Peasant in the city

16/06/14 09:39

Sometimes it is necessary for this peasant to leave the lovely Wiltshire landscape and work in the heart of London. 10 days in the smelly city, we are in the throes of a mini heatwave with no rain, reminds me how lucky I am not to live here permanently. However, a delightful walk to work across Kensington Gardens has allowed me to spot some interesting trees. There is an avenue of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron

Tulip tree flowers

in front of Kensington Palace which are at their peak right now; fascinating flowers. These ancient trees have been found in the fossil record and while the trunks have been used for dugout canoes (not in London!) they are mostly grown as a decorative or ornamental tree. A second avenue of trees that I have been walking past on a daily basis are the mulberries running due South from Kensington Palace. These appear to be of different varieties as some are bearing fruit now, soon to be ripe, and others have no fruit at all and glossier leaves. I suspect the black mulberry (Morus nigra) is the fruit bearing one. Kensington Palace holds one of the National Collections of Mulberries, another being in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and these are probably part of the collection. There are other black mulberries in London, some of the best known being those on Birdcage Walk and St James’s Gardens. King James I , in an attempt to establish a silk industry in London in the early 17th century, instructed people to plant mulberries and thousands were planted all over the country. 

Unfortunately his advisor promoted the black mulberry not realising that the white mulberry was the preferred food plant of the silk moth caterpillar. The tree is quite short-lived so none of the existing mulberries in London are survivers. The fruit of the mulberry is sublime, eaten fresh with a large splurge of thick cream it has a flavour like no other fruit – slightly sharp and lemony. It also makes fabulous jam, crumbles, pies and one of the best fruit wines. I have tried planting a mulberry tree three times in my gardening life but have had no luck with any of them, I don’t think they like my very free draining, alkaline soil. A shame as they can be prolific fruiters and it is almost impossible to buy the fruit as it is so fragile. I have never had enough mulberries to try dyeing with them but, using salt as a mordant, they can give a rich variety of shades from aubergine through to lavender. Looking at the Royal Parks website I see there are a lot of medlar trees – Mespilus germanica – in Kensington Gardens too – I will have to search them out later in the year when the “dog’ s bottom” fruit is in evidence. This tree does grow successfully in my garden and fruits with abandon. I am not keen on the slightly rotted or “bletted” fresh fruit but they make a lovely dark pink jelly, perfect with game.

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