Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

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REMINDER: Walk on Sunday 24 September

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Roy Vickery will be leading a Uses and Folklore of Wild Flowers walk in Streatham Cemetery, Garratt Lane, Tooting, London, SW17, on Sunday 24 September, from 2.30 p.m., and lasting for about 45 minutes.  This is part of the Friends of the Cemetery’s open day, which runs from 2 – 4 p.m.  All welcome.

Time to buy your poppy

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Every year mainstream politicians, newsreaders, and other people in the public eye seem to start wearing their Remembrance Day poppies ever earlier.  However, the first poppies to be seen in 2017 were not in the lapels of politicians, but for sale near the entrance to a gym near Tooting Bec tube station, in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

Image: 19 September 2017, © Carlos Bruzon, who reports that the poppies had been on sale for at least a week.

Floral tributes in Gloucester

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Flowers placed in Bull Lane, Gloucester, at the spot where 19-year-old Murron McDermid fell to her death from a multistory car-park, on 12 August 2017.

Photographed  11 September 2017.




REMINDER: Tree walk, 23 September

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On Saturday 23 September Roy Vickery will lead a walk around the Streatham Park estate, and talk about the trees which grow there, including a mulberry [Morus nigra] tree which is supposedly associated with Samuel Johnson.  Meet at the junction of Thrale and Ullathorne Roads, at 3 p.m.  All welcome; voluntary collection in aid of local Green Party funds.

Image:  Dr Johnson’s mulberry tree, 19 July 2017, after part of it had fallen; since then it has been cut down, so that only the stump, sprouting a couple of small healthy branches, remains.

Newent Onion Fayre, 2017

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According the Fayre’s 2017 programme, by the end of the thirteenth century Newent, Gloucestershire, was a thriving market town where ‘Welsh drovers, passing through to Gloucester, would purchase onions [Allium cepa] at the town’s newly established Onion Fayre’, held on the Friday after 8 September, the festival of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   This fayre survived until the early part of the twentieth century, until ‘the war years saw its demise’.    However, in 1996 local people decided to revive the fayre as a ‘festival to celebrate local food and drink.’  It is now claimed to be ‘Gloucestershire’s largest free one-day event’.

In 2017 the Fayre was held on Saturday 9 September, starting with a ‘grand opening’ at 9.45 a.m.  Stalls, mainly supporting local charities, and fairground rides  filled the main street, there was a shop-window dressing competition, an onion eating competition, three stages offering a variety of musical entertainment, a dog show, and a wide range of other entertainments, including belly-dancers.

In the Memorial Hall there was an Onion Show: ‘the only vegetable show in the country dedicated to the onion family’.   This included a range of classes for onions of various kinds, garlic (A. sativum), chives (A. schoenoprasum), leeks (A. porrum), cookery, and ‘vegetable characters’ which ‘must include vegetables from the onion family’.

Images:  upper, general view, at about 1.30 p.m.; middle, shop-window display, New Smart Cat Rescue charity shop; lower, first prize winner, heaviest onion class (weighing 3.740 kg).

Hallowe’en is coming!

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Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) themed ‘sweet pots’ and ‘creepy character decoration’ on sale for Hallowe’en (31 October), poundworld, Streatham, London Borough of Lambeth, 4 September 2017.

Carshalton Straw Jack, 2017

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Since 2008 a Straw Jack – a man inside a frame covered in small sheathes of wheat (Triticum aestivum) – has processed around Carshalton, in the London Borough of Sutton, on a Saturday early in September each year.  In 2017 this was 2 September.

Starting at about mid-day the Jack visits six pubs in the area, finishing at The Hope at about 5 p.m.  Later, at nightfall, the Jack is burnt, but before this is done people are invited to take pieces of straw ‘for luck’.  On his journey he is accompanied by drummers and other musicians (but no morris dancers).  Jack is said to celebrate the end of the harvest, and some of the participants seem to genuinely believe that they were taking part in an authentic pagan custom.  It is unlikely that any wheat has been harvested in Carshalton for more than a century.

Plant-lore Archive: August 2017

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During the month the Archive was enriched by 16 items of information received from nine contributors; particular thanks to Nathalie Chevallier-Hean for memories of her childhood in Alsace, France.  It’s always good to get comparative information from outside Britain and Ireland.  The Archive now contains 7523 items of information from  2104 contributors.

After problems in July the website is now working well, but only 7828 searches were made, down from 8707 in August 2016.  We assume that this was due to the problems in July, and hope that things will soon pick up again.

Work on the draft of the Folk Flora is now approximately 80% complete.  It is planned to finish this by mid October, when a final appeal for information will be made before the final manuscript is sent to the publishers at the end of the year.  If you have any information which you think might be relevant please send it in to now.  Recent information from c.1970 onwards would be particularly appreciated.

A number of walks were organised and a visit was paid to South Queensferry to see the Burry Man.

Image:  Roy Vickery with members of the Wimbledon Common Nature Club, 6 August 2017; © Auriel Glanville.

Remembering Diana, 2017

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31 August 2017 was the twentieth anniversary of Diana, Princess of Wales, and to mark this the media had been desperately, and apparently unsuccessfully, been trying to find new angles to an old story.  However, by mid afternoon many flowers, cards and notices had been placed on, or at the base of, the railings in front of Kensington Palace, her London home.  A few hundred people had gathered, some to add their own floral tributes and others to examine the offerings left by others.  What was, perhaps, surprising was the diversity of people present.

REMINDER: Plant Walk

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Roy Vickery will be leading a Plant Walk in Brompton Cemetery, Earls Court, London, on Sunday 3 May, starting at 2.30 p.m., and continuing for about an hour.  Meet at the chapel in the centre of the Cemetery.  Organised by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, for whom a collection will be made.

Report:  11 people turned up on a dull, cool, but just about dry, afternoon, and spent about 75 minutes wandering around looking at a variety of plants.  Participants told how ripe elder (Sambucus nigra) berries made a good jam, and the unripe berries were used in peashooters, made from young elder twigs, ‘in the unending wars between boys’ in London; young nettle (Urtica dioica) tops were made into soup in Scandinavia;  itching powder was made from dog rose (Rosa canina) hips in France, and apple-of-Peru, also known as shoo-fly (Nicandra physalodes), was planted around houses in the Caribbean to deter flies.  At the end of the walk a worthwhile sum was collected in support of the Friends’ work.

Image: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), used to treat nosebleeds and in love divination; Brompton Cemetery, August 2017.

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