Saturday 30 June 2012

Dracunulus vulgaris and other plants

Last week
Despite whatever vagaries the British weather throws at both or our clumps of plants, snow, rain, wind, sun, for the past 14 years the Dracunlus vulgaris have flowered for us. Also known as the Dragon Arum, and Voodoo Lily. As I mentioned in a previous post these plants provoke extreme reactions in people from love to hate to fascination. For us, they are rather splendid, exotic flowers, which happily reside with us.
The Dracunulus vulgaris below is our smallest flower, about half the size of the largest. You can gauge the size of it by the little hardy geranium flowers growing alongside. The very large flower featured above has not opened yet, but I can't wait any longer - its debut performance is missed.
For anyone reading this post, who is unacquainted with Dracunulus vulgaris, I now have a small confession to make.
On the grand opening day, when looking at its very best, the flower unfolds itself to reveal a soft velvety deep burgundy coloured spathe which in turn reveals a central spadix coloured even darker. It is at this stage that there is the most pungent smell you could imagine. It has been compared to a rotting carcass, and it is, therefore, not advisable to grow it too near to your home. The smell only lasts during the first 24 hours, H says it is ghastly. The flower is pollinated by flies who love nothing better than the smell of dead meat. After a couple of days it starts to look less than perfect, and within 5 - 6 days is decidedly floppy and has had its day until next year.
If you are in the United States, look away now..............
Ipomoea purpurea - Morning Glory are beginning their accent of the house combined with some sweetpeas. My blogging friends tell me these are a weed and a big nuisance in the United States. Here I am nurturing four plants with love, care, and attention.
Please note. Since I published this post Gina has made it clear that Bindweed is called Morning Glory in America. So all of us love Morning Glory but none of us like Bindweed. Fortunately I do not have any Bindweed in the garden to contend with. Thank you for the clarification Gina♥

Thursday 28 June 2012

Fossil Sea Urchins

This is the third guest post done by J
Sea Urchin and Sand Dollar from our collection
Who, amongst us, has not been excited at discovering the skeleton of a sea urchin. Whether found whilst exploring a rocky pool, or in a seaside souvenir shop, the aesthetic appeal is immediate. We take it home and place it in a prominent place so that its form can continue to be a source of pleasure.
The taxonomic class into which the sea urchin falls is "echinodermata", an invertebrate family of 6,000 living species including starfishes and sea lilies. Some 13,000 extinct species of echinoderms are also known.
The remnants we find of a sea urchin (scientific name: "echinoid") on the beach is the calcareous skeleton with its distinctive five-pointed pattern.
My layman's geological and anthropological interest in sea urchins has been triggered by an article in the June 2012 edition of the magazine "Geoscientist" published by the Geological Society of London, of which eldest son is a Fellow. My granddaughter's recent commencement of studies at Oxford University in archaeology and anthropology has also reinforced my interest. 
The article is entitled "Prehistoric fossil collectors" and is written by Ken McNamara, a senior lecturer at Cambridge University.
The article throws light on the collecting of fossil sea urchins, a practise known to date from as long ago as 400,000 years, when a human ancestor (Homo heldelbergensis) shaped a flint tool in which a fossil sea urchin was incorporated.
courtesy Ken McNamara
The author describes the discovery in the English Chiltern Hills in 1887 of a grave containing the skeletons of a young woman and child. Also in the grave, dating to the Bronze Age some 4,000 years ago, were hundreds of flint balls each carrying the fossilised five-pointed image of a sea urchin. As McNamara puts it "a cornucopia of fossil sea urchins seem to have been buried very carefully with the bodies in their chalky grave".
courtesy Ken McNamara
There are numerous other instances of fossil sea urchins discovered in neolithic barrows (i.e. burial mounds), and in graves set-down as recently as Anglo-Saxon times, which took place over a wide geographical area. The question McNamara attempts to answer is "Why?".
courtesy Ken McNamara
The author speculates that the fossils could have had some great spiritual significance, perhaps in ensuring the passage from this life into the next. Later practises, for example in Celtic cultures, of placing fossil sea urchins on window sills or near to doors, were part of a folklore associated with the bringing of good luck. They are also linked with Norse mythology through the god Thor in which they were called "thunder stones" thrown to earth by Thor. Thor was the peasants' god, who gave them protection; so stones were strategically placed to ward off lightning strikes and to protect the house from evil.
courtesy Ken McNamara
Fossilised Sea Urchins around a window at St Peter's church, Linkenholt, Hampshire
One of the most striking fossil Sea Urchins found was at Heliopolis, Egypt which had hieroglyphs inscribed on it in about 1500 BC. They tell the name of the priest, Tja-nefer, who found it in 'the quarry of Sopdu', a god sometimes known as the 'Morning Star'. McNamara links the five-rayed star on the fossil with the extensive use of the star symbol in Egyptian burial chambers; hence a spiritual connection with the pharaohs and their funeral rites.
He suggests that the myriad modern-day usage of the five-pointed star symbol may have evolved from this usage in ancient times.
There is a lot more fascinating information in Ken McNamara's article, and I would recommend it to those whose interest has been sparked. He is also author of a book "The Star-crossed Stone" published by University of Chicago Press.
Incidentally, fossil Sea Urchins continue to be turned up by the plough in flinty fields, such as on Salisbury Plain, and are still collected to this day! 
Personally, I believe that the aesthetic appeal of both the skeleton and the fossils probably explains, more than anything else the human fascination with these objects. 
First guest blog by J and second.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum,

via wikipedia
Old Botanical Print 1885
In the garden are many beautiful Opium poppies. Enormous big fat flower buds opening into red and pink flowers. They usually have single petals but some of them have produced complex frilly red flowers.
We have no idea where they came from, they are another of natures bountiful gifts to arrive in the garden.
Opium poppy cultivation in the United Kingdom does not require a license, but extracting opium for medicinal products does.
Their seeds make a delicious topping on bread, apparently they can also be dry roasted, ground and added to curry paste.
For me, this image recalls the organic inspiration behind an Art Nouveau fabric or wallpaper design. 
wild Poppy and wild Foxgloves together

Tuesday 26 June 2012

A Renaissance man from Walthamstow

St. Mary's, Painswick - a Cotswold wool church courtesy suziesue
 Plaque showing a typically tall Cotswold steeple - made by Philippa Threlfall & Kennedy Collings - Blackdog of Wells Fired terracotta
The Cotswold's are well known for their wonderful stone perpendicular wool churches, most having tall slender spires, which seem to soar forever high into the sky. In the Middle Ages men grew rich on the backs of sheep and with the proceeds they built themselves magnificent churches, they had plenty of cash and plenty of oolitic stone. Look across any valley, hill or meadow here, and it is likely that you will see a tall very slender spire.
However, on one hillside overlooking a valley, is a church which has a completely different pedigree. It does not replicate any style in the area and was built in 1861.
All Saints church, Selsley
courtesy Eric Hardy
All Saints church was commission and paid for by Sir Samuel Marling, a local cloth manufacturer and former Liberal Member of Parliament. As well as being a successful businessman Marling was a noted philanthropist, and was also responsible for the setting up of several schools in the area. Marling was said to have demanded a design from Bodley modelled on a church at Marling in the Austrian Tyrol, but it appears Bodley has designed a fusion of both Austrian and French design. The resulting church could, however, sit quite happily in the Austrian mountains, or for that matter the French countryside.
The church has a distinctive saddle back tower with French Gothic gables. It is one of the most important early works of the architect G.F Bodley and of great significance in the development of high Victorian architecture. It was the first church to exhibit the work of the English Arts and Craft movement, and most important of all, inside are the very first stained glass windows commissioned from William Morris - our Walthamstow Renaissance man.
Morris and Co. were formed in the year the church building commenced. A partnership between Morris, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Philip Webb. Their capital was £20 each plus £100 from Morris's mother, and the windows in this church involved all of the partners. The outcome is an exquisite early Pre-Raphaelite gallery of their work.
The creation window above, is known to be the work of Philip Webb, but the roundel of Adam and Eve in the garden was the work of William Morris (to the left of the central Christ in Majesty roundel).
two roundels by Philip Webb 4 images above courtesy Selsley Church
courtesy Eric Hardy
This window showing The Resurrection is attributed to Burne-Jones, but has echoes of Piero della Francesca's version of his frescoe in the Museo Civico, Sansepolcro, Italy.
courtesy wikipedia
courtesy Eric Hardy

In the Annunciation window - Gabriel's face on the left was damaged by a stone, but the original cartoons were still held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and were used as a reference for the replacement glass.
The damaged fragment of glass showing a remarkable likeness to Jane Morris.
A detail from the window, St. Paul preaching at Athens, by William Morris, shows another image of, I believe, Jane Morris.
courtesy Eric Hardy
Detail from Sermon on the Mount by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Christ in this window is George Meredith (novelist and poet) Blessed Virgin Mary is Christina Rossetti (Dante's sister) Mary Magdalene is Fanny Cornforth (one of Rossetti's favourite models). It is also suggested that the figure behind Christ is Judas Iscariot and shows a depiction of Gambart (a picture dealer much disliked). 
The church also has some exquisite silver designed by William Burges and made by Charles Hart of London. Having been made by Burges it is particularly valuable and mostly locked away in the diocese vaults.
courtesy wikipedia
Decanter by Burges from the V & A Museum
William Burges demands a post of his own sometime in the future

Sunday 24 June 2012

Catalpa Aurea - Indian bean tree

The striking fluorescence of the Catalpa leaves viewed from above, and from underneath with the sun shinning through.

Friday 22 June 2012

Londres ou Paris

images via wikipedia
The English have had a long standing love affair with France, but up until recently it has been rather one sided.
Many of our senior citizens live in little villages all over France, however, it would be wrong of me to say that it is mainly confined to the older generation, our eldest son spent 5 years living in Paris with his young family.
Suddenly, however, there is a reverse situation taking place, mainly amongst the young well educated French, who are now moving to the UK in considerable numbers.
In London alone there are now over 400,000 French people residing, and the numbers are climbing rapidly. After the election of François Hollande as President last month, even more may be coming to what is being dubbed the 'fifth French city'. French financiers base themselves in South Kensington, where the Lycée offers the best in Gallic education. Thanks to the French government, fees there are relatively low - £2000 a term - compared with other private schools in London. Nearby there is a French cinema at the Institut Français and you will be hard pressed to hear an English voice on Bute Street, which is packed with French cafes, patisseries, grocers and bookshops. The newsagents are stacked with Le Monde and Le Figaro. French mamans push strollers, buy brie, and after work, outside the Zetland Arms, French business men and women crowd together to talk, smoke and drink red wine.
We can see the change taking place in our own quiet little corner of the Cotswolds. We have a delightful restaurant run by a young French women and her family. The restaurant is in a beautiful old stone house. When dinning there, the atmosphere is akin to eating on the continent. The owner has a little ante-room off the restaurant in which she sells olive oil, lavender products from Provence, and a large selection of pâtés and olives. In our nearest local town there is a lovely vintage shop selling brocante for the home which is owned by a young French couple.
Several French markets are held during the year in the nearby small towns selling freshly baked bread, cheeses, pâté, wine, garlic and olives etc.
As I mentioned the pronounced flow of French people are mainly young, educated people who want to escape the stuffiness of Paris, their words. In Paris, class, contacts and family background matter much more. The labour market is apparently much more accessible to them in London.
courtesy the Economist
Paris on Thames
A young French illustrator from Paris said that she loves the freedom of London. She said she would never have been able to set up her own business in France because of too much bureaucracy. 
Another young women, with an Algerian mother said she encounters no problems of mixed race in London, and said how welcoming people are. A women in her mid twenties, a fashion designer, said the best thing about London is the fashion. If France is the home of understated chic, London is more stylish and adventurous. There is a freedom of expression here that you don't get in Paris, she said. She also said that at home, the look is very conservative - beautiful and elegant but muted and plain. At London fashion Week, anything goes. It is colourful and outrageous, everyone mixing different styles.
We should remember that this not a completely new thing. In the 17th century, 16,000 Huguenots, expelled from France, settled in London. They were mainly skilled silk weavers, silver and goldsmiths and masters of numerous other crafts. London benefited hugely from their input.
I personally welcome our Gallic arrivals; our country should again be the beneficiary.
some of the facts and quotes sourced from the Sunday Times

Wednesday 20 June 2012

WARNING - by Jenny Joseph - a Cotswold poet

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin sandles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens 
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.