January in the Garden 2017

A new year begins with a rather wet and grey January, but there are jobs to be done. Mr Sebire, one time owner of Congleton’s famous Berisfords Ribbons, offered us a 6’ x 8’ aluminium greenhouse. A group of us spent two very wet mornings dismantling and transporting it back to the Bath House, where it will stay until we are ready to assemble it.

Removing the greenhouse

Removing the greenhouse

Another structure also arrived this month. As part of our work at the Bath House we are going to erect a wooden shed for storage. This 10’ x 8’ structure came all the way from Yorkshire on the back of a flat bed truck, and went straight into our neighbour’s garage until we can assemble it later in the year. We bought the shed with some of the money that came from Tesco’s “Bags of Help” fund.

shed-arriving-sm

We are forming a good relationship with Tesco, and we also received from them a large amount of spring bulbs. These mainly consisted of daffodils and crocuses, which are not medicinal plants, so we were unable to plant them within the Physic Garden. However, we have taken over small sections of scrubland bordering our site, so we decided to plant them there. The ground of course was full of Dock, Ground Elder, Brambles and plenty of builders’ rubble. As in many jobs, it’s the unseen preparation that is the really hard work! Once this was done, our volunteers managed to plant around 1000 bulbs in total. We are concerned that our local wildlife, in particular the badgers, might dig up our hard work, so we are experimenting with laying holly branches over the bare soil to give the bulbs a chance whilst they are establishing.

Planting the bulbs

Planting the bulbs

Another occasional problem we have is dog fouling. We try to have a relaxed approach to responsible dog owners visiting the site, but every so often, as now, things get a little out of hand. We have had plants chewed and several piles of poo that seem to come from repeat offenders. Our “No Dogs” sign is often removed; but on this occasion some of the youths who visit us every day decided to help and create their own sign. No doubt this will be an on going issue, but it’s good that our young visitors are helping to keep the garden clean.

If only dogs could read, perhaps they'd train their owners!

If only dogs could read, perhaps they’d train their owners!

Though the days are short and often gloomy, the first welcome signs of the spring to come are just about appearing. Towards the end of January our first snowdrops bloomed, with the promise of many more to come.

Harbingers of spring...

Harbingers of spring…

I have noticed in recent years increasing numbers of bracket fungi appearing on tree stumps in late December and January. We reported on some edible oyster mushrooms a few years back, but this year we have had an abundance of a different sort, which I am unable to identify. The Oysters go after a heavy frost but these seem much tougher. Any ideas on their identification would be welcome!

Winter fungus

Bracket fungus in winter

NM

Bracket fungi

There are many varieties of bracket fungi, which grow on living and dead trees. Some of them may be edible though not appetising, others are definitely inedible and yet others are extremely toxic. And some bracket fungi have been used medicinally. Although we haven’t yet identified the one illustrated above, you may have seen elsewhere the Birch Polypore bracket fungus, a common sight in British woodland, which has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It only grows naturally on birch trees, but as there are many similar bracket fungi it should not be harvested without expert advice.

An infusion of this fungus, dried or fresh, was drunk with reputed beneficial effects on the immune system. It was also  made into a plaster or dressing by applying cut pieces of the membrane to blisters, corns and wounds.

Modern research into the chemical components of Birch Polypore has found that it  contains the following potentially useful attributes:
Antiviral; Antibiotic; Anti-inflammatory;
Anti-tumour; Antiseptic; Antifungal; and
Stiptic (staunches bleeding)

“Ötzi the Iceman”, a 5,300 year old Bronze Age frozen mummy found in Austria in 1991, had some Birch Polypore on a leather thong around his neck. He also had a parasitic intestinal worm,  a Whipworm, that we now know can be cured with polypolenic acid – one of the chemicals present in Birch Polypore. It is fascinating to realise that Ötzi ‘s contemporaries knew about the curative properties of fungus in the Bronze Age…

JO

Acknowledgments – thanks for information to:
http://www.wildfooduk.com
http://www.gardeningknowhow.com

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December in the Garden 2016

As the year draws to a close the weather makes work on site more difficult, though we have had a mild winter so far with only light frosts towards Christmas, and the team have been able to get on with various tasks. Nick is now working on the archway that leads visitors from Cole Hill Bank up to the Bath House, and much of the site has been raked clear of leaves by our hard working gardeners, which will help the grass and make it less slippery for visitors.  We have also planted a yew hedge on either side of the garden shelter, that as it grows will form a frame to the stone seat. To help protect the hedge whilst it is establishing, we have placed curved iron hoops all along its length in a manner sometimes seen in Victorian parks.

Planting the Yew Hedge

Planting the Yew Hedge

Despite the time of year we have had one plant that has bloomed with delicate orange flowers. That plant is Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), renowned for its winter colour and scent. We don’t know the name of the specific Hamamelis cultivar in our garden,  but it is possibly Jelena or Orange Beauty.

Witch Hazel's flame like flowers

Witch Hazel’s flame like flowers

On 12th December it was once again time for our Christmas Party at The Young Pretender, who kindly opened at lunchtime especially for our group.

Christmas Party 2016

Christmas Party 2016

I remember at last year’s party thanking everyone for their hard work and the progress made. However, I think they surpassed themselves this year, winning both Gold and Outstanding awards in this year’s Royal Horticultural Society In Bloom competition, as we reported at the time. As a particular thank you to Ros for her work designing and making our “Bear on a Bicycle”, Lyn made her a hand embroidered picture of this feat. What a lot of skills we have within our group!

Ros with the embroidered bear on a nike!

Ros with the embroidered bear on a bike!

Well done and thanks to all those of you that have continued to support us throughout the year. We look forward to yet another exciting and prosperous year for The Bath House and Physic Garden during 2017.

Witch Hazel   Hamamelis
Witch Hazel is not actually a kind of Hazel at all; and it has nothing to do with witches, either! It  is a native North American plant, and perhaps got its common name because its leaves  reminded early British settlers of hazel trees?  The ‘witch’ part comes from the old English word wyce, meaning pliable – a characteristic that hamamelis twigs certainly share with those of the hazel tree – as is seen in the common English name of a different tree, Wych Elm.

Because of its attractive habit as a winter-flowering plant, the flowers of different cultivars ranging from palest yellow to vivid orange, it has featured in many gardens since it was first introduced to Britain in 1736. The scent is variously described as like honey or spice, but on cold winter days you may need to breathe on the flowers before you can detect the faint perfume.

E A Bowles, an early 20th-century gardener, called it the Epiphany tree because it is generally in flower on 6th January (Epiphany) and its flowers are gold and scented like frankincense.

Medicinal Uses
One member of the family is Hamamelis virginiana, known to native North Americans as a medicinal plant for centuries. A distillation of Witch Hazel may also be found in many medicine cabinets today, useful as an astringent for inflammation and other skin conditions. It is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration as a Class I drug, which means it can claim efficacy in medicinal applications.

Homeopathic and other herbalist practitioners may use it in different ways:
– Astringent
– Deodorant
– Skin blemishes and inflammation
– Varicose veins and haemorrhoids

JO

Acknowledgements – thanks to the following for some of the above information
http://www.telegraph.co.uk
http://www.herbaria.plants.ox.ac.uk
http://www.britishhomeopathic.org

 

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November in the Garden 2016

Now that November is here, like gardeners everywhere, we are starting to tidy the grounds and make preparations for the following spring. We have chosen a site for our new composting area, which will be behind the Bath House building. Firstly we had to dig out the area; and found a layer of builders’ rubble just under the soil. We decided to make a three bay compost area out of recycled wooden pallets. This will allow us to fill one chamber whilst leaving another to compost, with room to turn the whole stack over if needed.

Belmont fabrication, a local engineering firm, came to fit the cast iron railings to our bottom wall. These railings have been made from the original Victorian finials that we found buried underground nearby. We restored them, and added new alternate bars and a new gate between them. Nick has been busy as ever, finishing off the top entrance and now turning his attention to jobs to come.

Nick fixing the gate

Nick fixing the gate

 

We have measured for a new service gate onto Lowe Avenue and we have two flights of stone steps to build. What surfacing we laid over the last year is already showing its worth, in making access to the site a lot less muddy.

As part of our on going desire to create toilet facilities on site, we are in discussion with United Utilities and local builders to lay on the initial water and waste services that we will need. This is all possible thanks to our recent Tesco “Bags of Help” grant which we are now busy putting into place. As part of this process we have been given a postal address and our own postcode – so now we need a post box too!

There are a few plants in the garden defying the approach of winter, the seed heads of some providing food opportunities for birds. They can also look striking on a bright November day, as the photo of our angelica plant demonstrates.

Angelica seed-heads against a crisp autumn sky

a Angelica seed-heads against a crisp autumn sky

NM

Garden Angelica   Angelica archangelica
Older readers may remember the sticky little green pieces of crystallised angelica once used as edible decoration on cakes and desserts, but this was a mere ‘trifle’ among the many uses of the plant. Growing wild in many northern European countries from Russia to Scandinavia to the Faroe Islands, angelica is also cultivated, and was long regarded as one of the most important of all medicinal herbs. Roots, leaves and seeds could be used in a diversity of remedies and in cooking.

Medicinal Uses
The herbalist Gerard stated ‘it cureth the bitings of mad dogs and all other venomous beasts’.  Culpeper claimed “and experience proves the same, that it is good against poison, pestilent airs, and the pestilence itself.” It was believed that drinking or smelling the liquor created by steeping a piece of angelica root in vinegar would prevent infection in time of pestilence – i.e. plague. Culpeper’s personal advice was “to take an orange or a lemon, cut off the top, pick out the meat, prick it full of small holes, put it into a piece of sponge or fine linen cloth dipped in the aforesaid vinegar and smell it.”

Modern herbalist practitioners may suggest its use in a range of conditions:

  • Coughs and colds
  • Influenza
  • Fever
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Menstrual difficulties and labour pains
  • Neuralgia
  • Rheumatism

Myth and Magic
In some northern European countries, gathering the plant formed part of folk festivals, possibly derived from pagan rituals, which became associated in Christian times with important dates such as the feast of Michael the Archangel and the Annunciation. Widely believed to protect against spells and witchcraft, it was even known in some places as ‘The Root of the Holy Ghost.

Other Uses
The roots and fruits yield angelica oil, which is used in perfume, confectionery, in teas, and as the source of yellow dye. The seeds are used to flavour alcoholic drinks.

JO

Acknowledgements – thanks to the following for some of the above information
http://www.botanical.com
http://www.wikipedia.com
http://www.medicinalherbinfo.org
http://www.webmd.com
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

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October in the Garden 2016

Congratulations Congleton! Congleton has once again done tremendously well in this year’s Royal Horticultural Society ‘In Bloom’ awards. We have won a Gold medal in the national ‘Britain In Bloom’ competition, a Gold Medal in ‘North West in Bloom’ and Best Large Town in the North West. As well as this, the town has won ‘Pride of Cheshire East’, and numerous other individual Gold and Silver medals – too many to detail here.

Congleton In Bloom certificate of thanks

Congleton In Bloom certificate of thanks

Congleton Bath House and Physic Garden has of course contributed to all the above awards, but this year for the first time we were also entered individually in the ‘It’s your Neighbourhood’ section. We came away with a Level 5 ‘Outstanding award’ which is the highest level that the RHS offer and is their equivalent of yet another gold medal!

Our Level 5 Award for It's Your Neighbourhood

Our Level 5 Award
for
It’s Your Neighbourhood

We are all thrilled about this, and it is recognition for the thousands of hours of volunteer work that our group has put into this project to turn a derelict site into a thriving community asset. Well done indeed to all those who have helped us both in the past and our current terrific group of ‘perennials’! Thank you, too, to all those who have supported us with financial aid, without which we would not have become such a success. These awards do of course set us a challenge for next year; but we already have lots of ideas to enhance our project further.

Nino with our stand at the Southport ceremony for Britain in Bloom

Nino at the Southport awards ceremony for Britain in Bloom

In a month filled with events we also welcomed members from our local Tesco store, which recently awarded us a grant under their ‘Bags of Help’ carrier bag scheme. The four staff members planted around 200 bulbs for our spring display.

Vanessa and Tesco members planting bulbs

Vanessa and Tesco members planting bulbs

On the following Saturday we welcomed eight members of the local UPS delivery service, who came to help dig out some of the new areas that we hope to cultivate this year. This kind of one off event really helps the workload of our regular volunteers. Thank you all: and we hope to see you again next year.

One of the youngest helpers from UPS!

One of our youngest helpers from UPS!

We were also involved this month in the Border History Fair. This takes place every year in Congleton Town Hall and is an opportunity for local history groups from South Cheshire and North Staffordshire to get together and publicise their societies. There were some terrific history talks organised by Congleton Museum and a tour of the town hall too. I went to a very informative talk given by Linda Hulse about the connections between Congleton and the Gallipoli campaign of WW1. It was very moving and full of detailed research. The day was also the first outing for a new display board that new volunteer Marion Perry has been helping to organise. [To learn more about the history group, go to: http://www.bmsgh.org/BorderHistory/%5D

The new display board at then Border History Fair

Our new display at the Border History Fair

Also this month we held our annual fundraising quiz night at The Young Pretender, which once again proved a popular evening. The ticket price included a Pie Supper from our hosts, who also provided the quiz master, who taxed our knowledge on subjects ranging from Radio Times front covers to the last lines of famous movies. We held a raffle at the mid-point with some very good donated prizes including two bottles of vintage whisky. In all we raised £220 for Bath House & Physic Garden funds and had a fun evening to boot!

An attractive display on Quiz Night!

An attractive display on Quiz Night!

In all these current activities, we don’t forget our connection to the past: the historic use of  medicinal plants is commemorated in our garden, and you will have seen references to herbalists in many of our blogs. 18th October this year was the 400th Anniversary of the birth of the apothecary Nicholas Culpeper, possibly Britain’s most well-known author of information about herbalist medicine, particularly in ‘The English Physician’. Many of his ideas and remedies have influenced medical thought over the centuries that followed its publication, and we have included a brief introduction to him below.

NM

A portrait of Nicholas Culpeper

A portrait of Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper, born 1616, died 1664
Nicholas Culpeper was an English apothecary and physician. Inspired by the work of medical reformers such as Paracelsus, who rejected traditional medical authorities, Culpeper published books in English, giving healers who could not read Latin access to medical and pharmaceutical knowledge.

Culpeper was a political radical who wrote pamphlets against the king, all priests and lawyers, and licensed physicians. He dedicated himself to serving the sick, the poor and the powerless. In 1644 he set up his own shop in east London, and started to translate medical books into English. In doing this, he not only made them more accessible, but also threatened the monopolies of university-trained physicians.

Culpeper wrote and translated many medical books. But his biggest success was The English Physician of 1653 (now known as Culpeper’s Herbal), which was one of the most successful publications of early modern Britain and North America. Culpeper’s Herbal was an attempt to integrate ideas of the doctrine of signatures and astrology into herbal medicine. It also included a translation of a description of plants and their medical uses issued in Latin by the College of Physicians. The college protested against the publication, but the book has been in print ever since.

The above is quoted from http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

There are many other websites on this interesting historical figure; and for an informative and entertaining account, my personal recommendation is a book by Benjamin Woolley:
‘The Herbalist: Nicholas Culpeper and the fight for medical freedom’.

JO

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September in the Garden 2016

The year seems to have been filled with events in and around the Bath House. On 6th September,  Congleton hosted the start of Stage 3 of the Tour of Britain cycle race for the first time.

Cyclists galore!

Cyclists galore!

The streets were crowded and the sun shone as the riders set off along High Street on their way towards Tatton Park for the stage finish. There were banners throughout the town and orange painted bicycles on the roundabouts.

One of Congleton's roundabouts with bikes

One of Congleton’s roundabouts with bikes

To celebrate the day we decided to build something at the Bath House that could be seen from the air. Ros cleverly designed a penny-farthing bicycle, which she made out of large upturned flowerpots. Astride this she created a bear figure, to represent the town, which she made from packing cases from the local bicycle shop! For a final touch Lyn borrowed her neighbour’s orange curtains to make a flowing scarf. It did look well. We didn’t make it onto the television footage but another of our neighbours sent his new drone above the site and took some terrific aerial photographs.

Bear from the Air!

Bear from the Air!

Gosh, the year goes by quickly! On Saturday 10th September it was once again time for us to open for Heritage Open Day. We try to do something different every year, and this year we invited Barbara Wilkinson of The Herb Society to give special talks on some of the plants that we are growing in our physic garden. We were also commemorating the 400th birthday of Nicholas Culpeper, whose work on herbalism is still in print today. Unlike last year, the sun shone and we had well over 100 people visiting us. Nino gave his usual talk on the history of the Bath House, and then handed over to Barbara to complete the tour.

A Cornflower Meadow

A Cornflower Meadow

In the garden there is still plenty of colour among the wild and medicinal plants, including the bright blue cornflower, once a common sight alongside the red poppy in our cornfields, blooming all summer till finally cut down at harvest time. [See below for more about cornflowers]. Continuing the garden landscaping, Nick and Andrew put the finishing touches to the stone setts in our new entrance.

Andrew and Nick laying setts

Andrew and Nick laying setts

NM

Cornflower    Centaurea cyanus
This annual flowering plant is considered an ‘ancient introduction’ in the UK, as it has grown here since the Iron Age. It gained its popular name as it was such a common weed in cornfields – corn meaning any grain such as wheat, barley or rye – where its bright blue petals contrasted with the equally vivid red poppy. They are both now endangered in their natural habitat, particularly because of agricultural pesticides, and in the UK there are reputed to be only 3 natural cornflower sites remaining. The conservation charity Plantlife has included it in its list of plants ‘to be brought Back from the Brink’.

However, the cornflower and its many cultivars are now widely grown outside agricultural areas: they contribute to the ‘cottage garden’, they are popular cut flowers, and as they attract bees they are regarded as ‘beneficial weeds’ even where they have self-seeded. And of course, the drive for planting wild-flower meadows – like our small one – has encouraged the return of this lovely late summer bloomer.

Nicholas Culpeper lists the plant as Blue-Bottle in his seventeenth century herbal, but adds that it has other names, among which he lists hurt-sickle, because it blunted the tools cutting the corn harvest; syanus (his spelling of cyanus) from the Greek kyanos meaning ‘dark blue’; and, happily, corn-flower!

Medicinal uses
Culpeper recommended making a powder of the dried leaves for bruises; mixing the dried leaves in the water of other herbs to counter poisoning; and adding the seeds or leaves to wine for cases of fever and infection He said the juice of the flower dropped into a fresh wound would help it seal, especially ulcers and sores in the mouth, and advised using the juice, or a lotion made from the whole plant, as a wash to cure inflamed eyes.

Modern herbalists agree with Culpeper that a decoction of cornflower may be used as an eye-wash for conjunctivitis, or simply to relieve tired eyes; and that a poultice of the leaves will help relieve pain and inflammation around wounds. They also suggest its use as an astringent and a diuretic, as it is very bitter.

Other uses
Dried cornflowers are widely used as an ingredient in herbal teas, and Twinings even add the petals to the premium version of their ‘Lady Grey’ tea. The flowers are also used in many cosmetic preparations for hair, skin and nails.

Myth and Magic
The Latin name centaurea refers to the learned centaur Chiron, of ancient Greek myth, who taught herbal healing skills to humans. Ancient Egyptians believed cornflowers had the power to resurrect the dead: wreaths of cornflowers were found near to the tomb of Tutankhamun. In Chinese mythology, cornflowers represented the sky, home of the gods.

JO

Acknowledgments – thanks for some of the above to:
Wikipedia
http://www.herbco.com
http://www.pitlanemagazine.com
http://www.herbhedgerow.co.uk
http://www.home-remedies-for-you.com
Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

 

 

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August in the Garden 2016

The garden is now in full bloom. Early fears that we would have nothing to show for the ‘In Bloom’ judges were fortunately misplaced. Our second judging this year, this time as part of the National In Bloom award scheme, took place on August 8th. We only had ten minutes with the judges, so it was a tightly drilled exercise to show them as much of this year’s improvement to the garden within that time. They seemed quite impressed with what they saw and in particular our new pond area. We will hear the results in October.

The Pond In Bloom!

The Pond In Bloom!

In order to advertise ourselves more and to let people know of upcoming events we decided to revamp our Facebook presence. In order to do this we needed someone dedicated to keep on top of the frequent updates, linking etc, that such social media needs. We were fortunate that a new volunteer, Marion, has joined us and is enthusiastically taking on the task. If you are on Facebook do take a look at our site “Congleton Bath House and Physic Garden”. We also have a separate “Friends of” Facebook page too. Even heritage sites need to keep up with the times!

In our quest to work with other groups we have recently made contact with The Herb Society. Barbara Wilkinson, a member of the society, who is a qualified herbalist practising in south Manchester, came to visit us and enjoyed the wild flower area as well as the physic garden. I have invited her to next month’s Heritage Open Day. Do visit their website if you would like to know more about the society: http://www.herbsociety.org.uk

Barbara among the Yarrow and other wild herbs

Barbara among the Yarrow and other wild herbs

Among our herbs we have managed to grow Woad successfully this year, and it is now seeding – this plant has been used for making blue dye since prehistoric times.

Woad seeds

Woad seeds

At this time of year you can’t miss the stature of our tallest summer plants, one of which is the Globe Artichoke, much loved by bees:

Bee visiting artichoke

Bee visiting artichoke

and that favourite of children and adults alike – the Sunflower.  NM
[See below for more about Sunflowers]

A glorious sunflower

A glorious sunflower

Sunflower Helianthus annuus

The Sunflower is a native of Central and South America, introduced as an ornamental plant into the UK in the sixteenth century. The English name Sunflower was however already in use before this time, so must originally have referred to a different species, perhaps the Pot Marigold Calendula officinalis, which resembles an image of the sun with many rays, or the Rock Rose Helianthemum vulgare, that only opens in sunshine and is mentioned in early herbals.

Medicinal Uses
The leaves, flowers, seeds, and even the root have all been used in herbal medicine
Leaves:
Tea – astringent, diuretic and expectorant – used for fevers
Crushed – as a poultice on sores, snake bites and insect bites
Flowers:
Tea – to treat malaria and lung complaints, fever and stomach upset
Roots:
Crushed into a warm wash for rheumatic aches and pains
Seeds:
Infused – relief of bronchial, pulmonary and laryngeal  conditions and whooping cough
Mixed with wine – a substitute for quinine in treating fevers

Culinary and other Uses 
Although we tend to associate vast fields of sunflowers with the Mediterranean, they have been grown commercially in the UK since before the 1st World War. They made an excellent commercial crop in the early years of the 20th century, as they had so many uses: the leaves for cattle feed; the fibrous stems for paper-making; the seeds to feed pheasants and chickens; the oil from the seeds for cooking and industrial processes; the residue after oil processing for cattle-cake; and the flowers to make a yellow dye.

The 17thcentury herbalist John Gerard referred to the plant’s culinary and aphrodisiac properties, calling it the Marigold of Peru: “the buds before they be floured, boiled and eaten with butter, vineger, and pepper, after the manner of Artichokes, are exceeding pleasant meat, surpassing the Artichoke far in procuring bodily lust.”

Nowadays sunflower oil is considered one of the healthier oils for cooking purposes, and the seeds are widely used, raw or cooked,  in many cuisines.

Myth and Magic
It is a widespread belief that sunflowers turn to face the sun, but this is not the case. John Gerard, four centuries ago, had already pointed this out: “ [some people] have reported it to turn with the Sun, the which I could never observe, although I have endeavoured to find out the truth of it”. In fact, although immature flower buds do twist around as they grow, as a result of the unequal growth of the flower stalk, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed direction throughout the day, most commonly to the east.

In many parts of South and Central America the native peoples revered the flower, and the European conquistadores found many solid gold images of it created by the Aztecs, which they no doubt looted and brought home to Spain along with the seeds of the plant!

JO

Acknowledgements – thanks for information to:
http://www.botanical.com (quoting from A Modern Herbal, first published in 1931)
http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net
http://www.thousandeggs.com

 

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July in the Garden 2016

Congleton is well known for its biennial carnival. It used to be the largest three day carnival in Britain. Since the closure of many of our mills, where the girls would spend many hours making paper flowers for the floats, Congleton carnival has become much smaller but is still an important community event. This year’s theme was “musicals”. We chose Mary Poppins and were helped out greatly by the supply of costumes and props from Congleton’s Daneside Theatre. Despite it being yet another rainy summer weekend, we were able to raise a few smiles along the way. We were accompanied by a selection of tunes playing from our concealed ‘ghetto blaster’ – with Singing In the Rain being popular despite not actually being in Mary Poppins!

Carnivalistas!

Carnivalistas!

Much of July proved to be unseasonably wet as the team worked hard preparing the garden for the visit of North West In Bloom. We entered for the first time last year as part of Congleton’s bid, and collectively Congleton swept the board with awards. This year we entered in a separate category called “In Your Neighbourhood”. On 25th July we had half an hour with the judges to show them all aspects of how our project has grown over the last year. We should know the results by October. Next month we will be judged again, this time as part of the prestigious National In Bloom competition.

Nick has had a busy month. He has been laying the stone setts to our main entrance, and helped Nino erect two new cast iron direction signs on the track leading to our site.

The new sign on the archway

The new sign on the archway

Nick preparing the wall for the second sign

Nick preparing the wall for the second sign

We also welcomed a new volunteer to our group, Nathaniel Lawton. Nathaniel works as a landscape gardener and has taken on the task of cutting the grass each week during the season. His professional touch is noticeable in the perfect grass lines he creates. His young son also comes along to help.

Nat and his son preparing to mow

Nat and his son preparing to mow

Nathaniel himself has been coming to the bath house for a couple of years as a visitor, and it’s great that he felt enthused enough to join us in our work. We continually try to involve local people in our work, and it’s good to see younger members such as Nathaniel coming on board.

We have been short of sunshine this summer, but one plant that has really thrived has been our Borage, with its striking blooms of vivid blue that attract the bees and other useful insects. [More about Borage below]

Bee and Borage

Bee and Borage

NM

Borage   Borago Officinalis
Borage is an annual plant, native to Europe but widely naturalised elsewhere. Another common name for the plant is “star-flower”, from the shape of the bright blue flowers. Their attraction to bees also gives the alternative name “bee’s bread”. The stem and leaves are covered with coarse, prickly hairs, and the name “borage” may derive from the medieval Latin “burra,” meaning rough-coated. The French common name is “bourrache”, known to be derived from the same Latin word.

Another explanation suggests the Latin name borago is a corruption of “corago” (courage). A recent writer has noted that the old Celtic word ‘barrach’, meaning man of courage, has also been applied to the plant. Celtic warriors drank borage-flavoured wine to give them courage in battle; and the leaves and flowers were eaten for courage by Roman soldiers.

Borage has been used extensively across Europe for centuries, for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Medicinal Uses
Borage was mentioned in the Natural History written by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD. Its medicinal properties were also described by Galen, (born 130AD), whose works formed the basis of European medical practice well into the 17th century.

John Gerard in the sixteenth century wrote Syrrup made with the floures of Borage comforteth the heart. A century later, Nicholas Culpeper stated: The Leaves and Root are to very good purpose used in putrid and Pestilential Fevers, to defend the Heart, and help to resist and expel the Poison, or the Venom of other Creatures.

Infusions, syrups and lotions were made from leaves and flowers:
– to treat rheumatism, colds, and bronchitis
– to induce sweating and diuresis in patients with fever
– to soothe sore throats
– to treat ‘cloudy’ eyes
– to treat depression
– to act as a tonic in cases of heart disease

In modern pharmaceutical studies, there have been some trials of borage compounds in treating osteoporosis, diabetic neuropathy and arthritis, but data is still limited and research continues.

However, it is still widely used by medical herbalists in nutritional supplements.
The seeds are used to make borage seed oil, with a high content of the essential fatty acid known as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Supplements with GLA are considered to have a beneficial effect on inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and atopic eczema. It is also used in other nutritional supplements, as borage also contains high levels of calcium and iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins B and C, and beta carotene.

Culinary Uses
The fresh plant is said to have a salty flavour and a cucumber-like odour. The whole plant is edible, and in Italy, for instance, it is served as a vegetable side-dish or used in ravioli and other pasta dishes. The leaves have been widely used as a pot-herb since before medieval times. Flowers can be candied for cake decorations or made into sweet syrups, and are added fresh to summer punches and salads.

In the garden 
As well as being a colourful addition to any garden, and very bee-friendly, borage may be used as a companion plant in the vegetable plot. It is believed that borage deters tomato worm, and is thus a natural form of pest control. Borage is also attractive to blackfly, so planting it as a decoy near beans and peas may prevent them being blighted.

JO

Acknowledgements – thanks for information to:
– Culpeper’s Complete Herbal
http://www.drugs.com
http://www.gypsymagickspells.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.flowersociety.org
http://www.plantscience.psu.ed/medieval-garden
http://www.seedaholic.com

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