A longitudinal cross-section of tejocote fruit
Traditions are made by people. We do something at a certain time and then we repeat it when that time rolls around again. There are young traditions and old traditions, but the longer a tradition is around, the more it’s part of the culture and a holiday just doesn’t feel like a holiday without it. People eat certain foods, drink certain drinks, and enact certain rituals every year. Plants are parts of people’s traditions because plants are a natural part of where people come from. And when they emigrate, they often take those useful plants with them. Continue reading
Flowers of Cornus mas
More commonly known as the cornelian cherry, Cornus mas is a medium-large deciduous tree of the dogwood family. Linnaeus referred to this species as both Cornus mas and Cornus mascula, translating to “male” cornel in order to distinguish it from the “female” cornel, Cornus sanguinea. It is native to South Europe as well as many parts of South Western Asia. Continue reading
Figs reach their peak in summertime, growing fat enough to split their skins under the hot sun. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with a bountiful tree, and many a neglected fig is extravagantly abandoned to the beetles.
Beetles gorge on a fig
But here we are, halfway around the calendar in dark and cold December, and we feel grateful for the figs we managed to set aside to dry. Their concentrated sweetness is balanced by a complex spicy flavor that makes dried figs exactly the right ingredient for dark and dense holiday desserts. As we mark another turn of the annual cycle from profligate to provident, what better way to celebrate than with a flaming mound of figgy pudding?
Well, except that the traditional holiday pudding contains no figs. More on that later, along with some old recipes. First, we’ll unwrap the fig itself to find out what’s inside. Continue reading
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.