Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

November 30, 2016

Frosty mistletoe auction

Filed under: Current Affairs,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 12:34 pm

img_2396redLast Tuesday in November = first mistletoe auction of the season at Tenbury Wells.

A satisfyingly frosty day, with the mistletoe bundles glistening with hoarfrost in the sun.  And excellent stock – green-leaved and fully-berried (compare this time last year when the foliage  seemed  little yellow and the berries a little under-sized).

But what’s this? Not a lot of lots? There seemed to be significantly fewer piles of mistletoe than normal.

Nevertheless, and as usual, once the auction got to the mistletoe (it starts with trees and holly) there were crowds of buyers, hangers-on (incl me) and media people, so a minor shortage didn’t seem to matter. Indeed it seemed to boost prices, with most of the good mistletoe wraps (lots) going for £30 or more, which is double what they were getting last year.

img_2407redDoes that mean mistletoe will be expensive this year, or is it merely a reflection on the limited lots available today?  I suspect the latter – as I was assuming the good condition and well-berried nature of the harvest this year would depress prices, not push them up.

We shall see whether there’s a trend, or not, next week when the second auction takes place. That might be flooded with lots brought in by orchard-owners who’ve heard about Tuesday’s prices. A scenario which would, of course, lower prices…

Media interest yesterday included PA, local BBC TV news and BBC Radio Herefordshire & Worcester (mistletoe was a main theme in their drive-time show yesterday afternoon).

Buyers and sellers included the usual suspects – people, like me, who turn up every year, local sellers but buyers from much further afield – one van was a horse box from Connemara, and another was from Fife – both areas with very little (probably none) mistletoe.

Next auctions at Tenbury will be on 6th and 13th December.  Some more pics of the first auction below:

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

 

 

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November 27, 2016

Urban mistletoe – normal or abnormal?

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 6:59 pm
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The BBC R Glos Mistletoe Hunt – on a maple tree round the back of the Shirehall (Google Streetvew pic)

 

Last week I joined a brief, early morning, urban mistletoe hunt with BBC Radio Gloucestershire. They had spotted mistletoe on trees in central Gloucester and wanted to discuss whether this was unusual.  The short answer to that is, no, not at all unusual here in Gloucestershire where mistletoe is common, but both yes and no elsewhere in the UK.  It all depends on where you are.

[The hunt was broadcast during Mark Cummings’ show on 23rd November. You can hear the whole programme on iPlayer here – but only for a few weeks and anyway the mistletoe is scattered throughout the programme. A bootleg edit, with just the the mistletoe-laden bits, can be heard here]

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BBC R Glos Mistletoe Hunt – trees with mistletoe in Brunswick Square (Google Streetview pic)

 

The first thing to understand about mistletoe in urban locations is that, in theory at least, trees in urban areas are ideal for it. You might think, like the BBC Glos reporters did initially, that mistletoe is a plant of the wider and natural countryside. But, actually, mistletoe’s need is for isolated trees – trees well-spaced away from others.  Natural woods may have a lot of trees, but those trees are close together – so woodland trees are not good mistletoe hosts.  The trees of man-made habitats – orchards, hedgerows, roadsides are much better for mistletoe as they are set apart.  And, therefore, trees in the urban environment – street and garden trees – are ideal for it.  It should not be unusual.

Nevertheless most people seem to think it is unusual in towns – possibly for one or both of two reasons.  One being that mistletoe is generally only found in quantity in the south-west midlands, so is not common enough to spot – in urban or rural environments – across most of the UK.  The other reason is observation – people don’t look up enough! In the wider countryside you can spot mistletoe from miles away – with the distinctive aerial growths showing up in tall trees across the landscape.  In towns the landscape is much closer, hemmed in by buildings, so you don’t get that wide view that will show mistletoe a long way off.  You may only be able to see it when close to it, and then only by physically looking straight up!

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Cheltenham’s street trees have lots of mistletoe – obvious even in summer (Google Streetview pic)

 

Here in the Severn Vale of Gloucestershire mistletoe is common everywhere – rural or urban – and very obvious in both Gloucester and Cheltenham. Especially in Cheltenham, where there are huge amounts in many of the street trees. Probably too much actually – but that’s a story for another time.

Outside of the vale, but still in mistletoe country, there are many other mistletoe towns; one particularly favorite of mine is Malvern, where there are scattered colonies throughout. Much further afield there are thriving colonies in and around Richmond (SW London), Cambridge, parts of Oxford, and even small areas of Edinburgh (and even Dublin!) well outside mistletoe’s natural range.  Urban mistletoe thrives – and urban gardens could even become, as rural orchards decline, the primary habitat for mistletoe in Britain.


growkitmontage1If you want to try getting it growing in your garden try a Mistletoe Grow-Kit from the English Mistletoe Shop

More mistletoey links:

A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

November 19, 2016

Lots of berries – and they’ll be all white on the night…

Filed under: Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Mistletoe,Orchard,social history — Jonathan Briggs @ 5:47 pm

Nearly mistletoe harvesting time, with the berries ripening nicely. And, on the mistletoe here in the Severn Vale at least, there are lots of berries.  Again (several years running now).

There’s a slide show below showing some pictures I took this week in the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust‘s orchards at Longney, demonstrating the huge number of berries in the (handful of) mistletoe-laden apple trees there.

Most of the berries have whitened up now, though some are still green, and none have yet got that distinctive pearlescent translucency they get when fully ripe. But there’s no need to worry, they’ll be all white soon.

There are also a couple of pics showing the continuing fruit crop there (much has already been processed by local juice-makers, including Days Cottage) and the new plantings. These orchards are being restored as productive traditional orchards – mistletoe is not, obviously, a primary aim, but is a traditional seasonal by-product.

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November 15, 2016

Mistletoe in The Quercy Local

Filed under: Current Affairs,Gardening,Media,Mistle Thrush,Mistletoe,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 9:37 pm

The French have a lot more mistletoe than we do here in Britain – their climate is better suited to it, and it is a common sight in many regions (though also, as in Britain, utterly absent from some parts).  That abundance doesn’t lessen its mysteriousness though – there are many French traditions and customs relating to le Gui. It was once (and possibly still is) especially valued as a un Porte-Bonheur, a Good Luck Charm.

But our kissing tradition, traditionally a feature of English-speaking countries, is widespread in France too these days, possibly masking some of their other traditions.  It all gets a bit confusing.

quercylocalNow that we Brits, at least à ce moment (Brexit clouds the future a little), have a tendency to go and live in France, there are, here and there, some English-language magazines.  One of which is The Quercy Local , which covers the ‘Quercy’ region of SW France (parts of the Lot, Lot et Garonne, Tarn et Garonne and Dordogne departments).

Their Winter Issue for 2016/17 has mistletoe on the cover and includes a rather good mistletoe feature, by editor Anna Atkinson, plus an article on mistletoe’s specialist berry-eating birds, the Mistle Thrush and the Blackcap, by Martin George.

And, in their ‘Seasonal Romantic Gifts’ section, they feature my Mistletoe Book – and Grow-Kits – both available from, as always, the English Mistletoe Shop.  Thanks, Quercy Local!

Interested in leafing through it (there’s a lot more than just mistletoe, and much inspiration if you’re a Francophile)?  You can read it online here.

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More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

November 11, 2016

A visit to Cotehele’s Christmas Garland, and to see their mistletoe too

Final stages of hanging the garland

Final stages of hanging the garland

Cotehele House, the National Trust estate on the Tamar estuary, is famous for its Christmas Garland; a 60-foot long flower-filled decoration they hang in the Hall each year. The dried flowers used are all grown in the estate garden, where there is also, as I’ve probably mentioned before, a large colony of mistletoe in the apple orchard. Mistletoe is fairly rare in this part of the south-west, so the mistletoe is significant. The orchard is valuable too – extended 10 years ago to include a new ‘Mother Orchard’ of historic local fruit varieties, conserving that genetic resource.

The garland takes over a week to make, and today was the last preparation day, ending with it being hung for display to visitors over the next few weeks. And, as we happened to be in the area, we called in to have a look…

The end of the garland, complete with mistletoe

The end of the garland, complete with mistletoe

This year is special – as the garland tradition is 60 years-old. By the time we got there today it was completed and in the air, with just some final adjustments from a scaffold tower.  Chris Groves, NT’s senior gardener at Cotehele (and orchard guru), had just cut one of the finishing touches – a ball of mistletoe from the orchard, to be hung over the door at the end of the garland.  This year’s theme is white – so fits particularly well with the mistletoe.  Or will do when the berries are fully ripe and white – the berries on today’s bunch were still a little green, but Chris will be replacing the mistletoe with fresh, riper-berried, material in the run-up to Christmas.

Afterwards we had a quick look around the orchards – the established one in the main garden, where there is a lot of mistletoe, and the newer Mother Orchard adjoining it.  There was more mistletoe than I remember from my last visit – but Chris is keeping it under control.  He cuts the berried (female) plants to sell in the Cotehele shop each Christmas and manages the unberried (male) plants when doing annual tree pruning.  Here are some pics of the old orchard, with its mistletoe:

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Some bird-sown mistletoe plants have been appearing in a few of the Mother Orchard trees, but he is pruning that out entirely, at least for now, as those are still fairly small trees.  Some, on MM106 rootstock, will stay small-ish but others, on M25 rootstock, will grow to standard tree size and be very suitable for mistletoe.  That’s in the long-term of course – but it does mean that the mistletoe colony at Cotehele looks set to survive well into the future, along with the local apple varieties too.  Some pics of the new orchard below:

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PS for my niece Harriet, if she's reading this, apols for not calling in, all a bit last-minute and anyway you wouldn't want to catch our colds...

More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

 

November 9, 2016

‘Training’ mistletoe, and thoughts on Churchyards

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Gardening,Religion,social history,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 2:28 pm

A day out in London last week, at a conference discussing churchyard trees. Not about mistletoe.  But a surprising number of mistletoe angles…

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A rather blurred picture of some rail-side mistletoe

Starting with the journey there – as I caught the train in from Windsor (the conference was at Waterloo, an easy commute from Windsor) and Windsor is a mistletoe hotspot.  Regular readers will, obviously(!), know this already as I mentioned it last year when reporting on a drive up the Thames valley.

But this was my first time on the railway from Windsor Riverside to Waterloo, and I was keen to find out what mistletoe could be spotted by train.  ‘Training’ plants is a popular pastime with a few (somewhat dedicated) botanists; basically checking on what species you can spot by looking out of the window. It’s more interesting than it sounds, as railway corridors support a variety of species, with some unusual ones in the well-drained habitat amongst the gravel ballast next to the track.  The challenge is to identify them whilst passing at speed…

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Nice pic, but just missed the mistletoe! (off to the left somewhere)

But on this journey I was looking at the wider landscape, trying to spot mistletoe in the riverside trees (the line runs close to the Thames for much of the first section).  Sure enough there were several sections with significant mistletoe colonies – and I, foolishly perhaps, decided to try recording them using a phone camera. Of course, by the time I had spotted a colony and got the phone pointing at it, we had moved on several hundred metres…  And on the way back again in the evening it was dark.

Meanwhile, at the conference, churchyard trees and the challenges of managing them, were discussed at length.  Presentations were made by a mixture of tree experts and clergy, with a general underlying theme that more could and should be done to manage, conserve and plant more churchyard trees, with a particular emphasis on seeing them as part of the individual church’s history.  Indeed, in the case of many of our churchyard yew trees, the argument could be seen as the opposite; many of our older churchyard yews clearly pre-date their particular church’s foundation (some are 2000 years-old), so it is how the church relates to the tree, not the other way round.

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Typical churchyard mistletoe – growing on a lime tree in an open situation.

Where does mistletoe fit in to this? Two ways – firstly as another, like yew, evergreen with a long history in tradition and religion, so it has relevance at least.  Secondly, mistletoe loves churchyard trees – they are a perfect habitat, being well-spaced. The mix of native and exotic species often ensures at least one suitable host.

So was mistletoe mentioned? Er, no. Not at all!  Apart from by me in conversations over coffee and lunch.  But those discussions were useful, I think, highlighting the value of churchyard tree for mistletoe and the potential for mistletoe to be deliberately planted as part of a tree management project.  It always becomes a talking point, particularly outside its main geographical area.  Good for biodiversity too.  And, last but not least, it has religious relevance.

Not necessarily the right religion – but that’s why it’s a talking point…

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growkitmontage1Mistletoe season looms… and if you want to grow your own talking point have a look at the Mistletoe Grow-Kits from the English Mistletoe Shop.

More Mistletoe Matters – links to mistletoey things to read, buy or do

Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe – kits and gift cards from the English Mistletoe Shop
A Little Book About Mistletoe – printed and Kindle versions
Mistletoe Matters Consultancy – all about mistletoe in Britain
The Mistletoe Pages – even more about mistletoe
Mistletoe Surveys – seeking your input…
Mistletoe Matters on Facebook
Mistletoe Matters on Twitter

 

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