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Bad luck

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Between 10 and 15 May 2019 flowers which are considered to be unlucky were briefly discussed in The Times.  This was stimulated by the columnist Ann Treneman, who on 10 May mentioned her love of lilac (Syringa vulgaris), and being surprised when a visitor to her home remarked, ‘My mother wouldn’t have those in the house …bad luck.’  On investigating Treneman discovered that ‘some people do believe that lilacs brought inside bring bad luck.  Other floral indicators of doom are starwort (instant death apparently), mimosa [Acacia dealbata], wattle [Acacia spp.] and hawthorn [Crataegus monogyna]’.

It’s unclear what ‘starwort’ is, perhaps it is water starwort (Callitriche spp.), an aquatic plant  with ornamental green leaves.  Its  potentially dangerous habitat could mean that parents discourage youngsters gathering it, but it’s unlikely that flimsy Callitriche species are  gathered by flower arrangers.

On 11 May, a correspondent from Maidstone, Kent, reported that her mother would never allow lilacs in the house, despite having prolific bushes in her garden.  Neither would she allow red and white flowers in the same vase.

On 13 May, an Edinburgh correspondent  recorded that when working as a nursing auxiliary in the early 1970s she was told that under no circumstances were red and white flowers to be put together in the same vase; ‘this was considered a bad omen for patients as it signified blood loss and death’.

Finally, on 15 May, a High Halden, Kent, correspondent recalled  that many years ago when she first started she was advised to never put red and white flowers together, they were ‘a reminder of the horrors of war: blood and bandages’.

Image:  red and white carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) on sale in Madrid, Spain, June 2018.

Conscientious Objectors Day 2019

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |


White carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) placed at the Conscientious Objectors Memorial, in Tavistock Square, London Borough of Camden, on Conscientious Objectors Day, 15 May 2019.




Chestnut Sunday, 2019

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Chestnut Sunday has been held in Bushy Park, in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, since 1838, when Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court Palace to the public.  On the Sunday nearest 11 May people would come and enjoy the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) trees, which it was hoped would then be in full flower.   A mile long avenue of these trees was ‘conceived by Sir Christopher Wren as a formal approach to Hampton Court during in the reign of William III and Mary II’.

After stopping during the First World War Chestnut Sunday probably achieved its heyday in the 1930s when public transport companies ran well publicised excursions to it.  During the Second World War the event ceased again, but it was revived in 1977.

Today, and one assumes throughout most of the event’s recent history, very little, if any attention is paid to the trees, a small number of local charities have stalls, there are a small number of food stalls, and a small funfair, the main attraction being a parade which starts at 12.30 p.m.  But the event is very popular with families, many of whom bring picnics.  In 2019 the parade consisted mainly of veteran vehicles – military vehicles, cars, bicycles, scooters and motorbikes.



REMINDER: Wonderful Weeds

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Roy Vickery will be talking about Wonderful Weeds at St Mary’s Church, Church Road, Beddington, at 7.30 p.m. this evening.  For full details see the events page on the website.                                                                                   Report:  About 30 people turned up and, we hope, enjoyed a talk about some of the plants which the speaker had collected on his way to the venue.  During the discussion which followed only two of those present had not heard of dock (Rumex spp.) leaves being used to treat nettle (Urtica dioica) stings.  Of these, one was from Canada, where apparently greater plantain (Plantago major) leaves are used, and the other from Germany, where they use ribwort plantain (P. lanceolata).  Another person reported that he worked in a local park where a landfill area had lots of nettles, but no docks, so people used horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) leaves instead.

QUERY: Easter Crowns

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

During the Palm Sunday service at St Mary’s church, Witney, Oxfordshire, an appeal was made for people to donate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) ‘for use in the Easter Crown’.  Subsequent enquiries to the parish office led to a reply from the team rector:

‘The Easter Crown is the transformation of a Crown of Thorns into a Crown of Glory – so twisted thorns become rosemary (traditionally a symbol of remembering) and roses [Rosa cvs].  Though I’m not sure of the historical roots of this.’

Is the custom unique to Witney, or is it known elsewhere?

Image:  rosemary, cultivated, Hampton Court Palace, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, May 2019.

Boscobel Oak propagated

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

According to a report in The Garden of May 2019, the Son of Boscobel, or Royal, Oak, has been propagated using graft material to produce 100 saplings which will be planted around the tree, thus creating dense woodland.

According to tradition in September 1651 King Charles II spent a night hiding in the original tree, then  in woodland, after escaping from the Battle of Worcester.   The existing tree, believed to be 250-years-old, and known as Son of Royal Oak, is said to have grown from a self-sown  sapling from the original tree.  Nearby stands the Victoria Oak, grown from a acorn to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.  According to the site’s owners, English Heritage, the saplings will ‘re-create the dense woodland that made it such a good royal hiding place’.

Garland Day, Lewes, 2019

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

An information board in the Castle states that Garland Day at Lewes, East Sussex,  started in 1874.  According to Jacqueline Simpson in the 2002 edition of  her Folklore of Sussex:                                             ‘In Lewes, around 1875-85, children used to go to Castle Bank, where their garlands would be judged by a panel of ladies, and the best would be rewarded with a shilling; the children had a half holiday for the occasion.  As late as the 1920s, children went from door to door in Lewes in the old way.  In recent years the custom has been revived by the Knots of May, a women’s morris dance team, with a children’s dance competition in the grounds of Lewes Castle and a procession to Cliffe Bridge.’                   The event now takes place on the May Day bank holiday – the first Monday in May – which in 2019 was 6 May.  At about 10 a.m. morris dancers and children with garlands started assembling in the Castle’s Gun Garden.  Three morris sides: a women’s side the Knots of May, the Long Man Morris Men, and a girls’ side the Winterbourne Morris, performed while more garlands arrived.  There was no children’s dance competition.  The garlands were judged by the town’s mayor, and at 11 a.m. to dancers and the garland carriers processed down Cliffe High Street to Cliffe Precinct, where further dance displays took place, and the mayor presented prizes two prizes, one to the best group garland, and one to the best individual garland.  Morris dancing continued outside the John Harvey Tavern and the Dorset Arms until about 2 p.m.

Images:  top, winning individual garland; middle, winning group garland; lower Knots of May dancing down Cliffe High Street.

REVIEW: From Sting to Spin

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Gillian Edom, From Sting to Spin – A History of Nettle Fibre, Bognor Regis: Urtica Books (97 Hewarts Lane, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO21 3DJ).             This 99-page book, an expanded version of the author’s book of the same title first published in 2010, covers the use of the fibres of nettle (Urtica dioica) and other Urticaceae from c. 4000 BC to the present.  The early evidence for this is restricted due to the fact that in the past archaeologists gave little priority to the preservation of textile remains, and it is difficult to distinguish between nettle and flax (Linum usitatissimum) fibres.  Later it is apparent that ‘nettle-cloth’ was not necessarily made from nettles, and some of the writing about the use of nettle fibres is ‘based on assumption and rumour’.  In recent years it has often been claimed that the uniforms worn by Napoleon’s soldiers were made from nettle fibres, but this idea seems to have been started by an Italian fashion company in 2002.  Existing Napoleonic uniforms are found to have been made from wool, linen or cotton, and when Edom asked the company for the source of their information they replied that they could not remember.  A persistent problem which restricts the use of nettle fibre has been the difficulty of extracting and cleaning it.                                                                                             Although Edom concentrates on northwest Europe she also provides an overview of how other Urticaceae fibres are used elsewhere, and includes an account of a visit to Japan to see how Laportea cuspidata is harvested there.         Obviously there is still a lot more to be discovered, and obviously the author is keen to continue her studies, so we hope that in nine years time she will produce another updated version of her work.  Perhaps we will need to wait less long; the founding of a Nettles for Textiles Facebook Group has greatly eased the exchange of information.

Image:  Part of a decorticating apparatus patented by G.W. Schlichten in 1919, from G.W. Schlichten, Means for treating fiber bearing plants, US1303376A, 1919.

Four-leaf clover charm

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

According to the Metro of 3 May 2019, 62-year-old Patrick McIntosh, who has suffered from three types of cancer, is aiming to cycle from Twickenham to Tokyo, planning to arrive there in September in time for the Rugby World Cup.  Hanging on his bike he will have a good-luck charm – a silver four-leaf clover – given to him by his neighbour, the actor Judi Dench.  He aims to raise money for charities that help cancer sufferers.

St George’s Day wreaths

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Wreaths of artificial red roses (Rosa cv.) placed at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, presumably on St George’s Day, 29 April.

All the wreaths were identical with an image of St George slaying dragon with the caption ‘St George for England’ in the centre, and most were laid by local groups of the Royal Society of St George, which describes itself as ‘England’s premier patriotic organisation’.

Photographed 3 May 2019.

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