Prince Albert, the father of the Victorian Christmas
Prince Albert, who moved to England from Germany, to marry the young Queen Victoria, led the Victorians in inventing much of today’s Christmas aesthetic that dominates Britain and North America. But, the Nativity is celebrated by diverse cultures throughout the world, and is much more than O Tannenbaum, and The Holly and the Ivy.
Many different local plants play important roles in Christmas traditions, and Alastair and Jonathan’s Advent Botany series has taught me a lot about them, along with the more traditional Middle Eastern, European and North American species that I regularly associate with my Christmas season. Continue reading
Mary and the Lily
Not realising the hope they give me, through their winter rosettes of green, the bulbs of the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) sit snugly in the soil year on year producing an ever-widening clump. Naturalised across Europe, and finding a happy home in the gardens of the UK, they hail from the Eastern end of the Mediterranean and still survive, albeit in a fragmented state, in the land to which they are most closely associated.
High up on Israel’s Carmel mountain, above the city of Haifa, the lilies are to be found in their crowded clumps fragmented and clinging on in crevices or protected from grazing animals, and the hands of wild bulb collectors, amongst the thorny Maquis vegetation dominated by Oaks (Quercus calliprinos), Ziziphus spina-christi and Mastic (Pistacia sp). They are now considered one of Israel’s most threatened species. Continue reading
Denmark’s position in Europe
Denmark is a little land in Scandinavia, Northern Europe, but unlike the other Scandinavian countries, we have neither mountains (highest point 172m) nor vast boreal forests, and despite the relatively northern latitude, the Gulf Streams assure a cool temperate coastal climate with mild winters and cool summers.
These geographic and climatic facts and a historical preference for intensive heavily mechanized agriculture, means that there are very few spots in Denmark with nutrient poor, undisturbed soils. Continue reading
RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB
Forget the gorgeous Madagascan bags, the baskets, the hats, the dates, the coconuts, the wine, the patterned mats and shoes, the most important product made from a palm has to be the string that holds the wrapping paper in place for your Christmas parcel. Remove from your mind visions of tropical beaches – our string is from a swamp loving plant, the Raphia.
Caracoa, a popular carob candy bar from the ’50s – ’80s
At this time of year chocolate is imbibed as hot cocoa, eaten as a confection pressed into the shape of Santa or snowmen, and baked into a variety of holiday treats from recipes often passed down within the family.
Where does this leave you if you have an allergy or sensitivity to chocolate? Feeling a bit left out. There’s no real substitute for the flavor and mouthfeel of chocolate, but something with a similar flavor profile is carob. They both have coffee-esque notes but unlike chocolate, carob is sweet right off the tree and not very bitter. Like chocolate, carob can be used to make hot drinks, baked goods, and confections so it has been seen as “the next best thing” since health food specialty stores started taking off in the mid-20th century. Continue reading
Caraway, Carum carvi
It’s possible to grow up in the UK and never consciously encounter caraway as a spice – I certainly did. And yet this versatile plant adds flavour to meat, fish, and vegetables details. But it’s claim to Christmas fame comes from its ability to make stand-out Christmas cookies, and wonderful cakes. As if that weren’t enough, it has magical powers to prevent theft, and stop geese from straying, and is a key ingredient in love potions. Sounds like caraway is a spice for life, and not just for Christmas! Continue reading
Editor’s note: For the first time we have a plant so popular that two different institutions have offered a blog on it. They take a different approach so here you have both: one from Manchester Museum, the other from the RHS Garden Wisley. I have enjoyed reading both, I hope you will too.
A very festive and minty Christmas with Wintergreen
Gaukltheria procumbens Wintergreen
It’s always a joy to see something growing through these dark and dreary winter months. With glossy, green leaves, little cream bell-like flowers and big, red berries that start to appear as the snow melts, today’s plant, Gaultheria procumbens, is a very popular choice for baskets and containers. The name of this plant originates from Pehr Kalm, a Swedish explorer who named this plant after his good friend, Dr. Hugues Gaultier who expressed huge enthusiasm for the plants potential for tea. Continue reading