22 June 2015

The Canary of Snails

It's amazing what you can buy online these days.

The postman delivered these guys the other week.

Though I doubt he was aware of what he had picked up from the sorting office.

19 June 2015

A Gentle Gift

This week I found gentleness in broken driveways.

Once again it was unexpected.

And I was left wondering 'is this a gift?'

10 June 2015

Quinta Essentia

Lady's Mantle in the dye pot

Dyeing again. This time giving Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla, a whirl.

Not surprisingly it produces a yellow, so we shan't linger on the dyeing aspect.

Let's give some thought to those beads of water that linger on her leaves.

7 June 2015

Non Sum Qualis Eram

natural dye artichoke

This post is a cautionary tale travelling from the heights of Mount Olympus via some impassioned Decadent poetry, with a detour to the Deep South of the American Civil War, to end ignobly with a snarling dog.

It begins mundanely with a bored housewife picking snails off the leaves of a globe artichoke. I wonder, she muses, if these leaves can produce a dye. Within a couple of hours she had the answer: yes, they can, an impressively deep yellow.

In her little world this is an exciting discovery. She looks up the scientific name of the artichoke to see if it belongs to a family of other plants who may be similarly generous.

Cynara scolymus
Digging deeper she finds a tragic legend attached to the Cynara family.
"According to Greek myth" - and here the cautionary bit of the tale begins - Cynara was a beautiful maiden living on the island of Zinari.  Zeus, who was visiting his brother Poseidon,  saw her and fell in love. He made her a goddess [the Jungians and feminists amongst us will no doubt have words to say on this story] and brought her up to Olympus. However, sensible woman, she missed mortal earth and would sneak back down when he wasn't looking. When he found this out he got cross and turned her into an artichoke. Not one of his most imaginative efforts, I'd say. Not his usual swans, willows, or fawns, but there you go.
This story is repeated whenever someone writes about artichokes. Go see for yourself ...
Sniffing out a possible blog post the housewife searched online for the original Greek telling of the tale, but couldn't find it. No matter, maybe it is not important enough to appear in the first few pages of a Google search. What did turn up was the Roman poet Horace bewailing someone called Cynara.

After a long cessation, O Venus, again are you stirring up tumults? Spare me, I beseech you, I beseech you. I am not the man I was under the dominion of good-natured Cynara. Forbear, O cruel mother of soft desires, to bend one bordering upon fifty, now too hardened for soft commands:

The gist is he has seen an attractive young man, and felt  'tumults' stirring, but at nearly fifty thinks he hasn't the energy to pursue them, since he is not the same as when he knew good-natured Cynara.

Ask Me No More by Alma Tadema

Who was Cynara? Did she resemble an artichoke in any way?

Who knows.

Two thousand years later Horace's lament inspired another male poet to muse on the nature of love. Ernest Dowson, a Decadent poet, wrote 'Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae'. The title translates as 'I am not as I was in the reign of good Cynara'.  The gist is he is with a red-lipped woman and suddenly remembers lily white Cynara.

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion
Maybe being associated with a vegetable is not such a bad thing. That's three men with fond memories of Cynara.
At this stage in the cautionary tale a web of romance has woven around our Artichoke.

To weave another thread we can take a detour to Vivien Leigh's heaving bossom.

The title of the book Gone With The Wind was taken from a line in Dowson's poem:
I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind
The author Margaret Mitchell was touched by the "far away, faintly sad sound" of the line.

But this has nothing to do with Artichokes.

Back to the scientific name Cynara scolymus

And here the romance comes to a juddering end.

'Cynara' is an amalgam of the Latin word for canine and the Old Greek word for dog, 'kyon'. The 'scolymus' element relates to words such as spiny and thistle.  These descriptive words are referencing the dogs tooth like spines on the stem of the plant.

Dog Tooth Spines on Artichoke
Plus Pesky Snails

So we seem to have been led down the wrong path. Artichokes are not associated with a mistreated woman, but sharp dog teeth.  Our English word artichoke probably comes from its original Roman (latin) name for cardoon, a similar vegetable.

The caution here is to beware what you read. If something gets repeated enough it becomes fact. 'According to Greek myth' is a phrase best taken with a pinch of salt.

3 June 2015

The Moths Are Coming!

The above gleeful tweet popped up on my Twitter feed - chance of migrant moths on Thursday night in the South East. Presumably this will be due to a warm front (hurrah) coming up from Africa and Spain sweeping moths along with it.

On 30th May they posted this:

I think it's lovely that there are people eagerly waiting for a wave of tiny papery moths to flutter over from far flung exotic lands. There is a romance about it. Particularly as to be a lepidopterist you have to sneak around at night setting traps of light. There is a poem in there somewhere.

As I understand it millions of moths appear in the UK each year, mostly in the autumn. We are at the edge of their climatic limit, in that during cold years fewer arrive, but it seems their appearances are increasing which may be proof of global warming (or global weirding). They don't necessarily come here to breed as migratory birds do. They may lay eggs but survival of our cold, wet winters is unlikely. Having said that some colonies are surviving such as the Clifden Nonpareil moth in Dorset.

To watch the migration wave as it happens you can follow this Twitter account @MigrantMothUK, or look at the flight arrivals page of Atropos, a UK journal for butterfly, moth and dragonfly enthusiasts. Being a dragonfly specialist sounds even more romantic than moths. Think of the jewel colours and the sun glinting on crystal clear water. Dreamy.

Back to the moths. The Bordered Straw moth is quite commonly caught.

The paler versions are thought to come all the way from the Sahara.
The Silver Y is another new arrival.

I am getting slightly anxious at the low numbers of any insect in Garden65 this year. I haven't been out setting traps or doing anything scientific but I'm getting the impression there are fewer bees and hoverflies. Even the pond skimmers look lonely. Hopefully there is a natural cause like a wet spring, rather than a woman-made reason like not growing enough insect friendly plants. Either way it is reassuring to know natural cycles on a continental scale are still providing excitement to dedicated lepidopterists.