Monday, 7 November 2011

The Gardener's Calendar - November 1863

Another extract below from Whitnash Parish Magazine, in 1863, with the section that begins November and also lists the gardening tasks.

It is interesting that the term "fall" is applied to the season. In England, this was largely superseded by the term "Autumn", whereas America retained the older term as the principal word for the season. The origins of the term are obscure, as Wikipedia notes:

The alternative word fall for the season traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, the Old English fiæll or feallan and the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates. However, these words all have the meaning "to fall from a height" and are clearly derived either from a common root or from each other. The term came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like "fall of the leaf" and "fall of the year"

The Whitnash article also mentions the dreadful fogs of London and Paris. The combination of burning coal fires, and the fog rising from the Thames, gave rise to what was termed the London "smog". Writing just ten years before the Whitnash magazine, Max Schlesinger in "Saunterings in and about London" (1853) describes how bad it was:

The winter-fogs of London are, indeed, awful. They surpass all imagining; he who never saw them, can form no idea of what they are. He who knows how powerfully they affect the minds and tempers of men, can understand the prevalence of that national disease-the spleen. In a fog, the air is hardly fit for breathing; it is grey-yellow, of a deep orange, and even black at the same time, it is moist, thick, full of bad smells, and choking. The fog appears, now and then, slowly, like a melo­dramatic ghost, and sometimes it sweeps over the town as the simoom over the desert. At times, it is spread with equal density over the whole of that ocean of houses on other occasions, it meets with some invisible obstacle, and rolls itself  into intensely dense masses, from which the passengers come forth in the manner of the student who came out of the cloud to astonish Dr. Faust. It is hardly necessary to mention, that the fog is worst in those parts of the town which are near the Thames.

In times when little seems to be done to combat the threat of climate change, it is salutary to see how long the state of affairs existed in London. It was only after 1952, after a lethal combination of fog with sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot caused thousands of deaths, that there was sufficient public concern for the authorities to pass the Clean Air Act - four years later in 1956!

Londoners used coal for heating their homes, which produced large amounts of smoke. In combination with climatic conditions this often caused a characteristic smog, and London became known for its typical "London Fog", also known as "Pea Soupers". London was sometimes referred to as "The Smoke" because of this. In 1952 this culminated in the disastrous Great Smog of 1952 which lasted for five days and killed over 4,000 people.

Today, London has 80 monitoring stations dotted all over the city, which analyse fine particulates - very small pieces of pollution that can get deep down into the lungs. Gary Fuller from the environmental research group at King's College London, notes that: "Air quality has improved vastly in London, simply because we don't burn much coal anymore. The main threat is obviously cars. It's a case of can we improve air quality fast enough as more and more cars come onto the roads."

In Jersey, emissions are checked in the Fort Regent Tunnel. The far deeper and longer tunnel for the proposed Waterfront Masterplan would, of course, mean log jammed traffic with exhaust fumes building up at rush hours - a scenario that perhaps has not been sufficiently considered.

It is the gloomy month of November outside now, brightened by fireworks last weekend, and close by our offices, the new Town Park. Whereas I used to look out on cars, I can see a pleasant and uplifting landscape of green grass and trees, and people strolling languidly at lunch time. And easily by the end of the month, something our Victorian forebears would have been astonished to see that early  - there will be masses of Christmas decorations on streets, shop windows and houses. November is perhaps a little less gloomy than it once was.

The Gardener's Calendar - November 1863

The loss of verdure, the shortened days, the lessened warmth, and the frequent rains, justify the title of the gloomy month of November. The whole declining season of the year is frequently called the fall, because the leaves fill from the trees, and before the end of this month leave them like giant skeletons. One of the first trees that becomes stripped of its foliage is the walnut, which is quickly succeeded by the mulberry, horse-chestnut, sycamore, lime, and ash; the elm, the beech, and the oak retain their verdure for some time longer. But every wind that blows scatters myriads of flying leaves, and we trend in our walks ankle deep in dead leaves.

One of the most familiar characteristics of this month is fog, a sort of earth-born cloud, which seldom ascends many feet above the earth. The fogs of large cities like London and Paris are very gloomy and dispiriting, the darkness being almost palpable, and the feeble glimmering of artificial light, be scarcely able, in door or out, to pierce the surrounding gloom.

THE GARDEN. - Finish transplanting fruit trees and shrubs ; evergreens should have been removed two or three months back. Plant rose-trees in rich soil ; those which are intended to flower early indoors should now be potted and pruned. Prune and nail wall-fruit trees, gooseberries, and currants; the ground between which should now be forked and manured. Attend to raspberries, leaving three or four canes to each root, all of which should be shortened back and firmly staked. Dig and leave rough all unoccupied ground. Plant broad beans and early peas. Cut down Jerusalem artichokes; give the leaves to cattle, and dry the stalks for lighting fires. Force sea-kale. Plants in frames should be treated as in October. Fuchsias may either be cut down and ashes heaped on their roots, or they may be taken up bodily, and stored away with all their branches in a warm shed. Look to all staked shrubs, and make them secure.


Who would walk in dull November
Let him choose an upland way ;
One there was, I well remember;
Where we often used to stray.

Ever did the sunbeam love it,
Even in November days,
When a golden glow above it
Struggled through the purple haze.

Fenced by trees, whose boughs uplifted,
Sadly mourned their verdure lost;
Dead leaves o'er the pathway drifted,
By the breezes wildly tossed.

Onward, through the forest going,
All was dreary, scarce a flower
In the lonely pathway growing,
Yet to cheer November's hour.

Ferns, a fairy forest springing,
Greenly waved beneath our tread ;
And the wild vine's tendrils swinging ;
And the yew that mourns the dead:

Nightshade, with its deadly power,
Lent a sadness to the scene-
All proclaiming Autumn's dower-
Beauty passed that once had been."

Then the Spring's sweet joys recalling
O'er my soul a shadow fell;
Flowers are faded, leaves are fallen,
Spring and Summer, fare ye well

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