A Storytelling of Crows

Apparently the Sami people have one thousand words to describe reindeer, a bit like the Irish have for rain which means we have a lot of it. And we have had ample opportunity lately to recognise the differences between, say, downpour, drizzle, mizzle, stair-rods and cats and dogs. So, when I saw this gathering of mallards at the lake yesterday I wondered what a whole lot of ducks might be called.

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It turns out that the name depends on where the ducks are at the time. On land, as these are, I might have referred to them as a safe, sord, sore, waddling, badling, or twack. Two would be a brace, and any number of ducklings a brood. On water they would be a bunch, if idle – a raft, if diving – a dopping and if swimming –  a paddling. In flight – flock, skein, string, team, plump, or pump would do. The definitive term for our mallards, because it also depends on species, is sord, or suit.

Ever curious, I went on to look for other interesting names that may be applicable to things in our gardens. Couldn’t find anything for gardeners, perhaps a germination? Guides can be tour coordinators, escorts, visitor experience assistants, or docents, while visitors remain as groups as long as they stay together and don’t wander off. Pheasants can be a head or a nye, or when flushed, a bouquet. Fellow quizzers, (a team) will be familiar with a chattering or murmuration of starlings while our house martins are styled as a flight. A coalition of cheetahs may be mentioned during a tour of the Italian Garden, or a troop, barrel, cartload, or tribe of monkeys.

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A congregation of alligators sounds like way too many. Dodos are safer, mainly because they are extinct, and being flightless, fall into the raft category.

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Anne Shirley of Green Gables talked about straying into a dance of mermaids.

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An excuse to feature the 2016 brood, swans are a whiteness or a game, or if flying, a wedge.

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Robins rarely flock together and have only recently been voted a group name: a round was the most popular, with breast coming a close second.

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Picnicking bears, of which there were quite a few this week, can be called a sleuth, or sloth, perhaps not particularly endearing terms. I checked again and, wait for it, a group of teddies is – a hug!

Aaawwww – off to give mine, Barney, a big hug now.

Ellen

Land of Smiles

The other day I was asked a most difficult question – where is your favourite photo spot in the gardens? With so many corners to choose from I couldn’t narrow it down to one, but here are a few taken with my little point and shoot, what are yours?

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My favourite angle looking over the lake toward the sunny slopes of Tir n’an Òg, taken just as the New Zealand Christmas Tree was coming into bloom. You can see the scarlet reflection on the water.

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The water lilies at the jetty make a really nice picture. If you want wildlife, a few slices of Hovis ‘Best of Both’ will entice the ducks.

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Our gardeners make a expert job of trimming the topiary. The figures can make a dramatic contrast against a hopefully blue sky.

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Our monarch of the glen appears ghostly white against the trees behind.

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Fluffy ducklings always win photo contests. This little brood posed especially for me, while Mum keeps a wary eye.

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A view from inside the summerhouse frames the Spanish Garden and mansion house.

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The view from the Temple of the Winds reaches as far as the Londonderry Monument atop Scrabo Hill and, with luck, you may catch the Mourne Mountains on a good day.

So, bring your camera, add a friend or two, say ‘cheese’ and capture a happy memory for the family album.

Ellen

Liquid Sunshine

The poet Longfellow’s observation that into each life some rain must fall has been proved only too true of late. OK, it has been a bit wet, but it keeps us green and saves Lisa getting out the sprinklers for the Italian Garden. And there is a certain beauty about looking at our plants after a good shower. Even the lawns smell fresher, colours are enhanced and we have a rainbow of flowers. See if you agree.

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A standard fuschia dripping after a downpour, but don’t the colours stand out?

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Lilies lapping up the moisture – their scent is enhanced after a dowsing.

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Our tropical looking Melianthus Major shrub’s serrated leaves are washed clean of dust by raindrops. Find one on the Dodo Terrace and another at the Sundial, both of which are growing on well after being pruned earlier in the year. As well as being nicknamed honeybush it is sometimes called the peanut butter bush, so called because if you rub the leaves you may get the aroma of your lunchtime sarnie.

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The Callistemons’ fuzzy flowerheads are like little wet brushes. Although they prefer sunny sheltered locations and will tolerate short periods of drought, they obviously appreciate a nice cool drink now and again.

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This reminds me of The Magic Inkpot, and Lady Edith’s story of Mary and Robin visiting Tir-Fo-Tonn, an enchanted undersea world, where they had a picnic.  ‘….the table-cloth became like a spider’s web… and the food became drops of honey hanging from all the flowers, so that the air was laden with honey-scented fragrance.’

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Congratulations and endless admiration are due to our gardeners who tolerate the worst of the weather because the work has to go on. They just break out the wet gear and wellies and keep going.

Ellen

The Colour Purple

I think I was about 8  when I learned from a Just William story that red food dye, an ingredient in Bott’s Digestive Sauce, came from cochineal beetles, and it was with a similar feeling of, ‘Wow’ that I discovered that the most precious of ancient dyes was made from shellfish. A total of 250,000 mollusks was required to make one ounce of purple which accounted for its great price and purple cloth being reserved for ceremonial garments. So, being convinced that no knowledge is ever wasted, and with apologies to vegetarians, I am offering the above to accompany this week’s photographs of our current beautiful purple blooms.

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Visitors coming into the north courtyard never fail to stop and sniff at this lilac shrub as they go towards the front door of the mansion house. The first recorded use of lilac as a colour name in English was in 1775, although well connected botanists had the shrub in their gardens at the end of the 16th century.

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For those who know their onions you will have noticed we have a wealth of purple alliums this year in the Italian Garden and around the entrance way to Reception. Allium giganteum, common name giant onion, is a central and south western Asian species of onion, but cultivated in many countries as an ornamental border plant and don’t they just do the job?

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Our foxgloves are appearing now, especially along the path near the old dairy, purple, white and pink. The scientific name means ‘finger-like’ and refers to the ease with which a flower of Digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in colour. Although the entire plant is toxic and led to the plants being called Witches’ Gloves or Dead Men’s Bells, digitalis is used in drug preparations to treat congestive heart failure.

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Thalictrum aquilegifolium or Columbine Meadow Rue has lovely fluffy flowers on dark stems above leaves that remind you of the aquilegia plant.

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This stunning clematis on the terrace of the Sunk Garden is The President, a deciduous climber. Single cupped flowers the size of a dinner plate, with eight overlapping rich violet purple-blue sepals, silvery on the reverse with pinkish and deep red stamens. Flowers now and late summer to early autumn.

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The worldwide success story of the Iris probably began around 1479 B.C., when King Thutmose III of Egypt had conquered Syria where irises grew in great profusion. Being a gardener as well as a warrior pharaoh, Thutmose ensured that irises should be immortalised in sculptures at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, as well as in the gardens of Egypt. In drawings they were shown as symbols of the renewal of life. Named after the Greek messenger of the gods, Iris, who was said to have golden wings and to travel on a rainbow, Iris means ‘rainbow’ in Greek, fittingly representing the many colours of the iris flower. Here we have lovely purple ones to fit our theme. Find them at the stream near the Japanese bridges.

And finally, those of us who own cats know that their favourite colour is….purrrrrrrple!

Ellen

Flower Power

Our gardeners don’t always dig, weed and water. Some are called upon to demonstrate other talents.

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In a big house like Mount Stewart its huge rooms deserve huge blooms! Luckily we have in the grounds lots of flowers that can fill this role, like the gorgeous white lilies from beside the lake. Lady Rose recalls Hebridean musician Duncan Morrison planting some of these lilies – her grandmother Edith, Lady Londonderry, liked to press into service any visitor caught sitting doing nothing!

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Lisa puts the finishing touches to the central arrangement in Lady Rose’s Saloon. Sometimes Rhododendron Macabeanum or one of the most fragrant R.Fragrantissimum, are chosen, their creamy yellow and white blooms making a dramatic contrast again shiny dark green foliage.

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Louise sets to work in the Flower Room where a ready supply of vases, water and oasis are on hand for the smaller arrangements that can be safely carried to the Dining Room and Sitting Room.

When entertaining, fresh flowers are de regueur in the dining room, and in times past for special occasions supplies were sent to Londonderry House by air. It is important to keep dining table posies low so that guests can see each other across the table and carry on conversation between courses.

During the 1903 Royal Visit to Mount Stewart our big red scrapbook tells us that for the weekend dinner parties roses were the flowers of choice. One evening the roses on the table were pink and on the other, red.

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Orange blossom on the Dining Room table combines with lovely floral china, sparkling glasses and silver flatware to give visitors an idea of how the table would have looked when the family entertained guests. The DIning Room must have looked wonderful by candlelight on a formal occasion with everyone in best bib and tucker, especially if fellow guests included people like Lady Lavery, W B Yeats, or Winston Churchill.

Just remembered – a few years ago we had a very successful Flower Show Weekend in the house with lots of wonderful artistic arrangements by local florists. Perhaps the events team might consider a repeat?

Ellen

Many Happy Returns

As the Trooping the Colour ceremony to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s official birthday is this weekend, I thought we should have a red, white and blue theme.

The most popular question today was, ‘What’s that big red bush?’, and thank goodness I knew the answer, ‘A rhododendron’. Declan, aged 8, who was among those who asked was an enthusiastic participant in the ’50 Things to Do’ activity that children (of all ages) enjoy when they come to Mount Stewart. He was mildly interested in the rhodie, but got a bit more pleasure from rolling down a really big hill and discovering what’s in a pond, and I could see his Mum wished she had put him in his wellies first. I gave him a sticker for his booklet and he went home happy.

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Next, a lovely tree peony in the Spanish Garden. Marco Polo described the flowers as ‘roses, big as cabbages’.

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As well as being the flower for your 12th wedding anniversary, the peony was declared in 1903 the national flower of China. It represents peace, stability, wealth and luck, however, in days gone by if you owned a gold tree peony that was the property of the Emperor, your luck ran out. A commoner in possession of this plant was put to death.

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In the Mairi Garden see the Loder’s White Rhododendron, named for Sir Edmund Loder (1849-1920) who developed the Loderi collection of rhodies. To keep the grass down in Leonardslee, his garden in West Sussex, he imported a herd of wallabies as ‘environmentally friendly mowing machines’, and they are still there.

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This little white perennial herb is rather inelegantly named the Pignut, Conopodium majus. The root resembles a chestnut and is edible, being considered yummy by badgers and pigs, hence the name. Sometimes called St Anthony’s nut, for Anthony the Great or Anthony of Padua, both patron saints of swineherds. It also appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a line by Caliban to Stephano, ‘.. I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts.’

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Now blue – this lovely standard ceanothus is the variety Italian Skies, which has won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit. Based on rigorous testing by the RHS it will, ‘perform reliably in the garden’.  This award is only given to a select number of plants which are of good constitution, stable in form and colour and reasonably resistant to pests and diseases.

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The ‘blueness’ of the Mount Stewart hydrangeas impresses our visitors and it won’t be long now until they are in full flower. It is the national flower of the Azores and one island, Faial, is known as the blue island due to the vast number of hydrangeas lining the roadsides and forming hedges between fields.

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Happy Birthday Ma’am.

Ellen