‘To Do’ List
❁ Visit flower shows
I’m going to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show (21st-24th April) which will be a real treat. I’m hoping to come back with lots of ideas and tips which I will report in the next issue.
❁ Plant up tubs and hanging baskets
These provided colour throughout last summer and I had particular success with rose-scented geraniums in pots. Although the flowers were rather insignificant, the leaves compensated because of their strong rose perfume. I experimented and used the leaves for making rose and pear jelly which is a bit like Marmite — you either love it or hate it! The geraniums overwintered well in the greenhouse and are ready for this season.
❁ Finish the herb garden
I’m making a small herb garden in the form of a parterre. I did think of using the traditional box to form the low hedges but now think lavender would look effective. I’m torn between the violet of ‘Munstead’ or the pure white ‘Arctic Snow’. Once I’ve put in the outline of the hedges, I’ll infill with herbs that I use frequently such as sage, chives, fennel, rosemary, oregano and parsley.
Plant up raised beds in vegetable garden
I have made some raised beds which have made planting out and weeding much less back breaking. I planted out seedlings much later than last year and so far they are doing well. I’ve got a lovely variety of Swiss chard called ‘Bright Lights’ which has stems of yellow, green, orange, pink, purple and red. I’ve put the ‘Pink Fir’ potatoes in one of the raised beds and I’m also trying ‘Kerr’s Pink’ (I seem to have a pink theme this year!). Mr. Pearce of Swindon in Wiltshire says he remembers growing this variety in his parents’ garden in the 1930s.
English lavender is available by post from This England Gifts.
The spring nesting season on the Thames was an anxious time this year for those who keep a vigil on the river’s swans. A recent marked decline in cygnet numbers has set alarm bells ringing.
Today swans are a protected species under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act but it’s the responsibility of David Barber, the Queen’s Swan Marker, to lead a team of Swan Uppers in a flotilla of skiffs each July. They’re tasked with counting the bird population from Sunbury up to Abingdon. It’s a colourful ceremonial pageant but also one that fulfils a vital mission environmentally.
The monarch still has the right to claim any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters in the United Kingdom and two livery companies, the Vintners and the Dyers, still retain their swan-mark in the 21st century, although the “marks” are now small rings placed on the swans’ legs. Both livery companies have the right to own swans on the River Thames, which they have done for the last 500 years.
Swan Upping dates back to the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of all the mute swans in England. At this time they were an important food source. Later, the Crown permitted the British aristocracy and the livery companies to own swans in return for commodities such as wine, edible goods or money.
The recipient received a Royal Charter granting the right to place their own swan-mark, which was recorded on an official crown swan roll, on the bird’s beak, and the right to claim all cygnets from breeding pairs carrying the mark.
The swan remained an important food source until the 18th/19th centuries when it was gradually replaced by commercially bred birds such as turkeys, chickens, geese and domestic fowl.
David Barber has been on the river all his life and owns a marine company at Cookham near Marlow. He told me: “My position as the Queen’s Swan Marker is more than just an annual expedition up the River Thames. I have to deal with issues affecting swans, for example moving them when necessary to keep them safe.