nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

harvesting colour – Meadowsweet

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Last week, we finished installing the new gate at our cabin.  To make our leveling easier, we had to cut some of the Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) growing in profusion along the road.   And into the dye pot it went!

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Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet

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My botany skills are showing their age.  When I learned my plants, we called Meadowsweet Spirea ulmaria.  But times have changed and so has the name for the genus (it will take me a while to get used to Filipendula!).  Other common names for Meadowsweet are Queen of the Meadow, Lady of the Meadow, Mead Wort, and Brideswort.

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Meadowsweet is a fragrant plant.  The scent of its flowers is reminiscent of roses – it belongs to the same family as the rose.  But the stem has a faint smell of wintergreen or almonds.

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Meadowsweet has a long history of use.  The chemical in Aspirin was first discovered in its leaves and named from the old generic name Spirea.  In past centuries, Meadowsweet was used as a ‘strewing herb’ to cover floors because its fragrance underfoot disguised less pleasant smells.  The Druids considered it sacred, along with Watermint and Vervain.  Across the internet, Meadowsweet is famed for being included as one of many ingredients in ‘save’, a medieval drink mentioned in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.   I have taken the time to read The Knight’s Tale and found the reference is not to Meadowsweet but Sage:

line 2713:  ‘Fermacies of herbes, and eek save’ (middle English)

‘Medicines made of herbs, and also of sage’  (modern English translation)  (see http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/kt-par0.htm )

I will continue to look for an ingredient list for this mysterious drink.

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The obsolete name for Meadowsweet (Mead Wort) is mentioned in Book II, Canto viii of Spenser’s Faerie Queen, referring to the making of Merlin’s sword:

‘The metall first he mixt with Medawart,   That no enchauntment from his dint might saue;’  (see http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/queene2.html#Cant.%20VIII. )

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Boiling the chopped leaves and flowers in water for one hour gave me an amber dye.

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amber dye from Meadowsweet

amber dye from Meadowsweet

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Wool roving, treated with alum and simmered in the dye for an hour turned pale yellow-brown, almost apricot in some light.

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wool roving dyed with Meadowsweet

wool roving dyed with Meadowsweet

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

 

Written by jane tims

September 1, 2014 at 7:02 am

harvesting yellow … yes, yellow!

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After so many lovely browns in my palette of natural dyes, I have despaired of seeing anything but brown when I lift my wool roving from the dye pot.   A friend suggested I try Goldenrod (Solidago sp.).   Goldenrod, in a variety of species, is plentiful along the roads this time of year.  So, this week, on a drive to see our newly opened section of Route 8, we stopped long enough to collect a bag of Goldenrod.

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Goldenrod along the new highway

Goldenrod along the new highway

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Collecting Goldenrod is new to me.  I am always worried it may cause hay-fever, but I learned during my fact-finding – Goldenrod is rarely responsible for triggering allergies.  Its pollen is large and heavy and transported by insects and not the wind.  Ragweed is the real culprit, according to my reading.

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a glory of Solidago

a glory of Solidago

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I also took a crash course in Goldenrod identification – Goldenrods have always stayed on my ‘refuse to identify’ list.  They are actually quite easy to distinguish in our area.  There are only 14 common species in New Brunswick and identification points include the size and number of basal leaves, leaf venation, the degree of stem hairiness and the general shape of the inflorescence.  It was easy to discover the name of the species I collected – Downy Goldenrod (Solidago puberula Nutt.)

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a bag of Goldenrod took no time at all to collect

a bag of Goldenrod took no time at all to collect

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The collecting experience?  Bright and very aromatic.  Smelling Goldenrod is like stuffing your nose in a dandelion.

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I had lots of material to work with, so preparing the pot of dyestuff was enjoyable too.  And the smell as it boiled – very sweet.  Most of the plants I’ve used for dyestuff have an unpleasant smell like boiling cabbage.

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Goldenrod added to the dyepot

Goldenrod added to the dye pot

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The result was a yellow dye.

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the yellow dye of Solidago

the yellow dye of Solidago

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But since the colour of the dye seems unrelated to the resulting colour of the wool, my expectations were low.  Imagine my joy when the wool emerged from the dye-bath a beautiful lemony yellow!

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wool roving, treated with alum and simmered for an hour in Goldenrod dye

wool roving, treated with alum and simmered for an hour in Goldenrod dye

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Yellow!  Sigh.

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 29, 2014 at 7:08 am

fortification against the sea

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On the second day of my virtual biking last week, I toured Porthleven, a large town along the Cornwall coast.  Street View had done its image-taking on a clear day, but the steep cliffs along the ocean made me ponder what it might be like to stand on this exposed coast in a storm.

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I wondered why so many foundations along the cliff side of the street were abandoned.  One of the foundations enclosed what might be a giant chess board!

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abandoned foundations along the coast at Porthleven (image from Street View)

abandoned foundations along the coast at Porthleven (image from Street View)

 

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Then I had a first glimpse of the seawall and signs warning sightseers to beware …

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seawall and clock tower at Porthleven (image from Street View)

seawall and clock tower at Porthleven (image from Street View)

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The harbour itself is a maze of thick, high walls and the piers of a now absent bridge …

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the fortified harbour of Porthleven (image from Street View)

the fortified harbour of Porthleven (image from Street View)

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A little searching on the internet found a dramatic photo (credit: Annabel May Oakley-Watson/REX)  of the clock tower in the first image above, during a coastal storm … (‘Should Coastal Britain Surrender to the Tides?’,  Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, February 7, 2014).  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/07/should-coastal-britain-surrender-to-tide

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(photo credit: Annabel May Oakley-Watson/REX)

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

along the pond

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On my stationary bike last week, I travelled (virtually) along the Cornwall coast from the mouth of Loe Pond to Rinsey.  During the week, I biked for 90 minutes, and saw 11 km of the Cornwall countryside.

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The first day took me from the mouth of ‘The Loe’, along the pond to just west of Porthleven, in Shadywalk Wood.

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from the beach at the mouth of Loe Pond to Shadywalk Wood (map from Google Earth)

from the beach at the mouth of Loe Pond to Shadywalk Wood (map from Google Earth)

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The beach is a wide crescent of endless sand …

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August 16, 2014  'beach at Loe'  Jane Tims

August 16, 2014 ‘beach at Loe’ Jane Tims

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The path along ‘The Loe’ is narrow, tree-lined and shady.  I saw lots of hikers and fellow bikers, but not a single car.

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a typical part of the path along 'The Loe'

a typical part of the path along ‘The Loe’ (image from Street View)

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August 16, 2014  'along Loe Pond'  Jane Tims

August 16, 2014 ‘along Loe Pond’ Jane Tims

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Biking along a shady lane, with no worries about traffic, thick ferny woods to one side and the sparkle of a pond on the other … a lovely way to ponder the days of summer …

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Copyright  2014    Jane Tims

harvesting colour – berries of Daphne

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With the help of a friend, I have been able to add Daphne berries to my growing list of plant dye experiments.  She invited me to harvest some of the berries from her Daphne bushes, before the birds ate them all.  We spent an hour picking berries and catching up with one another.  I went home with enough berries for my dye pot and some of her excellent photos of the Daphne berries.

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red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

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closeup of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

close-up of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

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Daphne’s beautiful crimson berries are poisonous, although the birds love to eat them.  I was anxious to see what colour they would bring to my growing collection of home-dyed wool.  I know from reading that the leaves and twigs of Daphne produce a yellow dye.

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In the dye-vat, the berries quickly lost their colour to the boiling water, making a pale rose-coloured dye.

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007_crop

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And the colour of the wool roving after an hour’s simmer in the pot?  A lovely yellowish brown …

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011_crop

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pretty side of poison

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exotic, elliptic

berries among laurel

leaves droop vermillion

toxic pills, birds immune

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spirit of bubbling wells

and water-springs, Daphne

drupes in rainwater seethe

and berries leach rosy

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waters blush at this strange

use of poison, tint the

roving, wool lifts yellow

brown dye from the kettle

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002_crop

scarlet Daphne berries

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 22, 2014 at 6:58 am

summer spaces

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Occasionally in these posts, I talk about our cabin.  When I was a child, weekends were always spent at the cottage.  It was a special place, partly because my Dad involved me in its creation.  I still remember how proud I was to fill one of the foundation boxes with stones. It was a place where we could play in the woods and dabble in a brook.  So it is no surprise that as an adult, having a cabin get-away has always been a priority.

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a view of the lake at our cabin property

a view of the lake at our cabin property

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Our cabin today is built on a hill overlooking a lake.  Originally, the property was a field overflowing with blueberry bushes.

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our lake property in 2005

our lake property in 2005

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Today, it is a young woods, mostly of mountain birch and red maple.  We keep the paths mowed with a bush hog pulled behind our ATV.  The treed lane I once hoped for is now a reality.  I still have a few patches of blueberries and lots of blackberry bushes.

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DSCF2877

one of our many paths through the birch and maple wood

 

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Originally, we intended to build a much bigger cottage – we even chose the plans.  But through the years the shed we built as a sort of garage has become our cabin.  It is small, only 19 feet long by 15 feet wide.  But it is big enough for my husband and I.

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building the cabin in 2010

building the cabin in 2010

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Earlier this summer, we hired a local company to finish the outside of the cabin.  We still have work to do inside, but having the exterior finished takes us a long way towards the time when our cabin will be a home away from home.

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our cabin, all the windows in and siding complete 2014

our cabin, all the windows in and siding complete, 2014

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We spent yesterday at the cabin.  We did some work on our entry gate, sat in the cabin and talked, and watched the dragonflies and blue jays.  Usually we also read, aloud, a couple of chapters of a book and have a picnic lunch. Life is fun!

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Do you have a cabin or a place to ‘get-away’?

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims 

Written by jane tims

August 20, 2014 at 7:04 am

a return to Cornwall and its gates

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I am back on my virtual bike trip along the coast of Cornwall.  This week I have travelled 9 km from Predannack Wollas to Loe Pool for a total stationary cycling time of 75 minutes.

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I have missed the Cornwall scenes of hedgerows and meadows, stone houses and seaside quays.  Mostly I have missed seeing the gates, so it is no surprise my first watercolour for this phase of my journey is the stone pillar to a private gate.

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August 12, 2014  'stone post'   Jane Tims

August 12, 2014 ‘stone post’ Jane Tims

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

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