Sunday 30 April 2023

Ancient Greek music

Ancient Greek music

I just came across this on Twitter. I hope it reproduces properly.

A to Z challenge 2023 – Z is for . . .


             A to Z challenge 2023 – Z is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.

Zéphirine Drouhin

This deep pink, exceptionally fragrant rose is a classic old Bourbon rose. It is one of the first and last roses to bloom, flowering profusely for six months, from June to Deember. It is a vigorous climber with an eventual height of 3m (20') and will grow in sun or semi-shade.  In addition to its generosity of scent and beautiful rich pink semi-double blooms, it is remarkable for its lack of thorns. It is not entirely perfect, though, because it is subject to blackspot, mildew and rust. 

Enlarge the photograph to see and count the aphids!
I read that ‘David Austin Roses’ describes the scent as ‘strong, fruity’, while others say it is ‘blessed with an intoxicating, strong raspberry scent.’ Thinking about it now, I can confirm that the scent is very strong and mouth-wateringly sweet, an irresistible perfume.

I looked up Bourbon roses as I thought it was about time I understood tried to understand what they were. As ever, when investigating something, I was lead into a fascinating subculture. No wonder plant breeders can concentrate an entire lifetime on just one species.

Bourbon roses are a serendipitous group of hybrids, the result of a chance cross between an Autumn Damask, which is a species of deeply scented rose that flowers twice, in summer and autumn, and an ‘Old Blush’ China rose.

Damask roses are a very old group of roses, most of which are very fragrant and are believed to have their roots (pun intended) in the Middle East. The legend is that they were brought to Europe by the Crusaders.

‘Old Blush’ is also a very old rose that has been cultivated in China for more than a thousand years. It originates from Rosa chinensis, and is believed to be the first East Asian rose to reach Europe.

 The unplanned cross happened around 1817 on the Île de Bourbon (now Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, and the resulting rose was taken to France a couple of years later to produce further hybrids.

In 1868 during the reign of Napoleon III, a French rose breeder called Bizot developed Zéphirine Drouhin. Its provenance is unproven but believed to be the result of a cross between a Boursault rose and a Hybrid Perpetual.

Monsieur Boursault was a respected amateur horticulturalist. The Boursault rose is the most resilient of the climbing roses. Hybrid Perpetual roses are crosses between Portland, China and Bourbon roses. Portland roses are hybrid roses named after the Duchess of Portland in 1780. (The deeper I delve, the more complex it becomes!)

Zéphirine Drouhin has three child plants, something I’ve never heard before. It transpires that it is another name for a ‘sport’, a genetic mutation which can occur by chance, changing the appearance of any part of a plant. Sports are also known as breaks or chimeras (as well as children, apparently)

The registered sports are ‘Kathleen Harrop’ (bred in UK by Dickson in 1879 or 1919, depending on which expert you’re listening to) ‘Martha’ (discovered by Knudsen in UK before 1912) and ‘Emily Rhodes’ (bred by Clark in Australia in 1937)

It is a beautiful rose and something I look forward to welcoming every year.

Saturday 29 April 2023

A to Z challenge 2023 – Y is for . . .


A to Z challenge 2023 – Y is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.

Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon)

Other names for this essentially wild perennial include artillery plant, cobbler’s bench or, my favourite, yellow weasel-snout. It grows throughout the UK but is most common in England and Wales and is a good source of nectar for bees. It prefers to grow in well-drained soil in full sun but will tolerate less favourable conditions.

Its leaves bear a similarity to those of the stinging nettle, but it is unrelated and is known as a dead-nettle. It may have evolved to look like stinging nettles as a defence against predators. It actually belongs in the mint family and its shoots and flowers are edible, either cooked or raw.

The name ‘archangel’ arises because it comes into flower around the time of St Michael’s Day on 27th April.

 St Michael is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahai’i faith and is one of the lower angels. The higher orders of angels have more authority over their subordinates and look different. They may also have more wings or faces.

 In Christianity the three highest ranks are Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, followed by the middle orders of Dominions, Virtues and Powers. The lowest ranks are Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

There is no such distinction among the dead-nettles.

The Celts believed that dead-nettles would protect them from evil spirits and guard their cattle from ‘elf-shot’. They thought that ‘elf-shot’ or ‘elf-stroke’ was a paralysis caused by arrows fired at the cattle’s heads by elves at the behest of witches.

Dead–nettles have been used for centuries in folk medicine, as a cure for kidney problems and bladder infections. They were also used to treat gout, sciatica and arthritis.

They are still used by herbalists today and there is some scientific evidence of the efficacy of them in treating common ailments.

Dead-nettles present in several different colours as white dead-nettle, red or purple dead-nettle and henbit dead-nettle as well as yellow archangel. Dead-nettles flower from the end of spring to early summer.


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is a widespread native perennial with a strong sweet scent. It attracts many insects when it flowers between June and November. The flat-topped flowering clusters are composed of many tiny flowers and come in white, pink, and shades of red, yellow and purple. It grows to a height of about 50 cms, forming clumps, and is reputed to be as attractive to butterflies as buddleja.

Yarrow has been used agriculturally to help restore arable land to grassland when sown with other native plants. It has also been introduced as a feed stuff for livestock in Australia and New Zealand.

Yarrow used to be considered a charm against bad luck and illness. Medically, it was used to stop wounds bleeding but conversely it was thought to cause nosebleeds if put up the nose. It is an anti-inflammatory and is an effective topical treatment for bruises and sprains. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, so good for cuts and stings.  Some birds, including the starling, line their nests with yarrow, perhaps as an inhibitor of parasites.

It is a member of the aster or daisy family.

Other popular names include old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, milfoil and soldier’s woundwort. In Sweden it is called field hops and has been used to make beer.

‘Achillea’ in the plant’s name refers to the mythological Greek hero, Achilles. According to one legend, Achilles was held by his ankle and bathed in the River Styx. A different version says that he was dipped in water infused with yarrow and that the plant imbued him with its own protective powers. He used the plant to heal his wounded soldiers.

Achilles was killed by an arrow that hit the only weak point in his body, the part that had not been touched by the water, from which arose the expression ‘Achilles heel’, meaning weakness.

Friday 28 April 2023

A to Z challenge 2023 – X is for . . .


A to Z challenge 2023 – X is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


 Recreated Victorian Christmas at Harewood House
Whether mankind is Nature’s greatest achievement is a moot point, but Christmas is a time of year when the focus in on mankind. You may or may not hold a religious belief, yet the story of the Nativity is one of hope and celebration.

When did Christmas become Xmas? In the Greek alphabet X is the symbol for ‘chi’ and is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. In the early Christian church believers used the letter X as a secret sign to other believers.

Trafalgar Square

The ‘mas’ of Xmas refers to the religious ceremony that is celebrated at Christmas – literally Christ’s mass. The first abbreviation of Christmas to Xmas appeared in 1021 when a scribe used it to save space on his scroll.

Xmas is associated with the pagan festival of Yule.

Haakon the Good (920-961) was a Christian and he ruled Norway as King Haakon I from 934 until his death in 961.  He was a tolerant ruler and did not impose his beliefs on his people, allowing them to continue their pagan worship.

However, he decreed that Christmas and Yuletide should be celebrated at the same time. To ensure that the festivals were properly celebrated, he required every free man to consume approximately four gallons of ale and to continue celebrating until the ale ran out.

Yule was celebrated at the time of the winter solstice to hail the return of the sun and longer days. Bonfires were lit, and holly, ivy and evergreen boughs were used to decorate the home. There were ritual sacrifices and great feasts, and gifts were exchanged.

Much of this ritual was absorbed into the Christian festival. For Christians, evergreens symbolised eternal life and the promise of renewed life in spring. An account from England in 1444 recorded that every house and church was dressed with oak, ivy, bay and other evergreen branches.

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, drawn by J.L. Williams, 1848, for The Illustrated London News

It was not until December 1800 that the first Christmas tree was brought indoors to Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, by Queen
Charlotte, the German wife of George III. That tree was a yew rather than a fir tree.

However, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who embraced the tradition and popularised it. Illustrations of the ‘Royal Christmas’ in the 1840s in popular magazines, whetted the public appetite.

Henceforth, Christmas trees became very popular with the upper classes, particularly for children's parties, decorated with real candles and baubles, with piles of presents underneath.

When I read that I immediately thought of ‘The Nutcracker’, the engaging 1892 ballet based on Hoffmann’s 1816 story of ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ and set to the incomparable music of Tchaikovsky. (I dislike the nutcracker character and find him quite grotesque.)

After many years, Christmas trees became an established seasonal feature in most homes.

Every year since 1947, the Norwegian government donates a large Christmas tree to Great Britain, to be erected in Trafalgar Square. It is a token of gratitude to London for sheltering the Norwegian king and government during the Second World War when Norway was under Nazi occupation.
The scent of green branches in the house on a drear December day lifts the spirits, giving promise of brighter days and new growth to come. The twinkling lights on the Christmas tree and the candles that lend their flickering warm glow, offset the darkness that falls so early.

Thursday 27 April 2023

A to Z challenge 2023 – W is for . . .


A to Z challenge 2023 – W is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.

Warm Welcome

We planted this climbing rose at the far end of the garden and I wish we had chosen a spot nearer the house, for although it is advertised as having a ‘light fragrance’, it has a noticeably sweet scent.

It is reputed to be one of the longest flowering climbers available, and is classed as a ‘short climber’, or miniature climbing rose, meaning that it attains an eventual height of about 8’ (2.5m). It has been available commercially for about 40 years.

‘Warm Welcome’ bears clusters of bright orange semi-double flowers from July to September, which shine out on the darkest days, yet are not overwhelmed in bright sunlight, and which contrast beautifully with the plethora of dark green leaves.

Despite its loveliness, it has vicious thorns, the sort that pierce sharply and hang on tightly, not wishing to release the person who has ventured to prune it. Sturdy gardening gloves are de rigeur!



All living things need water. Even a small pond in the garden will attract wild life, some of which may not be welcome, though most will bring delight.

Within a very short time of digging a pond – or utilising an old sink or dustbin lid – all manner of flying, biting, humming, stinging, buzzing, swimming creatures, large or small, will find their way to the new water source. A miniature world of procreation, battle and renewal will be revealed as the occupants and visitors commandeer the area.

With luck, toads, frogs and newts will discover the new playground, the nocturnal newts to be rediscovered periodically when they rise from the depths or appear from under rocks, while the frogs are more readily seen. Toads are secretive and lurk in damp, dark regions of the garden, returning to the water to mate and lay eggs in the spring.

Common toad
Common smooth newt

In the heat of a dry summer, birds drink and gratefully bathe in the shallows. Small birds must drink at least twice a day and will also bathe to clean their feathers and cool down. In cold winters, a pond is a valuable water reservoir for birds, when other areas may be covered in ice.

Pipe in the forest to drain water

Mice and rats come to drink and sometimes swim, though usually as a means of getting from one location to another, rather than as a leisure activity.  (Mice can swim and tread water for three days.)

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

This tiny bird, the commonest in the garden, occupies a wide range of habitats and is the most common breeding bird across the UK. It feeds on insects and spiders, searching among the leaves to uncover them. It is a bird popular with people and featured on our long defunct farthing copper coin.

For centuries the wren has been regarded as special. The legend that it proved itself to be the king of the birds is found across Northern Europe as well as in 13th century Jewish writing, in India, in central Africa and in some North American tribes.

The Irish version says that all the birds gathered in a hidden green valley and decided that the one that flew the highest would be crowned king. The eagle soared high above the others and thought he was the winner, but the wren had ridden on his back and flew up above him at the last moment.

Because it is a very small bird, it does not have huge reserves of fat and suffers appreciably in cold weather. Wrens huddle together for warmth, all thoughts of territory put aside. In the winter of 1969, 61 wrens were found in a nesting box in Norfolk.

Early Christians thought the bird had pagan associations and in Ireland and the Isle of Man the bird was hunted on 26th December, St. Stephen’s Day. It was said that the wren’s noisy song had alerted St Stephen’s persecutors to his hiding place among the bushes. A captured wren was paraded through the streets atop a pole and the date was known as Wren Day.

Folklore holds that hurting a wren brings bad luck. The bird is small but mighty! Its scientific name is taken from the Greek ‘troglodytes’ meaning ‘hole-dweller’ because the wren’s habit is to disappear into cracks and crevices in search of food.

I seem to remember ‘troglodyte’ being a term of unaffectionate abuse, an insult, in my youth. It implied that the person being so called was unsophisticated and didn’t know much, as simple as a cave-dweller, in fact. I wouldn’t mind being compared to a wren, that resourceful, alert, quick little bird.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

A to Z challenge 2023 – V is for . . .


A to Z challenge 2023 – V is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.

Vanessa atalanta (Red admiral)

The red admiral is a much loved visitor to gardens all over the British Isles. It drinks nectar from buddlejas and ivy and later on in the year it feeds on ripe fruit.  It is an unusually calm butterfly, even flying down to rest on people.

Females will only mate with males that hold territory and those are mainly the males that display superior flight ability. (Do they loop the loop or fly upside down, I wonder, or fly faster than their peers?)

Red admirals are not generally resident, though a few individuals try to overwinter, often in sheds or log piles or other sheltered places, sometimes even inside houses.

On my eldest grandson's glove, many years ago

Red admirals arrive from continental Europe (that’s the warm bits of Europe, not the frigid lands of Scandinavia, GB, Germany, et cetera) and North Africa in early March and are on the wing from March to November.  Between April and September the females lay single eggs on the fresh young tips of nettle leaves. The emergent adults appear in late summer.

At the end of the summer the adults begin their southerly migration.

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis, also called purpletop vervain, or Argentinian vervain, is a perennial plant, disappearing below ground in autumn and reappearing with fresh growth in spring. From midsummer onwards its tall, sturdy stems are crowned with clusters of tiny lavender-purple[J1]  flowers. It may grow as tall as 1.8 m (6’) For best results, it should be grown in a sheltered position in full sun.

Comma feeding on verbena

All manner of pollinating insects are drawn to its pollen and nectar –rich flowers and it also provides seeds for birds. As it self-seeds generously in the autumn, new plants appear all over the garden the following year.



Violets have always grown in our garden, but we have never planted them. They appear faithfully each spring and although the romantic in me would like them to be sweet violets (Viola odorata) I think they are probably the almost identical dog violets (Viola riviniana) simply because I cannot discern any scent. It matters not, because they are beautiful little flowers and do not ask for any special treatment. They flower from April to June, and the leaves and flowers are edible, either raw or cooked, in salads, or as decoration on cakes.

Dog violets are so called because ‘dog’ refers to them having no scent and therefore being thought inferior to the sweet violet.

That reminds me of the old groaner of a joke:-

’My dog’s got no nose.

How does he smell?


Sweet violets were special to Napoleon and the Empress Josephine. When Napoleon died, pressed violets from Josephine’s grave were found in his locket.

A legend claims that people can only smell sweet violets once, because they steal their sense of smell. A chemical called beta-ionone temporarily disables smell receptors, so it is true, though for a very short period.

Sweet violets have been used for centuries to make perfume and were used in herbal medicine to treat headaches and insomnia.

The Victorian Language of Flowers stated that sending someone a purple violet was a sign of being ‘occupied with love.’

Tuesday 25 April 2023

The Banksy of Crowthorne


The Crowthorne Banksy

Photo credits Julie Arnold

The mystery creator of pillar box delights has produced yet another charming masterpiece to amuse passers-by and has been dubbed the Crowthorne Banksy.

This time the Coronation has provided the inspiration for the latest pillar box topper.

Look closely and you will see that the participants are actually pigs. I don’t think any disrespect is meant.

It is a source of pleasure to everyone travelling along this particular road, particularly the children who walk along here to reach Acorns pre-school and Oaklands Infant and Junior schools.

Surely it can only be a matter of time before the mystery artist is revealed. Someone must know! 

Post script: Someone has taken the topper! So sad. 

A to Z challenge 2023 – U is for . . .


A to Z challenge 2023 – U is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.

Urtica dioica

The plant usually known as stinging nettle has dark green leaves which, together with the stems, are covered in fine hairs, many of which sting on contact. Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for nettle stings and grow in similar habitats. Whether dock leaves really are a balm for nettle rash or they are a panacea that works because we have grown up with the belief that they will cure is open to discussion. If dock leaves do not have the desired effect, bathing the affected area with soap, milk or a weak solution of baking soda may help soothe the sting.

Urtica dioica is an herbaceous perennial that grows abundantly across the UK and forms large swathes of foliage up to 1½ m (5’) tall. Nettles grow from early spring and through the summer and many people like to pick them to use in soups or, once they’re cooked, as a peppery topping for toast. Apparently, the taste is similar to spinach.

A speciality in the north of England is, or used to be, nettle pudding. Essentially, it is porridge mixed with nettles. Some people enjoy nettle tea, claiming health benefits as diverse as the alleviation of hay fever to support for healthy joints and bones.

The best time to pick nettle leaves is when they’re very young and tender, about 30 cms (1’) tall. Whenever you pick them, use gloves. It is possible to pick nettles without being stung (I have done it, once or twice, as a dare, when younger and even more foolish) but it’s better to be cautious. They should not be picked once they start flowering, the catkins appearing from late spring to early autumn,  because the plant produces calcium carbonate which can be absorbed by the body and affect kidney function.

Look at those vicious little stinging hairs

Nettles are a valuable food source for aphids and caterpillars and thus attract ladybirds and insectivorous birds.

Historically, they have been used as medicine. In mediaeval times, nettles were a common diuretic and a cure for the pain of arthritis. They were traditionally used to control high blood pressure.

As with most things, there are superstitions and ancient beliefs associated with nettles. A nettle leaf held in the mouth will cure toothache; I can imagine that the mind would be mightily distracted from the toothache to more urgent concentrated pain in the tongue.

Nettle in flower

Nettles allow the carrier to predict the future and enjoy enhanced fertility as well as receiving protection from lightning. They also grant him or her courage. A hairbrush made from a bunch of nettles makes the hair grow faster and stronger, and one would certainly need courage to use such a brush.

A patch of nettles in the garden (or allotment) will attract butterflies like the red admiral, peacock and comma, which feed on the nectar from the flowers, and supply food for the subsequent caterpillars, which, in turn, feed the birds.

Have you ever smelt nettles? The flowers have no scent, but the leaves smell ‘green’.