‘To Do’ List

This England - - News -

❁ 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.

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