Monday, 30 April 2012

Growing and using herbs at Blackden

We have just had a great weekend with some friends who live in France.  It is always a treat to see them, either here or in Provence.  Yesterday we went for lunch at Tyddyn Llan, a restaurant with rooms just outside Llandrillo further South and West into Wales.  It's a spectacular drive but there was no chance of seeing any of the marching range of the Clwydian hills or the beautiful hills at the head of the Vale of Clwyd up beyond Ruthin.  It was like driving into a wall of water.  The rain poured all day, drenched us as we sprinted from the car and threw itself at us in torrents as we drove home. The hills were spouting water in great gushes and falls of foaming brown.  Tyddyn Llan is a great place though with really exceptional food and gentle and discreet good service. You feel you could just settle down with good food and good company and while away a wet Sunday and that is what we did.

On Saturday we went to Blackden.  If you have read my blog for a while you might know about Blackden but I am going to tell you about it again anyway.   It is a place that can bear repetition!

Driving from here in North Wales to Blackden you leave the hills behind you and drop down to the lush Cheshire plain.  The stone or lime rendered houses give way to warm brick or sometimes to older,  black and white timbered buildings.


This is Little Morton Hall (and not my photograph as you can see), but it is perhaps the most spectacular example of black and white that I know locally.  You know you are in Cheshire without needing to read the road signs, now all in English instead of English and Welsh.   In such a short distance the landscape and buildings change completely.  Sheep here in Wales are replaced by dairy cows and the rolling hills become wide fields.  The farms are bigger and look prosperous and sleek.  In the middle of Cheshire and almost in the shadow of Jodrell Bank is Blackden.


Blackden is the home of Alan Garner, the writer, and his wife Griselda.  This is not sleek Cheshire, this is old, old Cheshire, older than imagining.  There are two houses here, Toad Hall on the left, where the Garners live, which is a medieval hall house, and the Old Medicine House on the right, once an apothecary's house and rescued by the Garners from demolition forty years ago in nearby Wrinehill.   It was taken down, piece by painstaking piece and  moved and rebuilt on this site.  But even these ancient houses are newcomers here.  The site itself has been in continuous occupation for ten thousand years.  You can't dig in the garden without turning over the past: Bronze and Iron age weapons and tools, musket balls from the Civil War in the 17th Century, shards of pottery maybe two hundred or two thousand years old.

The Old Medicine House now belongs to the Blackden Trust, set up by the Garners to preserve this site.  The trust runs inspirational courses and open days and exists to both protect and share Blackden.  Every year university students and others take part in an archaeological dig but you don't need to commit yourself for a fortnight, you can simply take a tour of the house and see some of the many beautiful, strange and ancient things that it contains or go on an open day to see what they do.  If you are within reach of mid Cheshire and at all interested in history, archaeology, literature or herbs, do go and see for yourself.  It is a place which defies description: beautiful, unsettling, peaceful and inspiring, a place where the past and the present push against each other and the air is thin.


If you are really interested in herbs you could come along to a course which I am running with Sue Hughes, Director of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.    Sue will be talking about how herbs were used in medieval and Tudor times and giving a tour of the Old Medicine House in the morning.  Sue knows more about the history of the use of herbs than anyone I know!  In the afternoon I will be looking at the newly planted herb garden, helping you identify herbs, common and not so common, and talking about how to grow them, propagate them and use them today.  Griselda Garner and I have been madly propagating herbs for months - feverfew, woodruff, lemon balm, sweet cicely, hyssop and thyme.   All the herbs which will be for sale have come directly from Griselda's garden or my own.


So if you can get to Blackden on the 23rd June come and see.  Places will be limited because the whole day takes place in the Old Medicine House or out in the gardens but I know it will be a day which will stay with you for a long time, a day out of time, and if you grow or want to grow herbs, you will never look at them in quite the same light again.  If you are interested you can get in touch through the Blackden website or just let me know!


33 comments:

  1. Oh that sounds marvellous - wish I could be there.

    The way you described Blackden...

    "It is a place which defies description: beautiful, unsettling, peaceful and inspiring, a place where the past and the present push against each other and the air is thin."

    ... reminds me of Alan Garner's 'Elidor' :)

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    1. It would be great if you could come. Anyone who loves Elidor will "get" Blackden!

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  2. I can imagine that drive! Blackden and the course both sound very enticing... sadly, too far away for me, but I shall enjoy your descriptions.

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    1. I would think we have had very similar weather in very similar scenery Chris! At least the world is green!

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  3. Oddly enough I'm going to the Open Day at Blackden on May 19th, I've been wanting to see these wonderful old buildings for a long time. I had wondered about doing the herb course as well but it's my husband's birthday on the 23rd June so I shall have enquire how he feels about me disappearing for the day:) This is my home territory of course as I was born and brought up in Macclesfield and my paternal ancestors were from Over Peover, Siddington and Mobberley. It's one reason that I love reading Alan Garner's books because I recognize the places in them.

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    1. Oh do come Rowan. It would be great to meet you. We shall be finished by 4 so you whizz home and share a birthday meal with your husband.

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  4. Would love to come...if only. It all sounds just lovely Elizabeth. Have fun x

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    1. I suspect it would be just your sort of thing Pipany. Such a pity Cornwall is so far away!

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  5. Sounds like a great place. I can't, unfortunately, make the herb day, which is annoying because I'm after some sweet cicely and it's a pretty hard plant to get hold of. We're not exactly close down here in south east Wales but the in-laws live north of Manchester so might take a bit of detour next time we're up that way.

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    1. Really sorry you can't make it. I could have a go at posting a very small sweet cicely to you if you like?. Blackden is certainly worth a detour if you are going to Manchester!

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  6. I'm trying to picture people on ladders and scaffolds with tiny paintbrushes and cans of white paint, when it's time to spruce up Little Morton Hall... what a job that must be! Like painting the temples in Korea.

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    1. Must have been quite something and they would have painted something as grand as Little Moreton Hall quite often!

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  7. Oh, what a beautiful post, Elizabeth, even with the rain.

    Thank you for the reminder about the Garners' home. Your earlier post encouraged me to find his books at my library!

    I envy the folks who will be attending your herbal workshop. It's surely going to be a sunny day, no matter what the weather.

    xo

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    1. I am glad you read some of Alan's books Frances. It would be great to have you at the workshop. Maybe we need to run another in New York!

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  8. I can vouch for Blackden being a magical and fascinating place - and also for the Medieval herbs course which I attended maybe 2 summers ago. I'd love to go back and have a look at some of the archaeological explorations. One day!

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    1. Thanks Mountainear! You could go to one of their open days. The next one is 19th May and there is another on 15th September. Or you could even go on the dig itself. It is on from 20th to 31st of August and most of those attending will be university archaeology but there are always a couple of people who aren't. You could even just join them for a couple of days I think!

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  9. This was absolutely fascinating. I have never heard of it and only wish that I lived closer. Thanks so much. Joan

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    1. Do try to go if you get this far north!

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  10. Sorry, I can only manage a virtual visit. I've passed by Blackden many times (Himself is a Cestrian) but never had the opportunity to visit.
    I've not grown woodruff, but all the others deserve a place in any garden.

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    1. You probably need to plan in advance to visit but I am sure, from my slender knowledge of you through reading your blog, that you would find it absolutely fascinating.

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  11. Oooooooh would really love to be there Elizabeth but sadly already elsewhere that day. Hope that you all have a great day and that the course runs again in the future. Would be intrigued to know what I could do with sweet woodruff which I have a tiny patch of. I liked your description of crossing the border. I know that we are in Wales, as soon as we see the 'Araf' sign painted on the road. Bilingual roadwork signs do venture into Cheshire at times :)

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    1. It might well run again. There is normally a course connected with herbs. Previously we have done the historic perspective in terms of how herbs were used in Tudor times. This is the first time we have done one which combines that with how to grow them. With luck you might be able to make it to another one!

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  12. (perhaps we'll meet again on G+. Welsh Hills Again meet Elephant's Eye. Only on G+ that's E M meet Diana Studer. I am having to learn parallel universe names for familiar bloggers)

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    1. Me too! I never thought I had made it complicated!

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  13. Really very useful tips are provided here.thank you so much.Keep up the good works.

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  14. Cheshire is one of those counties I've obviously missed out on and will miss your course too, even though in such wonderful grounds and with learned tutors. I grow Sweet Woodruff in tough shade spots and now read that it can be used as a moth deterrent. Just what I need right now.

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    1. Definitely worth a visit to Cheshire if you don't know it. All moth deterrents clearly a good idea too!

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  15. A herb day with you - what an enticing prospect! I don't use herbs much, but I do grow them. I love hyssop, and grow it for the pleasure; sweet cicely also. Feverfew was a bit of a thug in my previous garden (such as it was) but pretty too.

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    1. Feverfew will take over but is lovely if you contain it. I can't imagine my garden without herbs.

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  16. Sounds tempting, and I can almost smell the herbs! Reading something like this after a blogging hiatus is really refreshing, more so when it's a killing 42 degree C here.

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  17. 42 degrees? I would be on the floor! You are not in Seattle anymore then!

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  18. Oh, it sounds wonderful, and I would absolutely love to see both the house and the gardens as well as hear your presentation!

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    1. You will have to factor a visit to the UK into your next journey home, not exactly convenient I know!

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