Wednesday, 19 May 2010


We didn't manage to get up last weekend so of course, today we arrived to see triffids in the garden! OK, they may have been docks but they were huge! Still, everything else has got pretty huge too, so I'm not complaining. We even have a large nettle crop, so I'm considering nettle beer....or fertiliser! Definitely soup though!

I dyed some Blue-Faced Leicester with madder on Friday and took it up to Holdenby to dry in the sun. I would have dyed it up there if not for my very 21st century dye pots! There was a lot of interest from the MoPs (Members of the Public) though, so I'm looking into getting some decent sized cauldrons which I'll be able to use up there.

I picked the first of the kale and sautéed it in butter, over an open fire, with home-grown squash, chives and garlic leaves. It was delicious and authentic fare but I wish I’d cooked more!
Oh, and the willow fencing is growing! Heheh!

It took Kevin and I the best part of the day to weed all of the beds (Kevin did more than me!), although in fairness, we were stopping to speak to the public quite a bit. In addition, I discovered the limitations of trying to garden in heavily-boned 17th century stays! I'm considering either making new ones or removing some of the bones. Of course, I'd prefer to have reed bents instead of spiral steel but finding a supplier is one thing - affording them is quite another! I'll have a look at the next living history fair I go to.

But I digress!

Kevin started building a willow fence around bed 7 but is trying out a new design, so it's a bit slower going than it was with the others. I'm really impressed; he loathes practical stuff like this but he seems to be enjoying it at the moment.

In addition, he appeared to be having a great time talking to the public...but then he *had* spent the last month cramming so he could be sure of what he was talking about! We're both something of authenti-fascists when it comes to living history, and it's really important to us that we don't give the public inaccurate information. I know not everyone takes this approach, and some even think it's OK to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with stuff they've just made up (or worse, seen in a Hollywood movie - I kid you not!), but we're not like that. I hand-stitch our kit, and use as close to period fabrics as possible! Anally-retentive, moi?!

Of course, the Holdenby garden isn't 100% authentic but we are quick to tell people that while the design is correct for the period, it is actually better suited to a higher status person; however, we're only growing crops which would be available to the kind of person living in the cottage (i.e. a farm labourer).

The reason for this compromise is because to do something completely authentic according to status, we'd end up with something visually unappealing to the paying public. Since we don't own the land, we want to make sure that we give the owner as much value as possible. Especially since he pays us £200 a year for the upkeep of the cottage and garden.

In previous centuries, almost everyone (in England) lived on farms, and grew their own food, but by 1642, around a half of the population was dependent on wages. (One modern study shows that whereas in 89% of a rural population had land beyond their own cottage and garden in 1560, by 1620 that figure had dropped to 60%, making these (nearly half of) rural households, like their urban cousins, entirely wage-dependent.) And while the number of large farms was increasing, smallholdings were dwindling. It was the rise of the wage-based labour-market.
While much food was bought, almost everyone had a garden, from which vegetables, pot- and 'physick' herbs could be grown and gathered. A labourer's cottage in the country would include its own garden, and even in the impoverished East End of London, one third of houses had a garden.

However, food bills accounted for around 80% of people's wages, particularly those at the lower end of the social scale, so it made sense to use every scrap of land available to them to grow as much food as possible to supplement this. For us to do this at Holdenby, it would mean that the public wouldn't really be able to walk around the garden and have a look at everything. Hence, we opted for an in-period-but-not-status-correct-layout! As I said before, we do tell people that this is a representation and not exactly as it would have been!

Next job is to finish the fences, and forage for pea-sticks. Mind you, I think I'm going to do a bit more research into how peas were grown because certainly in the middle ages, there were pease fields, which I'm sure were not staked, so I'm wondering whether in the 17th century they would have been. At the moment, the peas are looking quite wild and straggly, and since I want some intercrops, I'm hoping that I will find that they would have had sticks as supports!

Also on the agenda is building a teepee for the runner beans and planting out the gazillion beans and sweet peas sitting in my garden at home, waiting to be put in the soil! Runner beans at this time were grown for their scarlet flowers, not the beans! I'm not sure when people discovered they could actually eat them! I've also got some land cress which needs to go in, carrot seedlings (purple of course!) and quite a few herbs. However, I'm loathe to put them in until they can take care of themselves!

Happy days!

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