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.

 

 

THE TOWN OF HERTFORD

Some weeks ago we had occasion to visit the town of Hertford in England, it was a family visit but I was able to slip out for a few hours of town exploration which I greatly enjoyed because Hertford is such a lovely and picturesque place, so much of interest to see, a market town originally, most of the centre of the town is a conservation area, and this was plain to see in the many lovely facades of historical buildings. I felt a friendly and pleasant atmosphere there, people young and old looked carefree and happy that morning, it was the weekend. At first I crossed a little bridge over the river Lea, this river looked more like a canal actually, and it had some colourful narrow boats moored along its sides. Turning the corner I came upon a few market stalls selling local produce, nice one I thought, it is always good to see a market, it gives a homely feeling. I walked on just looking at the variety of town buildings, this must have been in the main street. I liked the facades of many of the buildings, highly decorative and a great variety. Turning back on my steps I decided to explore some of the many charity shops which in itself is a relaxing and nice thing to do, the thought in the back of my mind is always something like “I might find a lovely bone china cup in blue and white, or a precious book”. Anyway I knew very well that I could buy nothing as we were coming back from Gozo with three suitcases that were bulging as it was, end of story. But I did buy a book, it turned out to be the read of the year so far for me, I am enjoying it tremendously. It’s a biography cum garden history cum social history of a place in Shropshire called Morville and the author is Katherine Swift.
So far so good, walking on towards a church tower in the distance I then decided it was too far and turned back into the centre of the town where I saw more interesting buildings like the Old Cross Wharf of Nicholas lane. The Mill Bridge Rooms, this forms part of a 19th century Seed Warehouse. What’s very interesting about this place it that there is stored there a rare 4th century Roman Corn Dryer, that’s something I’d like to have seen all right. The Green Dragon Vaults – The Green Dragon Inn: The original inn existed already in 1621. And several other buildings. Very noticeable were some of the shapes of the roofs, I just loved them. There is an interesting museum too but I only got as far as the hall and talking with the people inside there, hoping to have time to visit later on but did not manage that.
In every shop I entered I found the people friendly and chatty, this is always a good way to glean information but there is also an excellent Tourist Office which was also exhibiting some paintings at the time.
A good all round and very pleasant visit it was, adding to the already lovely welcome we received from Ian’s daughter, all of which made for a wonderful experience.  A place I would love to return to for sure as I don’t think I saw half of it yet.

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The river Lea and the Old Barge Pub on Folly island

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The Old Cross Wharf, historically used to as kiln, grain store, cart shed and tally house, more info on it found at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1268795

Some beautiful decorative plaster work, this is called pargetting.

Here seen are the Mill Bridge Rooms and a photo of the Green Dragon Vaults/hotel

Some of the shopping areas and the market stalls

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This building across the river Lea here is quite distinctive looking, it is the other side of the Old Cross Warf above, but looking at it from across the river.  Cool!

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The Old Cross Library, this building was constructed by British architect Reginald Blomfield.

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Along the river Lea, or Lee.

 

 

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” ― Garth Nix, Sabriel

Well today we choose the path, at least we thought that we did, together with my daughter and four of my grandchildren, all of us girls we choose to take a walk in Dromillihy Forest, a walk that led us to the freshly opened bluebells which carpeted the forest landscape in between the deciduous trees. A wonderful view to behold! The girls were climbing the lower branches of the larger trees and excitedly looked for the fairy houses hiding between the ferns and mosses. The children love the forest, love the leaves in autumn and everything else in between. I’m also a tree lover, even hug them, we all do – it feels good. Here the trees are often covered in ivy and moss, also in beautiful lichens. We were touching the moss today and it was as soft as feathers, or silks with a lovely springy feeling like marshmallows. My youngest grandchild, she is only two, choose me as the darling of the day and held my hand right through the walk, we ran down the hilly paths she laughing out loud, a real nature child she is. All the children love nature. We discovered Wood anemones, violets, and other little spring flowers. The scent of the bluebells though was fine and delicate and spread itself all around.
It is the highlight of being back in Ireland, activities with my grandchildren, and chats with my daughter.

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DISCOVERIES IN A NEGLECTED GARDEN

A longwinded journey brought us from Gozo back to Ireland, via visits to family in Henham, Hertford, and Cambridge which was, of course, much enjoyed as was the mild spring weather and all the beauty of the English countryside this time of the year, but more about that in another blog.
So we arrived home here in West Cork greeted by my daughter and lovely grandchildren, that was a beautiful moment. Next day and after unpacking all our suitcases I went for a leisurely walk around our garden. Neglected as it was, it has not become totally overgrown yet and I was able to find many treasured wild plants and even vegetables among the grasses and on the beds. So I enjoyed myself with these discoveries, taking note of what I will be cooking in the next few days, and which wild plants I’ll be using, and also taking photos.

I found a little plant that is new to my garden, it grows wild around here in West Cork on walls, but here it came to grow in an old flowerpot, maybe birds dropped its seeds.  It is the little Ivy-leaved Toadflax.

Cymbalaria muralis - Ivy-leaved toadflax
Cymbalaria muralis – ivy-leaved toadflax
Forget-me-nots in flower
Myosotis arvensis – Forget-me-not

And a left over from last year, the lovely blue Forget-me-not I found blooming.

As far as herbs go, West Cork, because of its mild climate is good for growing these.  I found the Melissa doing just fine, the Oregano coming up, the Rosemary and Lavender doing really well.  So maybe it is time to add a few more herbs during this summer.

I was pleasantly surprised by the numerous Borage plants coming up all over the garden, even in the cracks of the concrete path.  The bees will be very happy about this.  The Chives are ready for cutting, and Nettles ready for the soup!  And I nearly forgot all the three corned wild Garlic which are just everywhere, so delicious in salads and mixed in an omelet.

Three cornered wild leeks
Three cornered wild Garlic

Delighted to have found a Mullein plant, this is also a medicinal plant of which I sowed a few last year.  And of all things I found a young silver Birch, well I know it was there as I put it in a pot to share with someone after it came growing in the garden, a baby of our large Birch.  The only damage during the winter was to our small greenhouses, wear and tear you could say.  I also found that the massive seedpods of my Evening Primrose plants had survived all the storms, these plants should be coming up soon by themselves I think.

Salad leaves are ready to eat.  Bay leaf tree is growing well and full of very green leaves which will be uses in soups nice and fresh.  I also found several broad bean plants in flower and all, Ian will be very happy about that, his favourite vegetable.  Leek plants which I planted out toward the end of last summer and just before we left are growing.  And finally, but not really finally as there is no saying what else I might find, the bed with the berries is absolutely full of flower buds, it promises to be a good summer for soft fruits.  The water barrel shows that here has been no shortage of rain!

I am totally happy with what I found, it is lovely to come back to my garden, and looking at the evidence, the garden has benefited from being left to itself for a while, there might be something in Permaculture after all.  It feels like nature is now growing what it likes to grow, and the soil in my garden is showing me what will thrive best.

I am taking note!

FAREWELL GOZO, for the moment.

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A beautiful Red Admiral butterfly came across my path the other day, or was it I that came across its path.

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It is no wonder that we see bees and butterflies these days, the abundance of flowers is breathtaking, such a joy for both insects and humans.

Both in the wild and cultivated the delightful colours of flowers greet one, every inch of towns and village are made beautiful by these displays.

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In another day we are leaving Gozo for the summer months, we are already looking forward to coming back though I must say that we are also looking forward to spending the summer in Ireland and seeing everyone again.  Most of all we are just grateful for everyday we can live in peace and in beautiful nature among family and friends.  Living in the moment is the best way to enjoy life.

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We will leave some friends behind and the many people we interacted with the last few months have been lovely and very generous with stories, information and their time.

I’ve had a lovely and interesting time with my Gozitan bobbin lace making class, my great teacher, and fellow students, it was very enjoyable and I learnt a lot, and discovered that making lace can become addictive.

Ir-Rabat has been a wonderful place to live in and explore, all the artistic corners and the lovely ambience that is tangible in this great town have been top class, and the Citadella has been top of the list as have the little alleys around St.George Basilica and St.Francis Square too, and of course the library there.

Gozo has had so much to offer us, nature, people, art and culture, all much enjoyed.

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We are very grateful, that is Ian and myself, for having found a flat in Ghajnsielem for next winter, the view from the place is incredible, more and new adventures await, all being well.

Feeling very grateful and appreciative to avail of this opportunity.  So for now it is back to Ireland and to West Cork.  I must have taken thousands of photos while here and in the coming months will still be posting stories about Gozo, that is for sure.  But for the moment I am taking a week off from blogging, we will be with family in UK for several days, I will not be near WiFi perhaps.  So I wish all my dear friends and followers a good week, thank you for reading my blog, and see you soon.

PEACEFULNESS AND BEAUTY

Somewhere on the island of Gozo, towards the west lies a small village called L- Ghasri, it is close to the sea and high up on a hill the Ta’Gurdan lighthouse keeps watch over the land and the sea. A little way inland a basilica was build many years ago in request of the Blessed Virgin according to a local woman who had received this request in a vision when she was praying in a chapel standing on the same site where the basilica is now today.

The Blessed Lady of Ta-Pinu basilica stands tall and majestically in the middle of fields full of, at this time, colourful spring flowers. A few days ago I paid the area a visit. In the brochure it said that the place is one of peacefulness. This Ta-Pinu is a sanctuary, it is a place where pilgrims go and where sometimes people get healing.

It was a beautiful morning with a warm sun shining over the land. I took the bus to my destination which it reached from Ir-Rabat in less than ten minutes. I had read that the church is built in the Romanesque Revival style so there was interesting architectural treasures to discover, the beautiful sculptures, fine capitals and mosaics I noticed immediately. Among my favourites are the stunning mosaics over the main altar in gold and bright colourings. But also the intricately woven stone carvings of the capitals and other decorations. In the background and very quietly there was Gregorian chant being played, well I was not sure as it sounded so real and I did notice that there were people and a priest celebrating mass so I thought maybe somewhere hidden there were also monks singing… no not true. But really the atmosphere did get me and I felt ver peaceful.

Coming out and back into the blazing sun I turned my attention to the surroundings, and what a beautiful panorama I could see! Towards the South lies another village called Gharb. But I decided to go and have a look at L Ghasri, a picturesque and very small village, on the walk along to the first of the houses I noticed many wild flowers, some of which I had not seen yet on Gozo, so photos had to be taken you can imagine. Lizards darted here and there on the warm limestone. I chatted with a lady sitting in her doorway and also talking to a South African man who was visiting too. After a lovely walk I went looking for the bus stop to return home, but on the way a local friend happened to be passing and gave me a lift, his car loaded with stones for building something and his dog was also in tow, and more chatting of course was done.

The day had passed in a most lovely way, getting the feel of the land, the people, and their heritage is something I really enjoy here, as everywhere really.  I hope you enjoy my photos.

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TA-PINU GOZO

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The small village of L-Ghasri has many beautiful corners and little alleys, and it is so peaceful and quiet there, expect for some birds singing and people talking.

These shrines are often found on older farm houses.

 

MUSIC FOR THE SOUL

Ever since we came to Gozo, and from our own choice we have lived without radio or Television, because we wanted to do other things with out time. But we do use our laptops to keep up with world events. We are finding that we go about our business in the flat either singing, humming, or whistling and that’s fine, however, music means a lot to me, an awful lot if it is the kind I enjoy and so I have been keeping an eye on events here in Gozo, an eye on upcoming concerts. There have been quite a few during the winter and I have not always taken advantage of them. The Gozitans love their music, Ir -Rabat has got not one but two opera houses in full use. Many of the churches also have their choirs, and children’s choirs abound. I have heard their singing and it has been very appealing.

Anyway, the other day I saw this poster, it said Gaulitana – A Festival of Music and I noticed that this Festival was happening right now. Going down the list of concerts I found out that there was a lunch-time concert coming up the next day, to be held in the Old Hospital on St.Francis Square, this building is lovely to look at and houses the Minister of Gozo Hall now. One of its front halls is used to show exhibitions some of which I have attended, and the concert was to be held in the other hall which used to be the hospital’s chapel, a lovely room hung with paintings and having an arched ceiling. The program looked totally my cup of tea; recorder music of the early and Renaissance periods by Jacob van Eyck, Telemann and Jean Braun. The musician, Romero Ciuffa played on three different recorders, the Ganassi recorder for the first pieces, the Alt recorder for the Telemann and the bass recorder for the Jean Braun compositions. Romero explained all about the different types of recorders and a bit about the music too. It was wonderful, the music was so uplifting and the audience very appreciative you can imagine. What a wonderful way to spend a lunch time!

I often listen to some music on YouTube and find a good variety, I also follow some Facebook sites specialising in Baroque and early music, it gives me immense pleasure. Music is such a joy, it connects us with the very fibre of the land and with the souls of the people.

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Last two photos are the two opera houses in Ir -Rabat