Here we go...:round

the mul­berry bush with Mary Kemp

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE -

We have sev­eral trees in the gar­den, many that we have planted over the years, and sev­eral we have in­her­ited, but my favourite one of all is the mul­berry tree. When we first moved to the farm it was the only tree in the gar­den suit­able to hang a swing from; beau­ti­fully shaped in an old­fash­ioned way and pos­si­bly as old as some of the orig­i­nal parts of the house.

Then, in the storm of 1987, it was the one tree by the house that was blown over. It just seemed to keel over. The trunk didn’t break and most of the boughs were still in­tact and, incredibly, it sur­vived this or­deal, although we didn’t re­alise this un­til the fol­low­ing spring.

You of­ten find many mul­berry trees in prime po­si­tions by old halls and manor houses, and there of­ten seem to be sto­ries of how and why they came to be grown there.

This is a story I was told which, I would ar­gue, could have a grain of truth to it. It dates back to James I who, in the in 1500s, en­vi­ous of the French silk trade, de­cided he would use his con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence to cre­ate a silk in­dus­try in this coun­try. So, he ap­proached the King of France to sup­ply him with young mul­berry trees. By all ac­counts not too much re­search was put into this project and his­tory shows it went com­i­cally wrong. The trees ar­rived and were planted and, whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, (I will leave you to de­cide), the French sent over black mul­berry trees to King James rather than the white, which are the ones silk worms pre­fer, and so the English silk in­dus­try never got go­ing. This is why you may find mul­berry trees grow­ing by houses built around 1500s as landown­ers showed their al­le­giance to their King, and their sup­port of his ill-fated project.

The mul­berry fruit are dark oval berries that will stain your hands and your mouth and have a real tart­ness if you try them

too early. They used to lay dust sheets un­der the trees to catch the ripened fruit rather than end up with brightly-coloured fin­gers! The fruit makes won­der­ful jams and liqueurs.

The ma­ture leaves are heart-shaped, and it is said that one of the last em­per­ors of Con­stantino­ple called the south­ern ex­tent of Greece the Morea, be­cause it is the shape of a mul­berry leaf.

Ev­ery year the mul­berry is the last to show any form of life, be­ing one of the last trees to come into leaf. In fact, it is so re­li­ably late no leaf ap­pears un­til the last frosts are over.

But it’s the one I am al­ways re­lieved has sur­vived an­other win­ter and it has just come into leaf in the last cou­ple of weeks. I am not sure how old our tree is. I threaten ev­ery year to have some­one date it. Our house has its ori­gins in the 1500s and was orig­i­nally called Fal­con­ers’ Manor.

If the story of James I is true, and this house was a manor, then per­haps our tree could be re­lated to one planted at the re­quest of the king all those cen­turies ago.

I’m sure those long-gone chil­dren of Fal­con­ers Manor found what a great climb­ing frame it made, as did gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren fol­low­ing, think­ing it was their big, se­cret dis­cov­ery, as did our chil­dren and now our grand­daugh­ters. Their cries of de­light echo with those of other chil­dren go­ing back through the cen­turies, back to the time when King James thought a British silk in­dus­try was a good idea. Find out more about Mary Kemp’s cook­ery the­atres, demon­stra­tions and more recipes at

ABOVE: Fat, ripe mul­ber­ries; be­ware, their juice will stain fin­gers! Photo: Getty/ Joanna Tkaczuk

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