Jonathan's Mistletoe Diary

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 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 25, 2014

Mistletoe Drones – silly and serious

Filed under: Biodiversity,Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Mistletoe,Religion,Science — Jonathan Briggs @ 12:51 pm

Today sees the first of the 2014 Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions – and I’m unable to be there. So instead here’s a story (two stories actually – a serious one and a silly one) about mistletoe drones.

The Mistletoe Diary has covered mistletoe drone stories before, notably last year when some ‘interactive artists’ deployed a mistletoe-bearing drone in Union Square, San Francisco.

This year reports of similar initiatives are coming in from all over the place. This is, actually, not all that surprising: ‘Toy’ drones have become really popular, and what better way is there to hang mistletoe over people? No longer do you have to wait until you stand under the mistletoe – now you can make the mistletoe come to you – or to your friend.

One UK example is in TGI Fridays where mistletoe drones will be flying around diner’s heads this Christmas, following a trial at their Manchester store. Their promotional video from Manchester is below.

TGI Fridays say that a survey (whose? when?) has found 47% of Brits have never kissed under mistletoe – and this is their attempt to correct this.

Sadly, of course, they are doomed to fail. Why? Because that’s not mistletoe hanging from the drone – it’s plastic imitation mistletoe, and that’s hardly an inspiration to follow the traditions of the ancients! If you want to revive a tradition then surely you should start by following it! But perhaps this is TGI Fridays style – a little bit plasticky?

Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands

Drone used for mistletoe surveying in the Cayman Islands

Now, talking of real mistletoe, here’s a story of a proper mistletoe drone – this time a serious story using drones to survey mistletoe. The mistletoe concerned is Dendropemon caymanensis, a rare mistletoe endemic to Little Cayman, one of the Cayman Islands.

Last summer the local Department of Environment teamed up with staff from Kew Gardens in the UK to spot and map out the species by flying a camera drone over the forests it grows in – this being a much quicker way than going in on foot and having to look at every tree. Full details of the project (which completed this summer) are here.  Note (left) the rather more sophisticated drone they are using!

A news report, detailing the, er, limited success of the project is in the video below (if the video doesn’t play click here to view it in a new window)

This sort of approach could also be used in here in the UK – as mistletoe is, as I’ve pointed out in Mistletoe Diary before, one of the few plants that can be mapped from aerial photography. But we have little need of such an approach, as all our mistletoe is fairly obvious from the ground.

Nevertheless the concept is appealing – and I’ve been thinking about using a camera-carrying drone to examine how mistletoe grows in higher trees (without having to climb them) and also to simply take pictures of mistletoe from above – which gives a whole new perspective. But that’s all still on the drawing board for now… (but can you guess what’s on my Christmas list?).

 

EMShopWant to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

 

November 20, 2014

Mistletoe, Good Luck and War

Filed under: Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Mistletoe,Science,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 3:42 pm
A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card

A typical mistletoe-themed French New Year card

Earlier this month I contributed to a local WW1 exhibition with some documents and correspondence relating to my Great Uncle Clifford, who died in July 1918 as a Prisoner of War. He shipped to France on 2nd April and was immediately sent to serve in the trenches but on 27th May, after just 8 weeks at war, he was captured. Several official ‘I am a Prisoner of War’ postcards were sent home and a longer letter written (but never sent). He died from ‘cardiac weakness’ in July – but neither the army nor his family got this news until January 1919. My grandmother, his sister, had been hopefully meeting the troop trains arriving home ever since the Armistice in November 1918 – but her brother had been dead for months. His last letter was in his effects.

What has this tragic story got to do with mistletoe? Nothing directly. But it has reminded me of the use of mistletoe as a good luck motif – particularly in that war. Mistletoe was once strongly associated with luck – and many of the older traditions and legends can be interpreted as suggesting it has some sort of protective role. The popular kissing custom has, today, rather eclipsed many of these older traditions – but 100 years ago more customs may have still thrived. The location of the fighting in northern France and Belgium may have helped as French-speaking areas, even today, still hold on to the custom of mistletoe for luck – a ‘Porte Bonheur’.

Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card

Another mistletoe-themed French New Years card

This tradition was, by the time of WW1, often manifested in France through pictorial postcards, often celebrating the New Year – and also with art nouveau style objets d’art (see some here) often embellished with the phrase ‘au gui l’an neuf’ – mistletoe for the New Year, effectively wishing the recipient a lucky and successful New Year.

During the war a variant of these cards, in the form of the embroidered so-called ‘silk’ postcards, were often used. Such silk cards were a popular item to post home from the front and many with mistletoe imagery, linked to some good luck message, survive.

Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message

Postcard home, locally made in France, depicting mistletoe and with a Good Luck message

Here’s one sold on ebay this week. Now, whether the mistletoe imagery was chosen by the British tommy for good luck – or whether the local producers (these were all made in France) simply made them to reflect their own local custom of mistletoe and luck is not known. It could be either, or both.

But I like to think it was both – and that the man in the trenches didn’t just associate mistletoe with kissing – instead seeing it as a luck symbol too.

I’ll finish with this picture of three WW1 British soldiers just about to celebrate Christmas. They are all wearing mistletoe in their hats – and it is perfectly placed for kissing. But, as there was, one assumes, no-one appealing enough to want to kiss, perhaps that mistletoe was actually being worn for luck.

Unconvinced? Just look (like they are) at the chicken – which possesses no mistletoe and is, I confidently predict, now completely out of luck…

Three soldiers and a chicken...

Three soldiers and a chicken…

 

Want to know more about mistletoe? Visit the Mistletoe Directory page for links to mistletoe information, and to sites where you can buy grow-kits, books and cards…

October 24, 2006

Mistletoe Travels

Filed under: Current Affairs,Food and Drink,Religion,Science,Travel — Jonathan Briggs @ 8:32 pm

This is a test posting for the 2006 Mistletoe Travels blog – which will carry on the mistletoe themes developed by Mistletoe Diary in 2005/6 and 2004

For more info on all mistletoe matters check out the Mistletoe Gateway.

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