Archive for 14/06/2013

Ouse Washes: The Heart of the Fens

Heritage Lottery FundThe Fens do not appear in the theatre very often. Not having seen this piece myself just yet, but having heard an interview with the director on the radio recently, I was intrigued: ‘Ours was the Fen Country’ is a dance-theatre piece that uses words, movement, music and lights to conjure up some of the atmospheres of the Fens, some of the heaviness and also the beauty.

For Ours Was the Fen Country, Dan Canham interviewed more than 30 Fenland people, from eel catchers and farmers, to stable owners and people who spent their whole lives there.

This is how the promotional website for this work describes the piece:

For the past two years Dan Canham has been capturing conversations with people of the fens in East Anglia. Eel-catchers, farmers, parish councilors, museum keepers, molly dancers and conservationists have all been interviewed. In this etherealpiece of dance-theatre Dan and his…

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‘PROPER see-saws made with a long plank so that you can go very high and have to hold on tight… don’t often see such exciting ones now. A missed learning opportunity?’ (Let the Children Play)

‘Seesaws go by several different names around the world. Seesaw, or its variant see-saw, is a direct Anglicisation of the French ci-ça, meaning literally, this-that, seemingly attributable to the back-and-forth motion for which a seesaw is known.

In most of the United States, a seesaw is also called a “teeter-totter”…. the term originates from the Norfolk language word tittermatorter. A “teeter-totter” may also refer to a two-person swing on a swing seat, on which two children sit facing each other and the teeter-totter swings back and forth in a pendulum motion….

In the southeastern New England region of the United States, it is sometimes referred to as a tilt or a tilting board. Makeshift seesaws are used for acrobatics.  Speakers in northeastern Massachusetts, United States, sometimes call them teedle boards. In the Narragansett Bay area the term changes to dandle or dandle board…. “There are almost no “Teeter-” forms in Pennsylvania, and if you go to western West Virginia and down into western North Carolina there is a band of “Ridey-Horse” that heads almost straight south.

This pattern suggests a New England origin or importation of the term that spread down the coast and a separate development in Appalachia, where Scotts-Irish settlers did not come from New England. “Hickey-horse” in the coastal regions of North Carolina is consistent with other linguistic and ethnic variations….

In Korea, one form of the seesaw is known as a Neol (널) and is used for Neolttwigi  (널뛰기) by women and girls, though in South Korea the playground variety, the same as is known elsewhere in the world, is also commonly called a see-so (시소).’

Source: Wikipedia

photo via Precious Childhood

The tobacco plant - Nicotiana tabacum

The tobacco plant – Nicotiana tabacum

Nicotiana is a wonderful garden plant, its highly scented flowers providing a heady scent on warm summer evenings. I grew a large group of N. sylvestris one year which provided both an eye – catching feature and intoxicating fragrance for my younger daughter’s wedding celebration – truly memorable.

I guess ‘intoxicating’ is the right term as the tobacco plant is one of the most important plant discoveries in history, albeit one whose chief product we have come to understand and increasingly reject as a major cause of disease.

Fortunately though, the ‘baby hasn’t been thrown out with the bath water’ and we can still appreciate it as a garden plant, and its one which I grow each year and place in groups around Old School Garden as well as along the main entrance path at Gressenhall Museum where I volunteer.

Indigenous to the Americas, Australia, south west Africa and the South Pacific, there are various Nicotiana species, all commonly referred to as ‘tobacco plants’, though it is N. tabacum that is still grown worldwide for production of tobacco leaf for cigarettes etc. Nicotiana can be annuals, biennials, perennials or shrubs – some 70 species are grown as ornamentals.

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana sylvestris

N. sylvestris is a stately plant which looks well at the back of a lightly shaded or sunny border, or grown in bold groups. It’s flower heads seem to explode like a graceful firework. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM). There are many variations in size, colour and fragrance between the species and hybrids. Older heirloom species are often identified by their genus and species name.

Nicotiana alata - photo Carl E. Lewis

Nicotiana alata – photo Carl E. Lewis

Its genus name, designated by Linnaeus in 1753, recognizes Frenchman Jean Nicot, ambassador to Portugal from 1559-1561 who brought powdered tobacco to France to cure the Queen’s son of migraine headaches. Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) coined the name ‘Nicotiana’. However, Nicot’s credit as the first to bring the plant to Europe is wrong as it was known in the Low Countries after being brought there by Spanish merchants in the 1540s.  Knowledge of the plant by Europeans dates from 1492 when Columbus’s sailors saw it being smoked in Cuba and Haiti.


Many of the species names refer to a characteristic of the plant. Nicotiana alata gets its species name from the Latin word meaning winged, referring to its winged petioles (the stalks attaching the leaf blades to the stem). N. sylvestris, from the Latin sylva, meaning of the forest or woodland, possibly refers to its native habitat. N. langsdorffii was named after G. I. Langsdorf, the Russian Consul in Rio de Janeiro who organized an expedition to explore the inner regions of Brazil in the 1820’s.

Other varieties include:

N. affinis = related to, probably N. alata (= ‘winged’), some use it as a synonym. The ‘Night Scented Tobacco Plant’

N. x sanderae = ‘Sander’s Tobacco’, a group to which most of the newer hybrids belong

N. suaveolens = sweet smelling

Nicotiana can be used as specimen or bedding plants, in borders, woodland gardens or containers. Heights range from less than 1 foot to over 10 feet. They are long-blooming, attractive plants with trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of green, white, red, and pastels. Some species have attractive foliage. They are fairly easy to grow from seed. Contact with the hairy foliage may irritate the skin.

This year I’m growing  N. sylvestris in a border along with Verbena bonariensis and Ammi majus – a new combination for me and I’ll show you the results later in the summer!

Nicotiana x sanderae hybrids

Nicotiana x sanderae hybrids

Sources and further information:


Growing Nicotiana (USA)

RHS Plant finder

The Poison Garden

Fine Gardening- plant guide

Nicotiana alata ‘Grandiflora’ is the most highly scented tobacco plant you can grow. It has delicate creamy-white flowers which are delicate in bright sunlight, so best planted with a little shade.Nicotiana are a great family of very long-flowering half hardy annuals, many of them with lovely evening and night scent. Nicotiana are moth pollinated, so pour out the fragrance when the moths are around.- See more at:
Nicotiana alata ‘Grandiflora’ is the most highly scented tobacco plant you can grow. It has delicate creamy-white flowers which are delicate in bright sunlight, so best planted with a little shade.Nicotiana are a great family of very long-flowering half hardy annuals, many of them with lovely evening and night scent. Nicotiana are moth pollinated, so pour out the fragrance when the moths are around.- See more at:

Quizzicals: answers to the two clues given in Plantax 11…

  • Where policemen spend their holidays- Copper Beech
  • Feline relative – Catkin

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Place in Oxfordshire painted a gaudy colour
  • Tie up skinny coward

Special thanks to Les Palmer, whose new book ‘How to Win your Pub Quiz’ was published recently. A great celebration of the British Pub Quiz!

Old School Gardener

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