24 September 2011

Pears from the past

Like most fruit trees our Beurre Bedford pear down our  garden in Sedlescombe has fruited well this year.  This is fairly surprising as it is a self-sterile variety, though I expect there are plenty of potential pollinators around.

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The tree is a graft I made from one of the old pear trees that used to grow in the orchard at Austford Farm in Brede High Woods.  The fruit above are a bit battered because they grow too far up for me to reach, so we have to gather windfalls.

The variety was first recorded in 1902 and was identified by the fruit naming service of the Royal Horticultural Society.  It was raised by Laxton's of Bedford.

I often reflect on how the people who used to live at this long demolished farm might have selected and grown these pears and other fruit and I think of our tree as a bit of living archaeology.

In 1927 the celebrated Irish-born gardener and writer William Robinson said "Beurre Bedford is superior in quality to many October pears and, being a strong grower and free cropper, it should soon become widely grown."

6 September 2011

Fences and stinkhorns

On one of the wettest and windiest of September days we walked round the recently cleared areas of the old Austford farm looking at the new fences built to contain the cattle that will be arriving soon.

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The bottom strand of the three wires is not barbed, so people's dogs will be able to go to and fro the fences without injury.

Near the north west corner of Holman Wood Field we found a fine stinkhorn fungus, Phallus impudicus, at the woodland edge.  It was in almost perfect condition (rare for this species) and attended by ants, one of which can be seen descending the stem (below), as well as by the usual carrion-loving flies.

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In the Mushroom Book by Nina Marshall (1923) there is a wonderfully Scott Fitzgerald style description of the stinkhorn's unmistakable smell: "An overpowering fetid odour suddenly evident upon the premises has many times filled with consternation the guests at summer resorts, causing among them much speculation, with suggestions of bad sewerage, and carelessness on the part of their host, together with other comments equally disastrous to the reputation of the place."

W. C. Radley, a doctor from South Devon, wrote enthusiastically in The Lancet in 1841 about the medicinal powers of dried and powdered stinkhorn which, he claimed, cured dropsy.  He also said it had a power of "allaying pain equal to morphine".  Although he was clearly convinced, no one else appears to have followed his lead.