Wednesday 18 July 2007
Digging into some heritage
It's always lovely to receive home-grown produce from friends' gardens, but I was particularly excited to be given this exceedingly fine lemon. It was lovingly grown in fluffysgarden, half a world away in southern California. I know Fluffystuff's husband through our mutual involvement in a music website, and although we've never met in the real world my friend Caroline recently went over there to visit them and brought back some lemons from the trees in their garden. Fluffystuff has recently started her own gardening blog and already has lots of interesting stuff on it, so she's well worth a visit.
Meanwhile, apologies to everyone who I owe emails to, or whose blogs I've not commented on for a while ... I am catching up very slowly. I was away last week visiting my parents because my mum has recently been into hospital. She's fine now and recovering well, but that's why you may not have seen much of me for the last couple of weeks.
While I was there I came across this old photograph of my mum doing some digging in her mum's garden in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. It was taken some time in the 1950s. My grandmother was a keen vegetable gardener and kept a plot going for most of her life. Looks like she had a good crop of brussels sprouts that year.
One of the treats of visiting my parents is my dad's incredible book collection, which includes several bound volumes of The Illustrated London News from the mid-19th century. I really can't get enough of those books. The social history and human interest is incredible, and often keeps me up reading into the small hours, unable to stop. I can't say "unable to put down" because these are books you couldn't pick up in the first place – they are huge. The Illustrated London News was the first fully illustrated newspaper in the world and reported on things of everyday concern to the British public in Victorian times: shipwrecks, murders, travel news, the building of new churches and asylums, ladies burning themselves to death by standing too close to the fire in their crinoline skirts (which happened so frequently you wonder why they didn't just stand further away or wear a more sensible material) and adverts for Ford's Eureka Shirts and fly exterminator. It also included occasional horticultural nuggets. Like the Horticultural Society (now the RHS) fete in their experimental garden at Chiswick House (complete with this lovely woodcut engraving) from the newspaper of 14th July 1849, which reported that "The prevailing fruits were strawberries, grapes, peaches and pineapples; and there were one or two raspberry trees of most luxuriant growth."
Raspberry trees? That's a new one on me!
An early RHS flower show, from The Illustrated London News of 14th July 1849
It also reported on this novel gadget for improved strawberry cultivation ... anyone tried something like this?
"Much curiosity was excited at the Exhibition by some novel tiles, which the Managing Committee of the Horticultural Society have adopted in their grounds, for the cultivation of strawberries. These tiles when applied to the plant completely lift the fruit about three inches from the ground, out of the reach of dirt and vermin, and act as a protection against the injurious effects of heavy rains, by admitting the water to run under, instead of over their surface, as is the case with the common flat tile. The substance of the tiles, by absorbing the heat of the sun, and retaining it during night, also accelerates the ripening of the fruit; while, at the same time, they prevent undue evaporation from the root of the plant during very dry weather. Some specimens were exhibited of strawberries cultivated upon this contrivance by Mr. Myatt, of Deptford, to whom the society awarded their certificate of merit. The contrivance is registered, and is the invention of Mr. John Roberts, of 34, East Cheap, City, who has likewise produced a tile for the more rapid ripening of the grape in the open air."
And finally for today, a heritage gardener's dinner plate. Two varieties of pea, Ne Plus Ultra (bright green) and Desiree (greyish green); two varieties of bean, Vermont Cranberry (flat pods) and Purple Queen (darker rounded pods). And the centrepiece: mauve mashed potato made from Salad Blue. I don't peel potatoes, so there are bits of the skin in it too, a deep midnight blue. Plus vegetarian sausages from Tesco's.