Stinging Nettles.

Stinging nettles; I have spent years pulling these out of my garden, and now I find I have a little patch of ground saved where I grow them for plant dyes. Strange how things work out!

NettlesNettles are a common weed, found in moist areas in Europe, Asia and North America. The plants  are perennial, and can grow up to four feet in height. The leaves and stems are very hairy, and are covered in both stinging and non-stinging hairs. The stinging hairs break off in the skin when touched, and inject a variety of chemicals into the skin which cause a painful reaction. Traditionally the sap from a dock leaf will ease the pain form a nettle sting.

‘Dock in, Nettle out,
Dock rub nettle out’

Nettle can be used to make a soup. It also can be used as a plant fertiliser.
But for me, nettle leaves make a lovely green dye. With  an iron mordant, the dye supposedly  turns black; copper produces a lovely grey-green (like for camouflage), and the roots can be boiled with alum for a nice yellow dye.

I had run out of green wool, so I decided that I’d use the nettle in the garden to make some dye up. I gathered 900g of nettles. I tried to use mainly the leaves and non-woody stems. One tip here; wear long sleeves and gloves. They sting like crazy, and the stinging sensation seems to remain, even after using dock leaves!

I chopped the nettles up quite so they fitted better into the pot, added rainwater, and left to soak for several days.

NettlesTo help break down the plant fibres, and to extract more dye, I simmered the pot each day for about 20 minutes. I drained the dye from the pot and re-covered the nettles ( I was trying to get as much dye from the crop as possible). This new batch of nettle dye-stuff I left for another day and then I drained that dye into the original batch.

As usual I had mordanted my wool with alum. I added 200g of the mordanted wool to the pot. This was a ratio of 4:1. dye stuff to wool.

Nettles added to dye potIt appeared to turn a yellow/green colour. To be honest, it didn’t look very promising. Anyway I brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for an hour. The resultant wool was green/yellow in appearance.

Nettle with Alum MordantIt was actually a pretty nice colour, but I wanted a green; full on, in your face green! So I added two teaspoons copper sulphate to the dye bath. And got……….

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 1st dye bathGreen!!!! Lovely colour, just what I wanted, and very like the colour from last year. And just to use the last of the dye bath, I added another 200g of alum mordanted wool and a teaspoon of copper to the bath. This is the result from that bath.

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 2nd dye bathThis wool is more of a brown/green, and again is like the colours from the dye last year.

Have fun with the nettles; just be careful of the stings!

Garden Delights

For years I loved gardening. I was really into the whole planting thing, and then watching the plants as they grew and flowered. I guess I got the bug from my mum; she always loved to potter round the garden at home. She was almost the most expert ‘slipper’ of plants; the smallest twig taken from a plant would become a focal part of her garden. Those plants weren’t known by any botanical names, but rather were known as the places they camme from. The one that sticks most in my mind was the Bundoran bush (it was a Hebe!). I followed her almost puppy like. Mind you, as a child I hated the weeding, but as I grew older I came to realise that it was all part and parcel of growing plants and maintaining your garden.

I became adapt at slipping the plants in my mums garden and growing them on. When I bought my own home, these plants became the start of my own garden; the cottage roses and shrubs. And I loved it; my own patch of earth to grow my own shrubs and flowers.

But somewhere along the line I lost it. The garden changed from a refuge from the stresses of the world and became a chore. I could see it happening to me, but for some reason I felt unable to tackle the smallest task. My beautiful garden became a semi wilderness.

Somehow this year something has changed. Perhaps it’s the beautiful summer weather we have had for the past few weeks. Perhaps it was the natural dyes I had started to make in the last couple of years as part of the viking re-enactment, and the curiosity of what I could use to create plane dyes. Spring came late, but when it arrived it seemed to breathe new life into me and my garden.

I went to a garden centre; once a place I would spend hours wandering around, and spent quite a lot of cash on bedding plants and seeds.

I came home and planted them. It felt so good!

That was over a month ago. As the days passed I watched the seedlings struggle up from the earth, and the bedding plants open their faces to the sun. And finally they bloomed.Not all at once; one by one they looked to the sun and smiled at me. And I felt like I had come home again.

So tonight, after drenching them with water to ease their thirst, I took my camera for a walk among their smiling colourful faces. Some of them have been with me for years, like the beautiful cottage garden rose I inherited as a slip from my mum. Others are new like the marigolds and pansies.
And I would like to share them with you. I hope they bring you as much joy from their pictures that they have brought me.

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Bosworth Field

The Battle of Bosworth Field fought on 22nd August 1485 was the final battle in The War of the Roses. Henry Tudor faced Richard III to decide who would rule England. It signaled the end of the Plantagenets and the start of the Tudor dynasty. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, won and was crowned Henry VII. Richard III was killed during the battle; he is the last English king to be killed on a battlefield. I’m not going to attempt a retelling of the battle and the events that surround it, but for those that want to brush up in their history you can do so here. Remember to click Next at the bottom of each of the pages to read the full story.

Today there is a Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park just outside Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire. We visited in in May; it was a really windy day and the site is quite exposed, so we spent most of our visit wandering through the museum. It’s amazing how much can be put into what looked like a barn!

The actual display is interactive and follows the story of four fictional characters and tells how they were affected during and after the battle. They are two soldiers that fought in the battle on opposing sides, the wife of one of the soldiers, and a child whose parents owned the inn Richard stayed in on the eve of the battle.

Of course the main thing to so is to meet Richard and Henry.

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond Richard III

The display tells who Henry and Richard were and how they arrived at Bosworth.

1-DSCF4020Henry TudorThere is a ‘Battle Room’, with weapon and armoury displays. You can get up close and personal to these. I have to say I found the weapons very interesting. This is a period 400 years after the viking re-enactment I am involved in, so the weapons are different and the armour is much more substantial.

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I found the horse armour fascinating. I’ve seen pictures in books, but this was my first time seeing it close up.

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The emblem of Henry Tudor was the Tudor Rose, and that of Richard III was the Whyte Boar. These appear throughout the display, either as banners or as clothing pins.

Bosworth Field Heritage Centre - The Whyte Boar of Richard IIIBosworth Field Heritage Centre - Tudor RoseThe final stage of the exhibition is a display of ‘finds’ from the battlefield. Perhaps the most poignant of these is a little boar, most probably a whyte boar worn by on of Richard’s followers on that fateful day.

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This is a great exhibition to go and see, especially if you are interested in the Wars of the Roses. And visitors to the exhibition before 16th July will be able to see the face of Richard III as reconstructed by Prof.Caroline Wilkinson for the Channel Four programme ‘The King under the Car Park’. The reconstruction is accompanied by a short film on its creation and by panels telling the story of the discovery at the Greyfriars in Leicester.

If you’re near Sutton Cheney this week, go and have a look!

Arches in the Abbey.

On the way home from our last English trip, we came across signs to Haughmond Abbey when we were near Shrewsbury. We hadn’t been there before and as we had some time to spare, we thought we might just have a look.

Haughmond AbbeyThere isn’t a lot at Haughmond Abbey anymore; just a rather beautiful and extensive set of remains of an Augustinian abbey, including its abbots’ quarters, refectory and cloister. This is an artists impression of what the Abbey looked like. You can see this an more about the history of the Abbey in the little museum on site.

Artists Impression of Haughmond Abbey For a better idea of what was where, here’s a site plan.

Layout of Haughmond Abbey Layout of Haughmond Abbey

The Abbey was probably founded around 1135 in the times when Stephen and Matilda were arguing over who should rule the country. If you’re interested in the history of the abbey you can check it out here.

Haughmond Abbey The abbey  was constructed in a late Romanesque style. This is an architectural style largely characterised by the use of semicircular arches (and there are arches everywhere you look!).

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Possibly the best preserved part of the site is Chapter House, which retains the intricate carvings of Saints set into the arches. From left to right the saints are thought to be St Augustin, St Thomas Beckett, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Margaret of Antioch, St Winifred and St Michael.

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The inside of the chapter house has a wonderfully preserved wooden ceiling and an old stone baptismal font.

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There are stone carvings on many of the arches as well.

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This is a wonderful site to wander round, especially if you’re into photography and or architecture. It’s under the care of English Heritage, and they do a wonderful job maintaining it.