Friday, 19 March 2010

Ornament and comely grace

Spring in Northumberland isn't very far advanced yet, and I am swamped with work, so this morning I took a detour via the Garden Centre on the way back from the bank, and bought two deliciously scented sweet violets (viola odorata) - I wish Blogger had a scratch-and-sniff function, because they are quite delectable. They will do nicely to assuage my immediate need for spring flowers. With luck, they should also self-seed themselves around the place, which would be delightful.

In the tapestry series The Hunt of the Unicorn, one of the flowers surrounding the captive unicorn is viola odorata, because the sweetly-scented blooms are symbolic of fertility:

and in the Herbal, Gerard says:
very many by these Violets receive ornament and comely grace: for there be made of them Garlands for the heade, nosegaies and poseies, which are delightfull to looke upon and pleasant to smell to...Gardens themselves receive by these the greatest ornament of all, chiefest beautie, and most gallant grace; and the recreation of the mind which is taken heere by, cannot be but verie good and honest...
They amongst our oldest medicinal plants, containing salicylic acid among the active constituents, and were used by the Athenians "to procure sleep", while the Anglo-Saxons used sweet violet as a wound-herb and a cosmetic. The Romans made wine with the flowers, and of course they have long been used in perfumery. Crystallized violets were a popular delicacy, and in the time of Charles II "violet sugar" was a favourite.  The leaves can be used in salads (although they have a laxative effect) and were used in poultices. You could try using the fresh leaves on bruises, for a cooling and soothing compress. Or, if you like a seriously sophisticated treat, what about these?

To crystallize violets, dip the flowers in beaten eggwhite, or paint the flowers with a small brush. Then dip them into caster sugar, or sprinkle it over them if the flowers are very delicate. You can do the same with primrose flowers to make pretty decorations for an Easter or simnel cake.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Spring Bluebells

It was a lovely morning, and while I cleaned out the chicken house, the ladies took a stroll. Betty has entirely forgotten her horrible experience with the buzzard, and investigated every nook and cranny under the ash tree, but the Bluebells preferred to bathe in some nice soft, dry soil. Bliss all round.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Buzzard attack!


Along with a lot of other people, I have always believed that buzzards won't attack chickens, so it was a considerable shock to find that while I was away recently, my favourite hen, Betty, had been attacked. She's the smallest of our girls, so it was very fortunate that the attempt was unsuccessful, leaving her bloodied and shocked, but basically okay. The girls had been free to wander in the paddock, which they loved, but have now been relegated to their covered run again, unless there is someone out in the garden to keep on eye on them. We were all outside on Sunday, and it was good to see that she's entirely recovered from the experience (or forgotten all about it). That's a very youthful Betty at the front of the picture - she's not at all pretty, but she is very sweet. When they were free to roam she would rush up the paddock to greet anyone who went out there.

A quick Google search suggests that it's not, after all, uncommon for buzzards to look beadily at chickens, but it does seem significant that it happened at the end the winter, with snow having lain for a much longer period than I've seen for years. When we came to live here about 15 years ago, there were no buzzards at all, but now we have quite a large population. We also have plenty of small creatures as a rule, on which they can feed, but this winter the voles were snug under a couple of feet of snow.