Boxing Day Ramble – ancient trees and a bit of mistletoe 1

A beautiful sunny day, so Caroline and I set off for the Haresfield topograph (next hill along from Haresfield Beacon). We take the ‘low road’ across the fields to start with, planning to return via the ‘high road’ through Standish Woods.

This gives a rare opportunity to view (and photograph) the splendid old specimen oaks of Standish Park Estate in low winter sun. There are lots of these ancient stag-headed trees, mostly in field centres rather than margins, which gives away their origins as parkland rather than boundary trees. Standish House is now part of Standish Hospital – and has been for decades and the parkland is now enclosed, but these trees hint of past glories. The status of the hospital, just vacated by the NHS (see blog for 2003) is unclear, though we understand it will stay in health use (and there are a few peacocks left, despite fears outlined in last year’s blog).

We are concerned about the trees though – as most are in severe decline and some are now falling. I know nothing about the Estate’s management regime, but must assume they are sympathetic to these trees simply because they are still there! Perhaps the estate are following best practice guidelines for ancient trees, and recognising their landscape, historical and nature conservation (lots of rare wood-boring insects) value. Or perhaps they just like them.

Standish Park trees – just two examples Posted by Hello

Boxing Day Ramble – ancient trees and a bit of mistletoe 2

The fields are wet and muddy, as is the lower part of the ascent – one step forward and half a step back through the steep sheep pasture. But I speed up as I can see a group of hawthorns with Mistletoe just on the edge of the enclosed area. This low winter light is wonderful for mistletoe and I want to get there before the sun drops too much.

This is a typical small mistletoe colony at the edge of its normal tolerance – above this (modest) height it won’t grow here, on the exposed Cotswold Escarpment. There are about 6 decent-sized plants in the hawthorns, plus a few tiny ones. But in hawthorn even decent-size is small compared to apple, poplar or willow. A good mix of male and female too – the male obvious because of the lack of berries but also because of the slightly larger flowers, just opening out now.

Mistletoe below Haresfield topograph – context, male plant, female plant and another female against the sky… Posted by Hello

Boxing Day Ramble – ancient trees and a bit of mistletoe 3

I take a few pictures into the sun, against the sky and with the sun on the berries and then it’s off to the topograph, where we find the world and his wife, plus dogs, children etc, ‘cos if you’re lazy you can simply drive to here. We pause briefly but there’re too many people here – so we walk on rapidly, through the woods and back down through the hospital at dusk

Haresfield topograph 26th December – a view northwest (out of the sun) and southwest (into the sun). Note the (very) distant Severn bridges (both of them) on the extreme right. The foreground steam is from Stonehouse creamery – a distinctive but unattractive landmark Posted by Hello

A Mistletoe Mixture

Christmas Eve at last – and I can be sure that after tonight mistletoe queries will reduce dramatically – not that I don’t welcome them, but it’s always a relief to have a break after a mistletoe-filled November and December. It’s not just me, Caroline agrees with this as well (probably more so).

The mistletoe madness starts today at 0730 hours, with the postman delivering a large box. Still in bed, and with the house-alarm set, I’m not entirely a respectable figure dashing to the door, but I s’pose nothing shocks a postie. The package is the Lachenal china (see previous blogs) and I’m keen to unwrap it – it’s just like Christmas! After lots of polystyrene and bubble-wrap I finally get my prizes, and cracked and chipped as they are I’m v pleased to have them.

Back to bed and next jolt is at 0750 – my mother rings to ask had I been watching? Er, no. I’d apparently just been on BBC TV Breakfast News talking about the bugs that live on mistletoe, but I’d missed it. No matter, I knew what I’d said – I was there when it was recorded… But good to know it was on – there was a possibility it was just going to be on News 24 and so inaccessible to most people I know (including us here – no digital TV coverage for Stonehouse – we should get a reduction in licence fee…).

And then the Royal Mail at the door again! This time with a mistletoe print from ‘The Graphic’, an illustrated London paper. This is a famous picture from the December 1876 edition, all the way from Canada, courtesy of Ebay. Pleased to have it, slightly saddened it’s yet more evidence these old papers are simply being cut up and sold as individual sheets, but I bought it so mustn’t grumble. Though I spent some time perusing a print stall at an antiques fair in Moreton-in-Marsh yesterday, and whilst tempted by the prints displayed did get put off by the idea they were effectively dismembered books.

And then they call AGAIN! A third postie and third van – not v efficient (?) but it is Christmas and I recall from my stints as a temp postman (c 1980, 81 and 82) that it is pretty busy down the sorting office. This time it’s yet another Ebay win – I won’t go into details but its a pack of mistletoe-branded er, romantic stuff, from Tennessee. Mistletoe stuff from Canada, France and Nashville, all within an hour, not bad.

Just time to relax a bit before a scheduled call from BBC Radio Glos at 0830. About mistletoe of course, and the current media pre-occupation with the bumper (‘record’ if you believe the media) harvest this year. But no prob and happy to help.

And now no mistletoe for ages (and can nip down the Co-op to get breakfast) – well, until 1015, when I do a scheduled call to Radio Essex. this one is more interesting, as they have a local wholesaler on the line who’s recently been over to France to harvest material, and Matt Shardlow from Buglife talking about the invertebrate life of mistletoe. So Matt and i do a sort of reprise on the BBC TV piece from earlier, and the wholesaler chap (Bill) talks about what makes good saleable mistletoe.

The Buglife link is interesting – their Christmas newsletter covers the mistletoe inverts in some detail – will see if I can upload a copy to the blog – and/or provide a link…

And then no more mistletoe all day… Apart from hanging some up – it is Christmas after all…

When the red red robin goes blog, blog, bloggin’ along…

Hey hey! Am in the Guardian again already! Well, almost; the blog has a link from the Guardian blog site (if it’s gone from there already try the blog archive). And the blog has been blogged about on Jane Perrone’s horticultural blog . I’m beginning to feel a part of the blogging community – but am also slightly embarrassed as my main site is looking tired and out-of-date and all these new visitors might notice. Must do more housekeeping more often… The trouble with websites is that simply updating isn’t enough – there is always a desire to redesign or upgrade (must keep up with the virtual joneses) and that provides an excuse (for me at least) to delay updating until the redesign. I’ll shut up now and think about doing some website housekeeping…

But before I do, I’ve just found out that BBC Radio 4 You and Yours programme covered the Tenbury Mistletoe Market today – and also a piece on a French importer at New Covent Garden Market in London. I contribute a bit (natch) too. To listen point your browser at the beeb and follow the links through to Radio 4 and You and Yours or go direct to the You and Yours page. If visiting today you’ll find it on the ‘listen again’ link – if later try the last 7 days link and pick Tuesday (not sure when they update this – might be whole weeks in which case ‘Tuesday’ might be last week until this weekend – if you see what I mean). The mistletoe item is from about 9.30 minutes through to 17.30 minutes.

Am tempted to comment on that poll about Tony Blair being voted the least likely to be kissed under the mistletoe, but won’t, as I need to go and write my Christmas Cards (and yes I always leave it this late – it isn’t Christmas yet and cards sent weeks beforehand seem to be missing the point…)

Art Nouveau, mistletoe and Ebay

Yesterday I made another attempt to acquire some decent mistletoe art nouveau material. This is a common occurrence for me, and usually ends in failure, though I have had minor successes. Yesterday’s episode (between returning from the druids and going to church) was typical. I bid for some Lachenal crockery that was up for auction on Ebay. Now ‘crockery’ is a bit rude, but that was effectively what it was advertised as being – as the Lachenal name was not mentioned in the descriptions. As all ebayers know, the way to sell is to include key words somewhere in the description, preferably in the title – and these lots had missed it out. And no one had bid at all – and just 15 minutes to go.

Perhaps I should put all this in context a little – mistletoe, especially in France and Germany, was widely used in Art Nouveau imagery and patterns, and there are many high quality mistletoe examples – ranging from cutlery and tableware, through pressed glassware bowls and chandeliers, not to mention all the jewellery, cigar boxes, vesta boxes and pens, sewing kits etc. For some examples go to my main website and click through to the Art Nouveau page (start with mistletoe in art).

Now this stuff is highly collectable, and some is extremely valuable – particularly the Lalique and Daum bowls and vases. You can always find examples in auction catalogues, and of course on Ebay. Don’t just search on mistletoe – include Mistel (German) and Gui (French) – but beware ‘Gui’ will give you lots of other stuff too – so be prepared to search through a lot of returns or learn how to construct your search selectively.

I keep a watching-brief on all this stuff online, and now and then try buying – if it seems cheap (I don’t even try for early Lalique – prices start in the £1000s). The Lachenal dinner service is a famous example of the genre, made especially appealing by having a differing mistletoe pattern on each plate/dish. They were a service made for readers of the Annales Politiques in 1896 An incomplete service was sold online recently for several hundred pounds – but the examples from yesterday were just 6 individual items, each listed separately by a seller in France. Without quoting the Lachenal name there was just a chance the usual collectors hadn’t noticed the sale.

Lachenal Plates – four – with three designs Posted by Hello
There were 4 perfect dinner plates, matching, but as is typical of this service, of differing designs (see pic – click to enlarge), plus a chipped serving platter and a discoloured lidded serving dish. With no bids they were all going for about £6 each (a bit more for the platter). A perfect opp I thought to acquire a fragment of this wonderful mistletoe service – so I bid for them all at 15 mins to go, and at 10 mins to go was looking to win all. But Ebayers like to keep a close eye on their desires, and I was pipped to the post in those few minutes by 2 others on the plates, leaving me with er, the chipped platter and the discoloured serving dish. I obviously wasn’t the only one keeping watch. A pity – the plates would have looked so good in the china cabinet… maybe next time. And I am pleased with the wins – which being already damaged can accompany me on mistletoe talks (I always take a boxful of mistletoe exhibits) without worrying too much about further damage. So that’s alright then… A picture of the winnings will be posted below….

After the Druids, the Christians…

Later activities today contrasted strongly with the druid weekend. The first was seasonal mistletoe harvesting from an apple tree in my mother’s garden at Painswick. We decided to prune quite a lot off, as this tree is becoming overgrown with mistletoe, and needs some respite. So a lot of gifts for the neighbours. And all of this was just cut with secateurs and allowed to fall on the ground. After yesterday’s activity this almost seemed criminal.

And then off to Painswick Church for the Carol Service – a traditional service of lessons and carols. Which, whilst a contrast to the druid ceremonies, was also very eerily similar in many respects; including the prayers and ritual repetition but also the informal procession from the carpark by night to the church, and the formal procession of the choir down the aisle, in pairs and headed by a banner/staff. All very mysterious… and a bit unsettling. No mistletoe of course – the Church of England bans it (apart from at York Minster, but that’s another story…).

Return to the Druids (Rite – day 2)

Sunday am, back in the Forest. This morning the main task was to distribute the mistletoe amongst the groups present, and discuss the way forward. Again I’ll give no details here – suffice to say that the mistletoe, still suspended from the ground was divided up, including some to me. And there was much discussion over destinations, sacred places and possible seeding in sacred groves. More on that as and when it happens next spring – if I’m invited to assist. Most of those present were journeying to the Gorsedd at Stonehenge in the afternoon – and some material was selected for that ceremony too.

As part of the discussion I was invited to give a presentation – based on one of my mistletoe talks. This was well-received, especially the bits about the anthroposophic mistletoe philosophy and herbal and medical uses and the bits about mistletoe distribution and grow-your-own (for a booklet on growing your own go to Nick Wheeldon’s website). A good interactive presentation.

But then it was time for farewells – and lots of promises to keep in touch. In case you’re wondering who the druids are, I can tell you that this group were from all walks of life and a wide age-range, with a majority probably in the 30 and 40 something range. For more info on druids check out the Druid Network site, and if you’re really keen have a think about the Albion Conclave’s distance-learning course. Or try out the druid advice for an ethical Christmas. For myself I’m happy just to stay in touch and help with the mistletoe initiatives when and where I can.

But what, in the meantime, do I do with my share of the sacred mistletoe? I don’t want to just hang it up and burn it next year – I do that with ‘ordinary’ mistletoe already. And I haven’t got a sacred grove to plant the berries in. Or have I? My understanding is that these sacred groves can be anywhere you hold to be special – and I can think of several of those. Or I could simply ‘create’ one of my own – we’re due to plant more shrubs and trees in the garden soon – would that suffice? I’ll have a think about it, and might ask for advice. For now I’ll keep the plant in the cold to conserve the berries until planting time in February. And, of course, suspended so it can’t touch the ground. In practice this means dangling from the garage ceiling, which, though not particularly deferential, should (I hope) be sufficient.

For more info on the Druids’ Mistletoe Foundation click here Posted by Hello