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The Gardens of Shakespeare's New Place: July

The heatwave continues. It sucks juices out of the earth, reaches temperatures that break meteorological records held since the year of 1910. Hot. Gritty. Dry. The mortar of the earth — Split—ting. Not unlike people the roots of some plants are withered and punky, whilst others thrive…

Jane Shaw

VII. July 2018

July 16th:  a light pat-patter of rain falls on Stratford-upon-Avon between 20:18pm and 20:26pm. (In the morning, birds such as goldfinches, great tits, and robins, dart around us as we water in an attempt to lap up any drips from foliage. Fledglings are found dead on the lawn and in the borders. We leave water in shallow trays in various quiet areas of the garden so that they can drink undisturbed).

July 23rd:  Suffolk recorded the hottest day of the year at 33.3C (92F).

July 27th:  Heathrow Airport recorded the hottest day of the year at 35C (41F).

July 28th and 29th:  a much needed downpour settled over Stratford-upon-Avon.
There was also a wedding held at Shakespeare's New Place. To accommodate the nuptial festivities a few marquees were erected on the lawn for guests to celebrate under a canopy and for the housing of booze, canapés, and other nibbles.

The grass that was not shielded by a ground-cover sheet and open to the rain has greened up a tad, while the marquee areas, a big rectangle and a small square, remain shades of beige. If you squint and are a little drunk it looks similar to a Mondrian painting, minus the bright colours and black edges.

Our two imaginary allotmenteers - making a return from June's post - would be a smidge annoyed, but mostly pleased, that our runner beans are finally burgeoning with growth. The tee-pees even seem to look taller now that they are adorned with necklaces of bean-life.
It just shows what the relentless swagger of time and a tomato feed can accomplish.

 —The earth barrels another few million miles around its orbit of the sun—

The Knot Garden has rallied considering the weather conditions. We’ve planted bedding plants in empty pockets and they have added a bit of colour to its canvas; gazanias, geraniums, salvias, tagetes. It still remains an area of concern though, particularly the wild thyme.

New Place; knot garden

The newly planted two fallow beds in the long borders are slowly filling out and looking reasonable, though again, they too could do with a small, perhaps larger, tinker in autumn. 

In between working out garden plans for the future with my long suffering managers, obsessing over the weather, and wildly brushing off the end credits of what I believed to be the ashes of a much loved human being, I attended a course for the safe use of pesticides - known in the trade as PA1 and PA6. We always prefer, and it is a legal requirement with a certificate of competence under this training course to consider the use of IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which means we avoid the use of chemicals to rid our plants of the gloomy-doomies i.e. vine weevil, aphids and other rapacious, yet very tiny beasts. Not to mention weeds. Justifiable plants, just living in the ‘wrong place.’ Quite political.

So we dig out the ugly pernicious plants, hoe out annual weeds, carefully place any suitable ladybirds on aphid infested roses, and apply nematodes to any soil full of vine weevil larvae.

The course was as dull and dry as a sand pit, pesticides and legal requirements although enormously important are also enormously boring. However, there is always a spark of joy to be found in the most tedious of classes. Our tutor told us that in the first exam we might get a question regarding animal poisoning through the unsafe use of pesticide application.
What would you do if this were to happen?

One of the options is to phone the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS). They will apparently be interested in any creature that is harmed, except fish. In that instance you should phone the Environment Agency. Fish are not in their purview. The handout given to us, however, lists other creatures that we should call about if they are any way harmed:  bees, any other insect, and worms.
Quite handy for the next time any gardener, anyone, accidentally decapitates a worm with a spade, steps on an ant, or kills a spider lurking in their bath on a damp autumn’s evening.

Two billion people on earth eat grasshoppers as they are nutritious, full of protein and dietary fibre. They are not listed by the WIIS, but would probably fit in the generic insect list if the UK was to suddenly have a glut of hoppers and people eager to eat them.
I thankfully passed the course and will not digress from any legal requirements.

The ever fascinating seventeenth century case notes of John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law (1575-1635)

Frances Riland of Quinton
Frances Riland was suffering from tumours or swelling of the hands and feet which Hall attributed to taking cold during her menstruation. The first treatment was to deal with the disturbance of the humours by the administration of a purgative and by bleeding. When she relapsed after twenty days, Hall prescribed a purge of laurel. The patient’s hands and feet were rubbed with Unguentum Martiatum or Soldier’s ointment mixed with turpentine and oil of earthworms.

Plant of the month

Morus Nigra (Black Mulberry tree)
Its fruit is dropping, spattering, bloody stains on the lawn’s beige, pale background.

New Place; black mulberry fruit

‘Be kind and courteous to this gentleman. Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes; feed him with apricots and dewberries, with purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3 Scene 1

Provenance: Brought to Britain by the Romans, they used the leaves to treat diseases of the mouth, trachea and lungs.
Location: Great Garden.
Season of interest: comes to leaf around May, whilst the harvesting of its bloody fruit lies between August and September.
Age: believed to be around 270yrs old.

Life at New Place: believed to have grown from a cutting taken from a tree that Shakespeare planted, the latter unfortunately felled in 1756 by the owner of New Place at the time, the Reverend Francis Gastrell. He became fed up with groupies of the Bard clamouring to see it. A local entrepreneur, Thomas Sharpe, bought the wood to fashion Shakespeare souvenirs but made the mistake of flooding the market – when the locals became suspicious, he was forced to swear to their authenticity.

Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakepeare’s Distillery recently produced special edition bottles of New Place Mulberry Gin Liquer using the harvested fruits from our mulberry trees, the other planted by Dame Peggy Ashcroft in 1969.
New Place volunteers often harvest a few bucket loads and make delicious mulberry jelly and jams.

In Tudor times: mulberry trees have royal associations dating back to Tudor times. In the 17th century the bark of their roots was used to expel tapeworm from the gut, but during Tudor times they were prized for their succulent berries. Shakespeare was familiar with the staining quality of ripe mulberries and mentions them in several plays. Coriolanus, for example, holds his head low ‘now humble as the ripest mulberry that will not hold the handling.’

But the greatest tale of mulberry woes surely must be awarded to King James I – he wanted to wrest the monolopy of silk-making from the French by cultivating mulberries – the sole food of silkworms. To bootstrap this ambitious project he imported around 100,000 saplings, mostly from France and the Low Countries (Flanders and Holland). He planted 10,000 saplings in his own four-acre mulberry garden situated to the north of present-day Buckingham Palace, tended by the King’s Mulberry Men. In 1609, in a push to establish mulberry plantations, he wrote letters to all his Sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants, offering them mulberry saplings ‘at the rate of three farthings a plant, or at six shillings the hundred containing five score plants.’ According to one estimate, about 104kg of mulberry leaves and 3000 silkworms are needed to make 1kg of silk.

Unfortunately the king’s project spectacularly failed reportedly due to him importing the ‘wrong’ mulberry tree, M. nigra – silkworms supposedly prefer to only eat the leaves of the white mulberry tree – M. alba. By the end of the 17th century most of the plantations had been grubbed out, leaving a few old trees scattered around the country. Fittingly, perhaps, the gardens of Buckingham Palace now house the National Mulberry Collection, although none of the trees are from the original James Ist plantation and, of the 35 taxa planted, nearly all are white mulberries. The oldest mulberry there is a black mulberry, grown from a cutting from the tree that the Reverend Gastrell hacked down in 1756.

It is often repeated that King James I project failed because he imported the ‘wrong’ tree. This is a contentious topic as silkworms also grow well on a diet of the thicker, black mulberry leaves, though granted they will produce coarser silk, and not as much quantity. James’ gardeners would have been well informed of the advantages and disadvantages of each mulberry species for sericulture and probably made an informed choice. They would have been aware that the Persians and Greeks had a flourishing silk industry, using the leaves of their native black mulberries, before the white mulberry was introduced to the areas around the Caspian Sea, Black Sea and Mediterranean in the 14th century.

It is more likely that the silkworms disliked Britain’s cold and damp climate. In 1608, a Frost Fair was held on the frozen River Thames – and again in several winters throughout the entire 17th century. Britain was in the throes of a Little Ice Age and the silkworms would have hated it – they will perish if fed on damp leaves and need to be kept warm as they grow.

All our best wishes for August from the Gardening Team at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust  

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