This is the gate through which visitors enter the walled garden.
South Gate, Hebridean Woolshed and The Big Garden
South Gate, Hebridean Woolshed and The Big Garden
The not-so-very-small print?
Private Garden : No exploring, No Dogs – Thank You!
We added that to our gate notice, early in 2016, because we were increasingly finding people exploring the garden without asking permission, to the point we felt it didn’t even feel like our own garden any more.
So why is it, then, that we still find come across folk – sometimes entire families, sometimes even with a dog (on a lead) wandering around the garden, tramping on borders, peering into our greenhouses (we keep the doors locked), commenting on this or that, children climbing on fences or walls? We’ve even caught folk helping themselves to our soft fruit!
We try to be courteous : “Can we help you?”. It’s become a fixed expression, just like our faces.
Answers are variations on a theme of ‘No’ :
I’m/We’re just looking – if that’s alright.
[The question-tag is optional, but sounds more like a statement.]
Do you have an salad leaves I/we can buy?
[Nowhere is there anything that says we sell vegetables.]
Just admiring your greenhouse-reinforcements/chickens/compost-heaps/blackcurrants/gooseberries!
[Do you think we can pay utility bills in complements instead of cash?]
My wife’s in your shop … she’s sure to buy something
[but it turns out the wife was also ‘just looking’ – but at our craft work, not the garden, and has already left]
Us : “The garden is private. It says so on the gate you came in through”.
(Another fixed expression – we’ve had lots of practice.)
It would be different if they’d come to the house to pay for something they wanted, and took the opportunity to ask. Depending on circumstances, we might well say “That’s fine – but look out for the hosepipes and other trip-hazards”. But they don’t ask – they just take.
A patched-panorama of walled, from the ridge of the house.
Those who grant themselves the liberty of exploring our private garden – they never buy anything – even if left to explore unchallenged (because we’re too busy with something or other). By contrast, those that buy first, only a very few ask – no more than a handful – ask to look round the garden: they seem to be content with what they see from the walk up to the house, and from conversation with us.
The difference is respect. Those who try their luck and slip into the parts of the garden out of sight from the house – before we spot them, these people have no respect for us or our privacy or our garden – or anything. They just take, and have no intention of giving – no intention of encountering us at all, let alone an exchange of conversation and mutual interest. Thankfully, the majority of visitors to our garden show not merely the respect that is due to anyone else’s private person and home, but understanding, appreciation and pleasure in their visit, making the transaction one of true mutual benefit.
In a recent post we shared with you the awesome array of flower stems of the New Zealand Flax – Phormium Tenax. After last year’s no-show (too dry), the plants were rested : then, this summer, the weather and soil conditions (warm and damp) have proved to be perfect for these magnificent plants. For visitors to the walled garden, the magnificent display has become quite a conversation-starter!
Most visitors say they’ve never seen or heard of them (even those from Devon and Cornwall – where we know there’s plenty in private gardens). A family of Kiwis were struck dumb when faced with their own ignorance that these majestic plants are native to New Zealand!
A few visitors have shown off their horticultural knowledge of the species, quoting not only the botanical name, but also some named varieties, preferred conditions, and so-on. And a very, very few – understanding the significance of the ‘Flax’, have asked if we strip the long fibres from the leaves and spin them into a yarn : we answer – ‘The Maori’s had no easier alternative – but we do!’
Keeping the plants in good shape – removing dead or damaged leaves, flower stems leaning across paths – is heavy work. The long tough fibres that give the plant its extraordinary resilience also make it difficult to break up still-green leaves and flower-stems. We use a heavy-duty garden shredder – though even that often chokes on the toughest leaves. The job requires strength and technical know-how, and invariably seems to involve getting very dirty. Work that big J seems to love !!!
After a recent afternoon of NZF work, J showed me his hands (and lower arms) – stained a golden colour from handling the mash that remains after the shredding. ‘And that’s after soaking and scrubbing severeal times!’. That got us wondering …
Jonathan’s hands stained from handling seed pods of New Zealand Flax.
Denise harvesting flower stems from New Zealand Flax.
New Zealand Flax flower stems with ripe seed pods.
Bosch 2.4kW garden crusher.
Crushing seed pods from New Zealand Flax.
Yesterday, with a number of the heaviest flower stems flailing across the drive and near the washing line, we decided to put them through the big Bosch crusher. After a trial of one flower stem processed as-cut, we pressed crushed material from various parts of the flower stem, and soon found that the colour was strongest in the seed pods and the bracts that carry them. We then continued processing stems and fruit separately, the stems going to the compost heap, and the crushed fruit into a dye bucket.
Crushed seed pods of New Zealand Flax in dye bucket.
Wetting skeins with four different mordants.
In the dyehouse, I’d already put four half-skeins of Cheviot wool, previously mordanted with Rhubarb, Alum, Iron, and Copper, to soak in water.
After boiling the berries for an hour or so, J and I poured the hot contents of the bucket through a sieve, returned the mahogany-brown dye liquor to the heat, and then immersed the four pre-mordanted, hydrated skeins.
Later, having rinsed the skeins thoroughly, here they are drying on the line.
You’ll see there’s scarce any difference between the four skeins – even though the difference between the skeins before dyeing was so obvious and characteristic of the mordant used. The explanation for this is that the concentration of dye liquor was so strong, and its ability to fix to the mordant so good, that the resulting colour completely overwhelms all other factors. That in turn suggests that the same batch of dye liquor could be used for successive dye-lots, each a shade paler than the previous lot, and each more characteristic of the mordant, too. The proof of that particular pudding will, however, have to wait for a future experiment : for now, we’re so pleased with this striking new colour that we’re happy to make more of the same intensity.
If we ever had any doubt that the value of New Zealand Flax as wind-break and ‘architectural’ features of the garden was insufficient to justify the hard work in keeping them in order, then that’s now completely dispelled. So too any guilt about not spinning the fibres and weaving them, or whatever. The ripe fruit are an extremely potent dye-stuff, and can be fixed easily using the liquor from rhubarb leaves.