garden.  Every morning I listen to the dawn chorus of blackbirds, robins, and other little birds who are nesting in our overgrown hedge.  It is a wonder to see the wealth of these creatures enjoying our smallish garden and we in turn enjoying their company and song.  The butterflies and bees have still to come, maybe the temperature is not warm enough.  Yesterday, a day of heavy rain freshened up all the plants and today the bumblebees are out in full force, the sun is out and it is warmer, a glorious day!  We are expecting friends for lunch and it seems like a day we might be able to sit outside.

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I have found a beautiful fern growing around the old pump and the red stone wall, both of which are in this garden from the time we first created it decades ago, my then husband Ron was a great garden creator, though I owe the present raised beds to my partner Ian who has put in a lot of work creating these also.  But the creation of the present lush wild flowers and plants has come about totally as a gift from nature, and happy I am about that.  It seems all I have to do this spring is walk around in this luxurious growth and admire the colours and shapes that nature throws out there, what a palette, what a beauty.

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20170518_181812And so spring is slowly turning into summer, at least its got that feel about it.  Weather- wise it seems to be warming little by little, in fact we were able to sit outside sharing a lovely meal and glass of wine with friends, chatting into the late evening surrounded by the sounds and scents of our garden, wind still.  I would not wish to be anywhere else at moments like this and feel very grateful to be able to enjoy this wealth.  The moisture and warmth after a day of rain in West Cork is something you have to taste before you can believe it.

 

Our friends brought us some young asparagus seedlings which they planted out with me, in two years time I should be able to harvest some of them and make a lovely soup, Ian’s favourite.  This bed was full of ranunculi and it took me a whole morning to get all the roots out, much as I love buttercups, they had to make space for the asparagus.  There is great satisfaction in creating something in the garden apart from enjoying all the wild plants.

HAWTHORN – THE SACRED TREE

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That I am writing about the Hawthorn tree is because the other day while sitting around the table talking, my mind drifted away at seeing our Hawthorn laden down with its beautiful blossoms gently being carried up and down by the wind, this tree is probably the favourite in our garden, mainly because it chose to grow in that very spot all by itself some years ago.

Crataegus monogyna, or common Hawthorn tree is very wide spread in the South-West of Ireland. A nice tree or bush it is especially beautiful in spring or autumn because of its profusion of creamy white blossoms and or dull red berries.  The tree or bush is often used in hedgerows or as a boundary of land or property.  Its Irish name is Sceach gheal. The flower has five petals, one style and numerous stamens with pink or dark anthers. 

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According to folklore the hawthorn was the most likely tree to be inhabited or protected by Faeries.  In Ireland these trees were considered sacred and could not be cut down for fear of attracting some fatal misfortune, even the branches or flowers could not be brought inside a house. 

http://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythology-folklore/hawthorn/  excellent article by Paul Kendall

Many people would refer to the leaves of the Hawthorn as ‘bread and cheese’, they would eat them.  I’ve tasted them myself often and they are ok.

Another good website where I found lots of information on the lore of the Hawthorn is:

http://www.plant-lore.com/217/hawthorn/

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About the scent of the flowers I also found it interesting to learn that in Teutonic lore, Hawthorn symbolized death and was used in funeral pyres.  It’s not altogether surprising because according to some sources;

Mediaeval country folk asserted that the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague in London. Botanists later discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue”.  (Paul Kendall)

And hence in times when people would have had their loved ones laid up after dead inside their home, they did not want to be reminded of the scent of death by bringing the Hawthorn flowers into their houses, it is thought that from this the superstition originated.

I’ve always found the scent of the flowers strange and could never say that it is sweet.  But the flowers are very beautiful, being from the Rose family – Rosaceaethey are white, sometimes with a hint of pink.  In the town of Skibbereen we also have two mature deep pink trees but I think that they are cultivated species, beautiful to look at, not sure of their medicinal qualities though.

From the berries one can make a tasty liquor and a jelly, and from the blossoms wine can be made.  Some years ago I made a Hawthorn honey, I used ripe berries (the berries taste tart) and a good quality honey, when ready I used it all winter to good advantage.  Even just making something totally different in the culinary way was just such a joy.  The jelly I made many years ago, my mother always made it too and it was delicious, apparently the berries contain a lot of pectin.  So nice to know that we can use natural and wild produce all around us.  It is known that the berries can cause irritation if ingested, the little seeds need to be removed in order to avoid this.  I think one has to be careful with this, I’m not recommending anything, let each one do their own research.

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Some of the ideas I got from the following website;

http://www.witchipedia.com/herb:hawthorn

We would drink a cup of the tea made from the flowers and leaves to strengthen the heart and lower blood pressure or cholesterol.  My mum always used to say that this tea was also used during the war when China tea was hard to get by.  During the First World War the berries were used in Germany as a coffee substitute. 

The birds also do enjoy the berries, our tree is always full of birds, from sparrows, to finches, to blackbirds, it is a wonderful sight to behold, and of course we always leave plenty of berries as their winter food.  The flowers are known to be very attractive and beneficial for butterflies.  The tree is also native to Ireland which is quite important, more and more importance is given planting native trees these days.  The fact that it is widespread in hedges means that hawthorn also plays an important role in supporting the many species that live in and around Irish hedgerows. 

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Our own tree is now mature and it gives us shade during the summer months, lovely to sit under it and share a meal with friends or family.

There is more to be told about the Hawthorn tree, much more, remains it to be said that I love this tree and that it gives us a lot of pleasure.  I hope that all my lovely readers and followers of my blog have enjoyed some of the story that I have shared.

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”
John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live in.

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A variety of rhododendron flowers in beautiful shades.

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And Azalea’s too!

My sister smelling the Lilac flowers, a sure favourite of her and mine.

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These flower photos I took in the gardens of Rolf’s Country House, (http://rolfscountryhouse.com/) in Baltimore, Ireland.  We partook of a lovely cup of coffee and some scrumptious cakes and pies, to celebrate the birthday of one of my grandchildren.  The garden is interesting and beautiful.

THE BEAUTY OF ESSEX – HENHAM VILLAGE

The village of Henham lies in rural England, in Essex.  We visited there a few weeks ago to see Ian’s delightful grandchild, daughter, and son-in-law.  For me it was also another first visit of the village and area and I loved it.  Like I have seen in many English villages they are picturesque and peaceful, with many original houses intact or restored, and this village has a great deal of that to show.  Above are; left: The old Village school building, right: a sign for the Cock restaurant, and underneath: the village church.  This village church has six bells, I heard them (love the sound of church bells).  There is a lovely write up with photos and a sample of the bells ringing on this website:  http://www.henhamhistory.org/StMarysBells.html

Listed buildings, some with thatched roofs, timber framed cottages some with casement windows, some of the cottages I recognised from the Henham website, these are Friar’s Cottage (above right), Cedar Cottage (above).

It was also early spring, and we made a long walk along the fields and roads, there was plenty new growth to be discovered.  The Blackthorn was in full bloom, the wild Chestnut tree just about to start opening its flowers, but I was sorry to hear that some of them were due to be copped down because of a disease.  The Hazel already had its catkins, and the weeping willow already its leaves.

Some of the wild spring flowers which were a joy to behold and plentiful.

Henham as a village dates back to pre Roman times, there is mention of it in the Anglo-Saxon period, saying that at that time the village was described as the little clearing on top of the hill.  Apparently Henham is one of the highest lying villages in Essex.  For more about the history of the place and the parish please visit their website at: http://henhamhistory.org

Certainly England has a lot to offer in well preserved historical buildings, it’s delightful to discover this.  It was of course a delight to be taken for this long walk around part of the village and surrounding fields by Susie and Jared, and a very energetic little Phoebe.  Thanks again for showing us such a nice welcome, lovely to share time with you.