Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Gardener's Calendar - October 1863

Another extract below from Whitnash Parish Magazine, in 1863, with the section that begins October and the gardening tasks. There's a mention of a poor crop of walnuts, and I thought for this extract,  I'd look at walnuts in England, as they are mentioned as a poor crop for that year. Walnuts do not feature much in our October foods, and we have increasingly lost the seasonality and limitation of having mainly the home grown.

Walnuts first seem to have been introduced to England at the time when it was part of the Roman Empire. Lyn Nelson notes that this came about in the Southeast, along with other fruit and vegetables that we take for granted as "home grown"

The greatest Roman influence on this sector of the economy lay in the introduction of new crops, such as cabbages, peas, parsnips, turnips, carrots, plums, apples, cherries, and walnuts.(1)

By the time of Chaucer in the late 13th and 14th century, walnuts were part  of the food chain, and cultivated for domestic use:

The range of vegetables was probably less diverse than it is today, especially because of the difficulties of preservation. Onions, leeks, cabbage, garlic, turnips, parsnips, peas, and beans were all staples. Among fruits, plums, cherries, pears, grapes, strawberries, figs, and apples all grew in England. Nuts, particularly walnuts and hazelnuts, were also to be found domestically. Other vegetable foods were imported, such as almonds and dates. (2)

There is good archaeological evidence from late-thirteenth-century Southampton of a diet which, at least in the wealthier households, included hazelnuts and walnuts, raisins and figs, strawberries and raspberries, plums, cherries and sloes (3)

By the time that William Cobbett rode across England in 1893, noting all kind of information about the countryside, the cultivation of walnuts was plentiful. I've given a larger extract of each of these, so that the reader can see the walnuts and their place alongside the other cultivated crops:

Very near to Bratton Castle (which is only a hill with deep ditches on it) is the village of Eddington, so famed for the battle fought here by Alfred and the Danes. The church, in this village, would contain several thousands of persons; and the village is reduced to a few straggling houses. The land here is very good; better than almost any I ever saw; as black, and, apparently, as rich, as the land in the market gardens at Fulham. The turnips are very good all along here for several miles; but, this is, indeed, singularly fine and rich land. The orchards very fine; finely sheltered, and the crops of apples and pears and walnuts very abundant. Walnuts ripe now, a month earlier than usual.

In coming from Wootton-Basset to Highworth, I left Swindon a few miles away to my left, and came by the village of Blunsdon. All along here I saw great quantities of hops in the hedges, and very fine hops, and I saw at a village called Stratton, I think it was, the finest campanula that I ever saw in my life. The main stalk was more than four feet high, and there were four stalks, none of which were less than three feet high. All through the country, poor, as well as rich, are very neat in their gardens, and very careful to raise a great variety of flowers. At Blunsdon I saw a clump, or, rather, a sort of orchard, of as fine walnut-trees as I ever beheld, and loaded with walnuts. Indeed I have seen great crops of walnuts all the way from London. (4)

By these means I got hither, down a long valley, on the South Downs, which valley winds and twists about amongst hills, some higher and some lower, forming cross dells, inlets, and ground in such a variety of shapes, that it is impossible to describe; and, the whole of the ground, hill as well as dell, is fine, most beautiful corn land, or is covered with trees or underwood. As to St. Swithin, I set him at defiance. The road was flinty, and very flinty, I rode a foot pace; and got here wet to the skin. I am very glad I came this road. The corn is all fine; all good; fine crops, and no appearance of blight. The barley extremely fine. The corn not forwarder, than in the Weald. No beans here; few oats comparatively; chiefly wheat and barley; but great quantities of Swedish turnips, and those very forward. More Swedish turnips here upon one single farm than upon all the farms that I saw between the Wen and Petworth. These turnips are, in some places, a foot high, and nearly cover the ground. The farmers are, however, plagued by this St. Swithin, who keeps up a continual drip, which prevents the thriving of the turnips and the killing of the weeds. The orchards are good here in general. Fine walnut trees, and an abundant crop of walnuts.

The soil is somewhat varied in quality and kind; but, with the exception of an enclosed common between Funtington and Westbourn, it is all good soil. The corn of all kinds good and earlier than further back. They have begun cutting peas here, and, near Lavant, I saw a field of wheat nearly ripe. The Swedish turnips very fine, and still earlier than on the South Downs. Prodigious crops of walnuts; but the apples bad along here (5)

Port and walnuts became an after dinner combination, in those days when the women would retire, and the men would remain and drink port, and eat walnuts. There's a celebrated passage in G.H. Hardy, where he describes (in a Mathematician's Apology) a book he read, and the mystic that he wished to be part of, in obtaining access to the Senior Combination Room at a Cambridge College. It is the tale of two students, Brown and Flowers, who are friends and one fails because of gambling, and one makes it, and walnuts feature yet again!

Brown succumbs, ruins his parents, takes to drink, is saved from delirium tremens during a thunderstorm only by the prayers of the Junior Dean, has much difficult in obtaining even an Ordinary Degree, and ultimately becomes a missionary. The friendship is not shattered by these unhappy events, and Flowers's thought stray to Brown, with affectionate pity, as he drinks port and eats walnuts for the first time in Senior Combination Room.

The Gardener's Calendar - October 1863

The days are sensibly dwindling, being now less than twelve hours long; but still October has its own charms which make it one of the pleasantest of the year. The hues of Autumn give a warm colour to the landscape, and the foliage of the trees is rich with many a varied tint, changing from day to clay. October is remarkable for the calm, quiet, soothing weather which sometime prevails throughout the month, as though the summer were pausing before its final plunge into the mists and cold of winter.

The harvest has been now fully garnered in our part of the country, and great rejoicings in the House of God, and in farmer's homes, have testified their thankfulness to the Almighty for his great bounty. The produce of the orchard has not fulfilled the promise of early blossom ; some crops, as walnuts, have almost entirely failed, while apples, pears, and stone-fruit have yielded but a moderate return.

The Garden: Clean, lightly fork, and manure asparagus beds. Earth up celery, store onions. A small breadth of German greens, planted now, will afford a supply late in spring. Thin winter spinach ; keep the soil well stirred among all growing crops. Plant cabbages for late spring use, lettuce and endive in very sheltered situations, parsley, in pots or boxes, to be protected for use in severe weather.

Root crops should be speedily stored when dry. Get all vacant land manured and trenched as soon as possible. Take up and pot such plants as it is desirable to preserve for another season. Prepare flower beds for their spring occupants. Many annuals make excellent spring beds, but Van Thon tulips, turban ranunculuses, aneanonies, &c., are the best for this purpose.


Now o'er the woods what gorgeous hues,
Like sunset tints, are blending;
And every breeze the red leaves strews,
A shade of sadness lending.

Long summer evenings seem the days
With Autumn', glory glowing ;
And many a foot the woodland strays
Where Autumn's fruits are growing.

The tree that glads the traveller's heart
Is gay with crimson berry.
Thy flowers, oh, Summer ! may depart,
Yet is October merry,--

Merry, with clusters black and red,
O'er bush, and bower, and tree ;
How could the forest birds be fed,
Kind Autumn, but for thee ?

Rich blackberries allure us now,
Staining our eager fingers ;
And, clustering on the hazel bough,
Full many a ripe nut lingers.

And rosy apples, false as fair,
And purple sloes inviting--
All in our love had once a share-
Our hopes and fears exciting.

Ah! those were happy days of yore :
And, pondering on their pleasure,
Who would not be a child once more,
The wild-wood fruits to treasure?

(1) The Western Frontiers of Imperial Rome, Drummon and Nelson, 1994.
(2) Daily Life in Chaucer's England. Jeffrey L. Singman, Will McLean, 1995
(3) Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600, Colin Platt, 1994.
(4) Rural Rides in the Counties of Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Hants, Berks, Oxford, Bucks, Wilts, Somerset, Gloucester, Hereford, Salop, Worcester, Stafford, Leicester, Hertford, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Nottingham, Lincoln, York, Lancaster: With Economical and Political Observations. Volume: 2. William Cobbett, 1893
(5) Rural Rides. Volume: 1. William Cobbett, 1893

1 comment:

Alane said...

I love these gardener's posts so much. It's kind of reassuring to see that some things, at least don't change all that much.