February in the Garden 2019

A record-breaking warm February has its advantages, even if it does leave us a little nervous about what is to come – both in terms of this year’s weather, and in the wider implications of climate change. But while it is here, it makes it easier to dig over the unusually dry soil of the wildflower meadow. This helps to form a seed bed for the annual poppies and cornflowers, removing the more vigorous grasses.

Hard at work on the Wildflower Meadow

There has also been time for a bit of pruning, and cutting back the last of the dry stems that had been left in place for winter interest. The warm weather is already encouraging new growth, and the woodland garden is full of colour from pulmonaria, primroses, cyclamen and snowdrops.

Early spring blooms in the woodland garden

The corkscrew hazel is doing its thing, with tiny pink female flowers opening in advance of the male catkins starting to shed their pollen, all beautifully decorating the twisted branches. Soon the leaves will return, and it can relax back into being a dark and shapeless shrub, easily overlooked later in the year.

Corkscrew Hazel Catkins

More progress has been made on sorting out the tool store, and putting up hooks to try to provide some structure to the tangle of tools. Meanwhile we celebrate the completion by Nino of the task of putting in a low edging of reclaimed fencing around the borders next to the garden shelter. It just remains for us to replace one of the yew trees that died soon after planting, then we can plant up these borders.

Meanwhile, work on the new steps up to the Bath House continues. They have been designed to follow a curve around the Sycamore tree, as near as possible to the route of the original steps.

The ‘Ingenious Device’ around the Sycamore

This sycamore was in the garden long before we were, and will remain long after we’re gone – it’s an imposing specimen, even if it isn’t considered decorative or even medicinal by most people. [You can learn more about Sycamores below]. Nick has invented a very impressive device that enables him to draw a perfect arc whose radius inconveniently runs through the centre of this large tree. Good progress is being made, one step at a time, with remarkable precision.

Step by Step…


Sycamore    Acer pseudoplatanus
The Sycamore’s native habitat is a swathe of Central Europe and Western Asia, (eastern and southern France right across to the Ukraine and Turkey). Once thought to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans, other reports suggest it was in the Tudor era, with more planting recorded in the 1700s; and the earliest reports of naturalisation were not until the mid 1800s.

Sycamore must nonetheless be one of the UK’s most well known and widespread naturalised trees. It is described in botanical terms as a ‘coloniser’ or ‘pioneer’, i.e. one of the first to take over open land, fast growing and self-seeding. It prefers moist well drained soil but can cope with heavy clay, medium loam and sandy soils; it isn’t fussy about levels of acidity or alkalinity; it grows well in both woodland and open areas; and can even tolerate salty sea air! You’ll be familiar with the ‘helicopter’ seeds spiralling through the air, and you’ve possibly found one – or several – sprouting a two two-leaved mini-tree on your lawn… This prolific, even aggressive, growth has caused it to be regarded in some areas of the country, and by some gardeners, conservationists and others, as a ‘weed’.

Botanical drawing of Sycamore – Acer pseudoplatanus

Left to their own devices they can grow to 100ft in height and live to be around 600 years old, although most don’t survive that long naturally in the UK. They are initially dominant, but in the long term – over a couple of hundred years – they are gradually overtaken in number by native trees, and this actually makes them suitable for planting when creating or developing broad-leaved woods.

A member of the Acer family, of which many varieties produce glorious autumn colour, ‘our’ tree is rather humble with inconspicuous flowers and little autumn showiness. The second half of its botanical name means Like a Plane Tree, but it isn’t a member of the Plane family. (Although it’s called by that name in Scotland, just to confuse you. The rest of the UK thinks the name Plane refers to the sturdy city survivor Platanus x hispanica, also known as London Plane because it was so widely planted along the capital’s streets). This somewhat plain, if not plane, tree does get a bad press because it’s so common and taken for granted. But it has many virtues once you get to know it.

Myth and Magic
Because it’s a late introduction to Britain – compared with the millennia that our native trees like Oak and Holly have been around – there isn’t much local myth or legend to recount about Sycamore. Welsh Love-Spoons were usually carved from the wood, and a self-avowed British ‘hedge-witch’ believes it is a tree of prosperity and longevity. Whistles  made from twigs, along with branches, are apparently used in old customs in Cornwall.

The most famous sycamore in Britain is probably the one in Tolpuddle, Dorset, in the shadow of which six farm labourers set up a friendly society in 1834 to protest against their ever-reducing wages. Known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, they were transported to Australia for the obscure crime of ‘swearing an unlawful oath’; but were brought back home after a public outcry against their harsh punishment. A testament to sycamores’ longevity, being probably 200 years old when it sheltered the labourers, this tree is now cared for by the National Trust.

On-line pitfalls!
There are plenty of references to Sycamore being sacred and a source of medicine to the native American peoples, but this isn’t of much relevance to us, because the American Sycamore is actually a Plane tree (sorry) and, as we know, our European tree isn’t.

I even found this quote on a website, referring to the American Sycamore: “it is believed it got its name from the flaking nature of its bark making it look ‘sick’ all the time!” I expect (hope) this was facetious…

References to Sycamore in the Bible are also mistaken, since that tree is actually a Sycomore, spelled correctly with rather than a (Ficus sycomorus), a species of fig cultivated since ancient times.

So if you’re looking for information on our familiar Sycamore, make sure it’s a UK website or check the Latin name…

Medicinal Uses
According to one source quoted in PFAF, the bark is mildly astringent, employed in both skin and eye washes, while the inner bark layer can be used as a wound dressing.

Other Uses
William Cobbett, in his treatise The Woodlands of 1825, wrote: ” Our Sycamore is a Maple… a very hardy thing makes very good fuel… It is mere brushwood; and of no more use as a tree, than the poppies, or wild parsnip, or wild carrot, are as cattle-food. [It] is a weed of the woods, and we burn it, because we know not what else to do with it.”  This disparaging comment is a little unkind, as Sycamore trees do have several uses, although it is indeed an excellent fuel for the fire, whether in its natural state or when turned into good quality charcoal.

The wood is hard, heavy, but easy to work and, when carved and polished, is almost silky, with a subtle sheen. It also has a good hard-wearing edge making it as suitable for domestic utensils as for small ornamental pieces.

Sweetener / Flavouring
The sap of sycamore can be tapped for making syrups, cordials, wine or beer.

Garden plant
It’s not a highly decorative tree, and gets too big for most ordinary gardens, but some variegated and colourful varieties have been developed. The RHS describes two that are not only small enough to be thought of as garden specimens, but are also recommended in their list of Plants for Pollinators.

Sycamore’s fast growing character and tolerance of a variety of conditions make it ideal for wind-breaks, even by the sea, and other shelter planting. It self-sows into hedgerows, where it is usually cut back before it can outgrow the rest.


Acknowledgments – thanks to the following for information, and for the dispelling of misinformation!

http://www.wikipedia.org (including the image of a botanical drawing)


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January in the Garden 2019

January in the garden provides an opportunity for a good tidy up, and clear out of last year’s growth, in readiness for the new season. It is a chance to look at the bare bones, and review what needs to move, and where the gaps are – as long as you can remember which particular plant each sprig of brown growth belongs to! So there has been much trimming back of dead growth, and digging up of plants in the wrong place. There are, however, one or two plants that choose January to put on their best show and earn their continuing position. For example, our little Hamamelis pallida (witch hazel) was only planted last year, but is covered with lovely spidery fragrant flowers.

Hamamelis Pallida

And the snowdrops and cyclamen were early into flower, repaying our efforts over the last few years to establish this woodland garden.

The Woodland Garden in January

Meanwhile, there have been some landmark moments on the hard landscaping front. For over a year, we have from time to time written in the blog about the progress Ros was making to the paved path of rounded cobbles (or duck stones) between the gate and the garden shelter. She worked on it between other jobs on garden volunteer days and even came in on her own sometimes to continue the arduous task, using stones that have emerged from the garden to create a walkway that is both practical and beautiful. Now, at last, the job is complete, a huge relief to Ros, and a great improvement to the garden.

Ros justifiably proud of her handiwork

And another job has started that has been long in the planning. Some time ago, traces of the original steps up to the Bath House were uncovered among the undergrowth of the surrounding trees. It was decided to reinstate this route, with stone steps, and now that the work on creating the rainwater harvesting system has been completed, the first step of the new project has (literally) been made.

Andrew and Nick working on the new steps

Ten years ago the Bath House & Physic Garden grounds had just one area of hedging : a straggling, overgrown and unloved stretch along the main public footpath. Now that area is dense, thriving and carefully managed and the whole outer border of the site has been planted up with a mix of hawthorn, blackthorn and other species. Wild roses, elder, holly and hazel provide shelter, nest sites and food for birds; and the perfect habitat for a wide range of wildlife including insects and mammals such as mice and (of course!) hedgehogs. Many fungi flourish in hedgerows as do lichens. Our local badgers, who are always welcome visitors, are of course undeterred by such barriers and have their own well established routes.

Hedgerows are still disappearing at a rapid and worrying rate. Tens of thousands of hedgerows were removed from the 1950’s onwards as grants were given aimed at increasing agricultural efficiency and many of the remaining hedges are neglected or crudely cut mechanically, resulting in thin hedges with gaps.  Drifting chemical sprays have also had a negative impact. Hedge laying is the best method of managing them for wildlife but is labour intensive and often impractical.  The longest stretch of hedging at the Bath House site was laid by Congleton & District Conservation Volunteers in 2008 and ten years later, the success of this method is clear. Our thanks go to them for their excellent work.  Since then, our decision to continue mixed hedgerow planting over the last few years, in part supported by gifts of free hedging trees from the Woodland Trust, has brought further success, and we are happy to have contributed our own small hedgerow habitat in the heart of Congleton.


Grow Your Own Wildlife-friendly Hedgerow
While most of us don’t have huge gardens with long natural boundaries, it is still often possible to grow something more attractive to wildlife than a larch-lap fence or a forest of Leylandii. These hedges are also attractive in themselves, with flowers and fruit in season. It’s always good to plant native species, too, as our native wildlife thrives on these more than on exotic imports – sounds like common sense, but recent scientific research proves it! Why not visit your local garden centre or nursery and talk to someone about your ideas? Or you could just follow our planting scheme. And you can look on line for information and advice and specialist retailers, so here are a few sites to get you thinking:
http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk (and its sister site, http://www.shop.woodlandtrust.org.uk)
http://www.best4hedging.co.uk (RSPB approved hedging packs)
http://www.hedgesdirect.co.uk (National Trust approved hedging packs)


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December in the Garden 2018

As 2018 draws to an end, we reflect on a busy and successful year. We had two open days, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn.  These brought in more visitors than ever – some who were discovering the Bath House and Physic Garden for the first time, some who keep coming back for more, and better still, some who are willing to join us as volunteers. A lot of work has been done in maintaining and improving the garden, through a very mixed year for gardening – starting with the Beast From the East, then moving on to a long hot, dry spell in the summer. All the effort was rewarded in November, when we received the results of the RHS Britain in Bloom competition. We achieved Level 5 – Outstanding, in the It’s Your Neighbourhood category, as well as an extra Highly Commended award. We went on to reward ourselves in December with a group Christmas dinner in a local pub – our numbers now happily increased by new volunteers.

The Team Christmas Dinner

On the building side, we have been putting plans together for a new utility building, to contain much needed storage space, toilet, and washing up facilities. Work has been done to prepare the ground, and make a connection to mains drainage and water. In the meantime, we have installed a rainwater harvesting system, which feeds un underground tank. This ‘green’ system diverts rainwater away from the Bath House building, and gives us a very useful water supply for irrigation in the garden.

Other highlights of the year have been the Food and Drink Festival in June, Congleton Carnival in July, the Jazz and Blues Festival in August, and the Heritage and Antiques Festival in September – all community events that we took an active role in, or played a part in hosting.

Work has continued through a very mild December. We obtained a large pile of wood chips from a local tree surgeon, and these have been barrowed up and down hill to all corners of the garden, to add as a mulch to the borders.

Wendy and Ros with the wood chip mountain

Even on New Year’s Eve, Ros was continuing with her cobbling (the end is in sight!)…

A different way to spend New Year’s Eve

…and Trevor was adding a new lid to the water tank.

Trevor at work on the water tank

The completion of the water tank gives the gardeners something to think about for next year – a new planting area requiring shade tolerant plants whose roots will help to retain the bank of soil covering the tank. Oh, and of course – they have to be medicinal!

Meanwhile, the Butcher’s Broom adds a festive touch with its red berries [see below for more on Butcher’s Broom] and the snowdrops start to push their way through the fallen leaves – offering hope of good things to come in 2019. A hope which we would like to extend to all our friends, visitors and supporters – Happy New Year!


Butcher’s Broom Ruscus aculeatus

Butcher’s Broom

A native plant, Butcher’s broom grows well in deep shade on poor soil, so is often found in woodland, growing between the roots of the trees. It may be thought by some to be rather a botanical oddity. For one thing, it is an unlikely-looking member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). And the sharp ‘leaves’ that give it a holly-like appearance are in fact not leaves at all: the real leaves are tiny and flattened against the stem. Its spine-tipped growths are modified shoots or branches known as cladophylls or cladodes, and in the female plant the small greenish flowers arise in their centres. If there is a male plant near enough for fertilisation, bright red berries result, appearing cupped in the spiky cladodes.

Myth and Magic
Alternative names for the plant, many now out of use, include box holly, prickly box, sweet broom, knee holly, pettigree, pettigrue and shepherd’s myrtle. Culpeper describes it in great detail, perhaps implying that it was not in his day a commonly recognised plant, although he gives several common names for it. The current common name is probably derived from mediaeval butchers using bunches of it to scrub their benches. 17th century butchers apparently made ‘hedges’ of it between meats, as a defence against rodents.

It has been suggested that burning an ‘incense’ derived from the wood of the plant produces a calming effect; and the spiny greenery can be used in protection spells.

Medicinal Uses
Culpeper lists many potential uses for this plant, but adds a cautionary note. After giving a common recipe using the root, mixed in wine with other herbs, he says, “The more of the roots you boil, the stronger will the decoction be; it works no ill effects, yet I hope you have wit enough to give the strongest decoction to the strongest bodies.”

Various remedies derived from butcher’s broom have been used in the past to treat gout, jaundice, swellings, leg cramps, kidney stones, and as a laxative and diuretic.  Modern herbal medicine offers a range of Butcher’s Broom products, as dried root, tablets, capsules and liquid extracts and tinctures to treat the following conditions:

  • varicose veins,
  • haemorrhoids,
  • hardening of the arteries,
  • gallstones,
  • Raynaud’s disease (limited blood circulation to fingers and toes).

Compounds in the plant’s roots are known to cause contraction of the veins, so it is likely that the best results will be in cases of swelling and haemorrhoids.

Modern medicine has struggled to find remedies for chronic orthostatic hypotension, which is a condition in which the body no longer adjusts blood pressure properly according to posture, e.g. it drops dramatically when going from sitting to standing.  Research into treatment using butcher’s broom as a supplement, which is safe and inexpensive, has been found to be very effective, although more studies are needed.

WARNING: Always seek professional advice before taking any herbal remedy.  It is advised that Butcher’s Broom should not be taken by people with high blood pressure or kidney problems. Also, be aware that the raw plant is toxic in all parts.


Acknowledgmentsthanks to the following for information:

Culpeper’s Herbal
Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey

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November in the Garden 2018

Despite the shorter days and cooler temperatures, there is still colour and interest to be found in the garden, albeit in more subtle ways than during the height of summer. The silver birch tree in particular put on a beautiful display, before shedding its leaves. This native tree, the Betula pendula, one of only two native birches in the UK, is widespread in the wild but its smooth silvery bark and elegant form make it a popular choice in gardens  as well. [See below for more about Silver Birch]

Silver Birch in autumn colour

In the flower borders many of the plants have attractive seed heads that continue to look good, well into the winter. Teasel and Echinops both bristle with sharp spines, while the Solidago has soft, fluffy seed heads and reddish stems that show up well in the low angles of the autumn sun.

Seed heads of the Solidago

However, this all means that there is work to be done! We started raking leaves from the lawns last month and are continuing with this task: they are adding to our collection from previous years, which is already turning into fine leaf mould. And the plants that die back less gracefully need to be trimmed and tidied, to give us space to get in with the mulch.

An eagerly awaited addition to the garden arrived this month, when we took delivery of a bench, yet to be fixed into place, to provide a more comfortable and attractive spot in which to sit and enjoy the garden. We are grateful to Cheshire East Council for the grant which paid for this facility.

Careful delivery of the new bench!

Nino has been busy this month too, putting in railings to edge the borders next to the garden shelter. This requires a bit of digging, so that we can anchor them deeply enough to resist any wayward activities.

Nino at work on the edging rails

In anticipation of a positive verdict on our proposed new utility building from the planning department, the building team has now prepared the ground. There has also been progress on completing the landscaping round the underground rainwater tank, and making a path for us to get to the tap. And Ros continues with her Herculean task of laying cobbles in the footpath to the gate. Not too far left to go!

An exciting event in November was receiving our RHS award! We’d entered the It’s Your Neighbourhood section of the In Bloom competition, and were thrilled to be awarded Outstanding again – and this time we gained an extra Highly Commended Award. The certificates were given out at an event in the Town Hall, when all of Congleton’s successful 2018 entries were celebrated.

The In Bloom Awards


Silver Birch   Betula pendula
One of two birches native to the British Isles, the other being the downy birch (Betula pubescens), with which it often crosses, birch is a “pioneer” species, quickly colonising ground cleared by agriculture, forestry or fire. Its seeds are light and can be blown great distances, and easily germinate in poor soils. Similarly, the leaves are quick to rot and enrich the soil, enabling other species to become established such as beech and oak; however, if they are not managed carefully, forests so made eventually become too dark for the birch trees to survive.

Myth and Magic
The silver birch was considered holy by pagan peoples, a tree that drove out evil: for example, cradles made from birch wood were thought to protect the new baby from demons. A tree common in northern Europe, it appears in many ancient tales in these cold countries where its medicinal and practical properties were well-known.

It was revered by Druids in Britain, and birch branches were used to start the fires of Beltane, the festival marking new beginnings. Beltane rituals included dancing round the May Pole, which was also made from birch wood.

In Irish mythology, the tree was associated with the god Lugh, whose name means light, and Welsh legends mention it in connection with Blodeuwedd, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, whose first name is the Welsh equivalent of Lugh.

Birch was also sacred to the Norse goddess Frigg or Freya, and it was birch twigs that made a bed for the legendary Irish lovers Diarmuid and Grainne when they fled from the latter’s betrothed, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

‘Beith’ or birch is the first symbol (B)of the Ogham alphabet, used on stone monuments and manuscripts between the 4th and 9th centuries AD. Stone examples have been found  throughout Ireland, and also in England, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales. The word is still found in many Gaelic place names such as Glen an Beithe, Allt Beithe, and Beith in Ayrshire. Another old spelling of the tree was ‘birk’ and this appears in place names in Scotland and England.  Although we can’t be sure of the derivation, we might like to think of Birkenhead and Birkdale as two relatively local examples.

An association with witches derives from the dense clusters of short twigs that sometimes grow on birch trees, caused by a fungus (Taphrina betuliina). These growths, which don’t harm the tree, are commonly known as witches’ brooms.

Medicinal Uses
Birch has been important in herbal medicine for millennia, having a wide range of applications.  An infusion of the leaves taken as a non-irritant diuretic was long prescribed for dropsy, a condition characterised by excessive water retention. It was also used in cases of urinary tract infection. A decoction of the bark was used as a disinfectant for wounds, and also for reducing inflammation in arthritis and gout.

Modern science recognises that birch contains useful chemicals and compounds, including potassium, which regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals. Birch also contains a high level of vitamin C, which is considered helpful in cases of viral infections. It also contains salicylates which, like salicin (the compound derived from willow), can help in pain relief and in reducing the symptoms of fever.

There has been recent scientific interest in betulinic acid, derived from betulinol, a compound found in birch bark, which may prove beneficial in the treatment of cancers, although research is at an early stage.

Other Uses
Sap: Silver birch wine is made from the sap, and a vinegar can be derived from this.
Bark: The waterproof bark has been used by such peoples as the Sami of northern Europe and Native North Americans as a light-weight roofing material and, perhaps most famously, for their canoes.
Bark: An oil or tar, known for thousands of years, is made from the dry bark by a similar method to that used to make charcoal. It is a many-purpose adhesive and can also be used to treat leather and wood or add scent to soap and perfume.
Twigs and Buds: Even without medicinal properties, birch is said to make a pleasant drink, as this recipe found on line suggests:
Gather a few handfuls of fresh silver birch twigs with buds
Steep in boiling water to the required taste
Strain the liquid, drink and enjoy!
(NB: We haven’t tried this ourselves)

The presence of salicylates in birch products means they should not be taken by anyone sensitive to aspirin.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS  – Thanks for much information to the following:
 – http://www.folklorethursday.com

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October in the Garden 2018

We’ve had a busy couple of months, and have also been beset by illness, so the blog has been somewhat neglected again!  Here at last is October’s – look out soon for November!

The garden has started to slow down, and pack up for the winter. We have been busy cutting and raking the wild flower meadow, hoping that it has already shed most of its seed. Early next year we shall dig it over again, to give the annuals like poppy and cornflower a better chance to germinate. Wild flower meadows sound like easy gardening to the uninitiated, who may think it’s gardening by neglect: but it’s actually quite labour – and thought – intensive. If you are hoping to grow mostly perennial wildflowers, the soil has to be quite poor, otherwise the grasses will take over.  An annual meadow, with cornfield flowers, needs a richer soil. Getting the balance is quite an art!

Linda working on the Wildflower Meadow

Thoughts now turn to the spring, so we have been planting some more bulbs of Native Narcissus – the wild daffodil – on the bank near the garden shelter. This gives us something to look forward to in the dark days of winter, but also fits within our collection of medicinal plants. Daffodils and snowdrops both contain the chemical Galantamine, which has recently been getting more attention for its usefulness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  [See below for more on wild daffodils]

Meanwhile, the building team have been busy preparing some pipework, ready for connection to mains water. This will be an exciting development – the whole project has been going for over a decade without any water on site! The team have also put in some paving at the bottom of the garden, ready for a new bench that is currently on order.


The Native Wild Daffodil

Wild Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus
This is the native British wild daffodil, sometimes called the Lent or Easter Lily, and is the daffodil referred to in the famous poem by Wordsworth. It  was once common throughout British woodlands and damp pastures, but with modern agricultural developments its numbers have fallen dramatically. It is also easily cross-pollinated with the many larger, hardier garden varieties, so that the true wild daffodil is increasingly difficult to find. Blooming in February and March, it has six pale yellow petals (technically these are called ‘perianths’) around the deeper yellow trumpet, and a light perfume.

Myth and Magic
The word Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor, from which we get our word narcotic. Some people therefore suggest this refers to its ‘intoxicating’ fragrance, while others associate it with the plant’s poisonous nature.

The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a beautiful youth who, catching sight of his own reflection for the first time in a pond, immediately fell in love and remained, enraptured, by the pool in a terminal decline whereupon the gods turned him into the eponymous flower. We have adopted the myth into psychology, so that we describe a person who is unnaturally obsessed with his or her own appearance and personal needs as a ‘narcissist’.

The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, probably introduced in the 19th century as a  more obviously attractive symbol than the Leek. David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to serve as Prime Minister, was a public advocate of the daffodil; and of course it blooms in early spring, thus happily coinciding with St David’s Day on 1st March.

Medicinal Uses
Culpeper recommended daffodil as an emetic. It is certainly true that, for many plants, ingesting the bulbs, leaves, seeds etc would result in vomiting; but more serious, even fatal, side effects occur if vomiting doesn’t remove their poisons.

Various folk remedies – some still in use – suggest using a syrup or infusion of daffodils in the treatment of ailments as whooping cough, colds and asthma, and the bulbs have been used to make poultices for wounds and burns. However, none of these is recommended by modern medical practitioners.

More recently, the extraction of galantamine, as already mentioned, is making Narcissus pseudonarcissus an important plant in medical terms. Although galantamine medications are not a cure, they can defer the progression of certain symptoms in mild to moderate disease, such as confusion, memory loss, and problems performing every day tasks.

It takes 10 tons of daffodil bulbs to produce 1 kilogram of galantamine. It has been shown that higher levels of galantamine are found in wild daffodils grown at high altitude in the Black Mountains in Wales. One farmer in the Black Mountains is currently extracting galantamine from the leaves of his daffodil crop in a potentially commercial project, although it needs to attract more funding to make this certain.

Research is also being carried out in Denmark using daffodil compounds in depression; and a study from China suggests potential in the treatment of some cancers.

Warning – Daffodils are POISONOUS
Ingesting any part of the daffodil is likely to result in nausea, respiratory collapse, paralysis, and even death.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Thanks to the following for much of this information:

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September in the Garden 2018

The main event in September was our Open Day, part of the national Heritage Open Days weekends, and also of our own local Congleton Heritage and Antiques Festival. It was very well attended, with about 150 visitors coming to hear Nino and Ros give guided tours of the Bath House, and Barbara Wilkinson of the Herb Society give her fascinating talks about the medicinal properties of the plants in the garden. The Herb Society also provided an interesting and colourful stall.

Herb Society stall

We had borrowed a marquee to house a number of stalls, including one from Little Moreton Hall, where visitors (both young and old) could try their hand at heritage games and children’s activities.

Trying out the Tudor games

We had our own produce to sell, as Lyn had made elderflower cordial, and Linda had made blackcurrant jam, both using the harvest from the Physic Garden. We also sold apple juice and cider vinegar made at the Old Saw Mill local community cooperative.

Delicious drinks from the garden and locally sourced apples

Our plant stall carried home grown plants, as well as a tray of plants kindly given by the local nursery, RPG Herbs. We occasionally help them with plants and seedlings from the garden that they need for a particular project; and we are very grateful when the favour is returned.

Vanessa with the plants for sale

The plants, as well as a number of second hand books, were offered in exchange for voluntary donations.

A varied selection of books

A raffle also helped us raise funds – all going towards essential maintenance.

The raffle prize 

The prize was a basket of goodies, all made by our volunteers, using ingredients grown in the garden. The lucky winner, from Biddulph, had taken care to increase her chances by buying several strips of tickets.

As ever, we get many visitors who have lived locally for years but are discovering the garden for the first time – and we are very pleased to share the secret.  However, in September another visitor to the garden was less welcome. It was a mystery weed that popped up on the disturbed ground of the building site.

Common Ragweed

We have identified it as Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia), an invasive American plant. It is used in native American medicine, and can apparently help to remove heavy metals from the soil, but it also tops the US list of the worst plants causing allergic reactions.  On balance, we decided to pull it up. You can read more about it below.

Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia)
Here at the Bath House & Physic Garden we are reluctant to name any plant a ‘weed’ – they are just plants that are growing in the wrong place. However, this intruder from the USA is an exception as it doesn’t have beauty or usefulness to recommend it, and it would rapidly colonise any patch of disturbed ground to the detriment of plants we want to encourage. Its flowers are small and greenish, and as they contain no nectar they attract no bees, butterflies or other welcome pollinators. Instead, the pollen is wind-borne, straight up the noses of every hay-fever sufferer for miles around.

North American native people cultivated this plant as a crop, thousands of years ago, but they gave it up in favour of maize well before the earliest Europeans set foot on the continent. It is now considered a noxious weed, and its seeds can unfortunately lie dormant for up to forty years waiting for the right conditions, which include most of Europe, where it has gradually established itself over a few hundred years. Carl Linnaeus, the botanist who organised plants into ‘family groups’ with Latin names, including introductions from outside Europe, gave it the completely inappropriate name Ambrosia, we don’t know why: one theory is that other botanists had so named ‘similar’ plants in the Mediterranean area, so he followed their lead.

Myth and Magic
Ambrosia (meaning mortality) was the food – or drink – of the ancient Greek gods, usually linked with their other form of sustenance, Nectar.  In Homer, nectar is usually the drink and ambrosia the food, but other sources reverse it. In one of Aristophanes’ plays, for instance, a character says, ” I dreamed the goddess poured ambrosia over your head out of a ladle.” But, of course, ambrosia could be both a liquid and a food, like honey. Not so our invasive plant with the same name, sadly!

Medicinal Uses
Native Americans in various parts of North America used this plant and Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) medicinally, as well as making an oil from the seeds. The leaves of ragweed have been used as an astringent and as an emetic, and it has been said that tea made from the leaves is useful in a number of ailments including fevers. Chewing the root is said to have a sedative effect, and a laxative tea can also be made from the root. The juice from its crushed leaves can be applied to insect bites to soothe irritation.

WARNING: We do not encourage making remedies at home, and you should consult a professional in herbal medicine if you are interested in pursuing this line of therapy. And please note: some people get a rash just from touching the leaves, and the pollen is certainly a top allergen.

Other uses
Ragweed has been used as a food crop, and potentially the proteins and oils could be of use. Giant Ragweed can be used in dyeing: pale green from leaves, red from flower heads.


Acknowledgments   We are grateful to the following US sites for much of our information

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August in the Garden 2018

We’ve been so busy this summer that actually writing the blog has been neglected, but finally we’ve got it together – August’s is a real joint effort!

The hot dry weather continued, but with some welcome rain later in the month to give us a break from watering. Our lack of rainfall this year reminds us that we tend to take our water supply for granted, and that it must be devastating to live in the really drought-ridden areas of the world.  Some plants do thrive in these long hot days, however. Linda has been cultivating a grape vine at home until it is ready to be planted at the Bath House. The variety is Bacchus, like our garden seat ornament, and it produced fruits this year, though they are small and slightly tart – perhaps not ready for wine!

Linda with the grape harvest!

This month saw us included in the judging for Britain in Bloom – a much briefer visit than for the regional competition, but the judges seemed to appreciate what they saw, and we look forward to hearing the outcome. We also had a visit by about thirty people invited by the local Family History Society. Nino gave them a talk about the history of the Bath House, and the garden team showed them around the Physic Garden.

Different visitors to the garden earlier this year were a number of very busy mining bees, a name given to a group of solitary bee species. Some freshly dug ground at the top of the site proved perfect for their nesting needs. As they were a little like wasps in appearance, we were uncertain at first as to whether they might deliver a sting in their tail for our volunteers, but a little research showed that their stay would be short and welcome. There are 250 different species of solitary bee in Britain, but they are all non-aggressive and their stings are often too small to penetrate human skin. Our bees were females seeking a site for their nest burrows where they construct small cells containing a ball of pollen mixed with nectar. A single egg is laid on this and then each cell is sealed. To find out more about these fascinating creatures, try this link:

The picture below shows one of many different species you might find in your garden
(image courtesy of Steven Falk)

Tawny mining bee

These bees are highly beneficial in any garden, aerating the soil and pollinating many different types of plants. We were able to leave the burrows undisturbed and hope that the new bees emerged unscathed. The area can be dug over in autumn or winter when they’ve flown. If you are lucky enough to have some mining bees in your garden, the advice is   “Let the bees be!”

Our jobs for the month have included clearing out the tool store to make way for new tools, which are to be funded by an award from a local grant provider. Or at least attempting a clear-out – everyone has their favourite among the old and battered collection!   We were pleased to see the bike rack finished, too – perhaps people will now stop leaning their bikes agains the buildings and trees!

The new bike rack installed

We also pruned the soft fruit, and the fan trained fruit trees. It has been a excellent year for cultivated and wild fruit as the lack of late frosts and the hot summer have produced excellent crops. In our hedges, sloes and elderberries have delighted volunteers and local birds whilst our cultivated raspberry and currant bushes are developing very well. Our plum and quince trees are also maturing, and the single Victoria plum – the first fruit on our young tree – was shared amongst the five gardeners present, and very tasty it was too!

On the Bank Holiday weekend the site was used for the first time as a venue for the annual Congleton Jazz and Blues Festival. The traditional opening event is an umbrella parade, and about a hundred people, led by The Beartown Stompers, marched or strolled through the town to the Physic Garden.

Umbrella Parade

The band then played in the garden, and a good time was had by all, relaxing on the lawn in the sunshine, listening to good music.

A garden full of music

Listening to the Stompers


Thanks for mining bees information and image to

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