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Journal

The magic of the alder tree

Alder tree

This month I have been designing around the alder tree - and it was fascinating looking into the history and folklore of it.

In some parts of Ireland it is allegedly still forbidden to cut down alder trees. The link to the supernatural is strong and to some extent the fear of repercussions must linger.

The tree has wood is white when cut but soon starts to turn rusty red, a symbolic bleeding that has linked the trees to supernatural life, folklore and superstition for millennia.

This magic, coupled with the prevalence of alders in the damp west, leads to Alders being an important sign in Celtic astrology.

In Celtic Astrology - an ancient Druid belief system - the year is divided into 13 lunar cycles, each symbolised by a tree.

The Alder symbolises the 18th March - 14th April and those born during this period are said to be path finders, adventurers, creators - with the tenacity needed to solve problems.

Anything with an alder on it would be a great unusual gift for someone whose birthday falls in the second half of March or first half of April (it bridges Pisces and Aries in the better known zodiac).

We have alders growing along the bank of the stream that borders our garden - they relish the wet conditions - the seeds require saturated ground to germinate, and seem to resist deer attack better than any other species.

Alongside from its magical colour changing trick, the wood has a couple of really interesting properties which have led to its importance.

Though the wood rots quickly above ground, it becomes hard as stone in water. The crannogs which peppered Scotland in the Iron Age were built on alder piles, as, more recently, was much of Venice.

The wood also has an incredibly high burning temperature - the highest of any wood which would have been readily available within the British Isles or Ireland. This meant that it was highly prized for forging metal - the amazing Celtic jewellery and swords would probably have been created in an alder fire.

This video from The British Museum shows how a Celtic torc would be made - the laborious hammering of the gold alloy bars into smooth wires would have needed good high burning charcoal.

I know that they aren't 100% sure what much Celtic metalwork was used for, but there is a feeling that much was for rituals - I now have a vivid picture in my imagination of an iron age scene, the reverence in cutting of the alder trees, the making of the charcoal, the forging of the torcs.

All that from a few twigs of alder catkins and google.

You can see the Alder collection here

Comments: 1 (Add)

Helen Outen on January 22 2018 at 16:21

Hi Jane,
Saved this the other day to read when I had time. Very interesting. I have a little booklet about amny types of tree....lots of info. It's put away safe......if and when I can find it I will send it to you.
Helen

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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
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I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
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This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
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It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
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When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
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The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
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The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
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My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
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Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
Abundance.⁠⠀
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And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
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My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
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So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
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I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
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It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
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My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
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Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
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Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
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But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
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This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
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This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
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White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
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The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
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Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
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We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
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Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
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Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
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It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
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Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
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Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
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So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
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An attempt to keep momentum.
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At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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