Walking through Tyntesfield gardens the a year or so ago, I stopped to admire a reclining yet still growing mulberry tree. It was a black mulberry a notice told me – although there was no fruit on it. As I was admiring it, prostrate though it was, a man stopped and told me the tree was over a hundred years old, and the staff at Tyntesfield thought they had ‘lost’ it last winter, but fortunately it had survived. I think he must have been a volunteer at the place because a lot of properties belonging to the National Trust, of which Tyntesfield is one, are staffed by volunteers. Thinking of mulberries – so delicious – here’s something I wrote about them:
Many, many years ago I went to a wedding, and in the garden of the hotel where the reception took place was a mulberry tree. I’d never seen one before but of course I knew the nursery rhyme about the mulberry bush, and I knew that silkworms ate mulberry leaves. The reason I know this strange fact is that when we were at junior school we did a project on silk and we were given silk worm chrysalises. Coincidentally, just the other day I was telling my daughter about this very thing – that we had the chrysalises in a container of some sort, probably a cardboard box, and I was sitting at the kitchen table writing or drawing when I heard a scratching noise – and it was the silk moth breaking out! I was on my own at home and there was no-one I could call to share this marvel!
‘Here we go round the mulberry bush‘ is an old rhyme and game, and other words of other songs have been put to the tune – including the infernal/eternal ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round‘. These words have been known for nearly two hundred years, but how they originated is not exactly known; was it about the difficulty of growing mulberry trees to feed the leaves to the silk worms which were being kept to produce silk to rival the Chinese trade? Apparently mulberry trees are sensitive to the cold – although the one I first came across was in Cambridge which can get jolly chilly, and it was a huge mature specimen.
The reason I have been reminded of mulberries is that I’ve been looking at my dad’s old gardening book, written about eighty years ago by Richard Sudell, Practical Gardening and Food Production in Pictures’. I was looking at the different fruit that people grew in their gardens and on their allotments. So much for the Brits being indifferent to decent food! Grow your own and straight from garden to cooking pot!
Professor Sudell gives illustrated instruction on how to grow the usual fruit – plums, apples and pears, and also berries and currants and cherries, with dozens of varieties. – more than eighteen different apples alone! He gives advice on loganberries, vetchberries (a cross between the November Abundance raspberry and the common blackberry. The fruits are mulberry colour and ripen after raspberries and before blackberries.) lowberries (black fruit similar in shape to the loganberry, but with the flavour of the blackberry, which it also resembles in habit of growth) quinces, figs and nuts.
Professor Sudell says of the mulberry:
A fine mulberry is often seen as a feature of an old garden, but of recent years fewer have been planted.
Almost any garden soil suits the mulberry, but on heavy clay the fruit may not ripen properly. It can tolerate the smokey conditions of town gardens, but appreciates a position on a wall or in a sheltered corner in cold localities.
Mulberry leaves are much in demand by children who keep silk worms, as the worms thrive on them.
The fruits resemble large red blackberries and have a pleasant acid flavour; they ripen in August and September and fall from the tree when ripe. For this reason mulberries are best planted in lawns, where the falling fruit can be gathered easily. When the tree is on dug ground, the fruit is spoilt by getting covered with soil. Mulberry jelly can be made and the berries are delicious in tarts.
Of course our gardens are no longer smoky!