The Iniquity of Unpaid Labour

When I began my life in archaeology in the early 1960s, I worked for several groups of amateurs as a volunteer. I had zero experience, even less knowledge, but boundless and ill-directed enthusiasm. Looking back on those times I am not surprised that the people in charge gave me heavy jobs, like shovelling, mattocking and pushing loaded wheel-barrows. That was usually in the morning. By the afternoon my surplus energy had been burned off and I was in a fit state to be taught the delicate and subtle arts of trowelling. At that stage in my life I had yet to start higher education, and I viewed the digs that I went on as part of that process. Put another way, I don’t think I was being exploited in any way at all; it was a genuine two-way process: the excavation made use of my youthful strength and I learned specialised skills and discipline, in return. It was also a relatively brief process that lasted for my pre-university ‘gap’ year. After just one year at university I was able to get paid ‘volunteer’ jobs followed, quite quickly, by assistant and supervisor roles.

I began directing excavations in 1971. Our digs were professional so-called ‘rescue’ excavations, which took place ahead of factory development on land that was soon to become part of Peterborough New Town. The people who did the hard work of excavations were still termed volunteers, but by now they were paid – although very little. I used to work as a paid volunteer on various mainly Ministry of Works sites when I was a student and I managed to pay off most of my debts and college bar bills that way. As professional rescue (now known as contract) archaeology became increasingly important in the later 20th and early 21st Century, amateur archaeology carved-out its own niche. Sometimes these were cheerful community-run, self-funded affairs, but they could also be highly rigorous research projects whose standards were at least as high as the very best in the contract world. The point I am trying to make is that in archaeology, the worlds of professional and amateur have acquired quite distinct and separate identities. Normally I am in favour of breaking down such artificial barriers, but for reasons that will shortly become clear, I am no longer quite so sure.

Over the past ten or so years I have been observing how members of the next generation set about finding work. Mine is a middle class family. Some of my relatives are well-off, others are less so, but most of their children have had problems gaining employment if, that is, they decided not to get a job in the worlds of farming, finance, commerce, law and industry. I won’t say that the youngsters who decided to follow those careers paths have been without their problems, but I don’t think they were exploited in quite the same way. And of course they were soon reasonably well paid. The people who have had a hard time were those who decided to work in the theatre and film/television, in social work, in charities, amenity gardening (as opposed to commercial horticulture) and the arts. And yet the sad thing is, these were all subjects in which Britain traditionally played a leading, pioneering role. They are also fields that have become professional and employ large numbers of people. But sadly a significant proportion of that supposed employment is nothing of the sort. Now I fully concede that from an economist or politician’s viewpoint you cannot have arts unless you also have people who are prepared to buy the created work; but today I think the scales have tipped too far in one direction. I also suspect that future critics might well judge that some of the films, plays and artworks produced themselves reflect that bias: to my eyes they are often either dumbed-down and over-populist, or elite and very metropolitan. What has happened to subtlety and charm?

Whenever I speak to people at the start of their working lives, one of the commonest complaints I hear is about their exploitation in the dreaded internships. Now I cannot speak from personal experience, but I have to say, these sound like little more than schemes to acquire not cheap, but free labour. Maybe I’m wrong: maybe there are good, non-exploitative internships, but it’s hard to avoid the other conclusion. What I abhor is the way that it has somehow become quite OK to exploit amateurs within a professional organisation. To my mind that idea stinks. It is moreover profoundly corrupting and is doing more to widen the have/have not divide and the distance between the Westminster political elite and the rest of the country than almost anything else.

I had long suspected that the situation was bad, but my eyes were only opened to the extent of the problem by a superb blog post by Alice Smith who has experienced internship many, many times. She writes from the bitterest experience and her words are given added strength by the fact that she has recently emerged on the other side and now has a paid job in the professional theatre world. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking that Alice is a star-struck wannabe actor. No, her interest lies behind-the-scenes, on the administrative and managerial side. She loves theatres and how they work. That’s what motivates her. It’s an absolutely gripping read, and not too long, either. And you must be made of stone if it doesn’t affect you. Take it from me: you MUST have a look:

http://alicelsmith.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/fringe-theatre-playground-of-the-privileged/

And if like me you Tweet, please tell others about it. And now I must get back to the lambing pens. Why can’t humans be as straightforward as other animals?

Posted in Archaeology, Tirades | Tagged , , ,

Norfolk Biffins (or Beefings)

I must confess I find the sort of apples one buys in supermarkets rather boring. Yes, they look nice and they are generally sweet and crunchy, but isn’t life about more than sweetness and crunch? What about flavour and texture? What about contrast and subtlety? There are times I worry about the dumbing-down of British palates, eroded by the incessant onslaught of marketeers’ blandness. Yes, I agree 100%: by all means ban the smoking of cigarettes in cars with children; but I’d also make it a hanging offence to eat fast-food in front of impressionable youngsters. And people who give their babies chocolate deserve to be slowly… But I digress.

Now where was I? Ah yes, I was going to write about Biffins. ‘Oh no,’ I hear a groan, ‘Not Biffins: everyone knows about Biffins.’ Well for that tiny minority who don’t, a few words of explanation might be appropriate. To sum up. If you went into any bakery in Norfolk in the 19th (I nearly said ‘last’) Century you would probably encounter trays of Biffins. And soon they had become very popular in London and elsewhere. Essentially, Biffins or Beefings were oven-dried apples, but of a particular variety (the Norfolk Beefing), which can still be found in select nurseries today.

According to Wikepedia, the oldest recorded reference to Norfolk Biffins is 1807. We planted our tree about five years ago and this autumn it gave us two apples. In Victorian times, bakers would put their beefing apples into their bread ovens as they were cooling down after the main baking session, to make use of any residual heat. We used the warming oven of the Aga (which runs at just below boiling temperature). The bakers would weigh their apples down with trays and suchlike, so give them their distinctive flattened shape, but this takes a certain amount of practice to get right; and of course too much weight would split the skins – and the biffin then rapidly dries out completely – to a leather-like consistency. So I pressed our two apples at the end of the process, when we reckoned the skins would be good and tough.

We grow about 15 types of old apples in our small orchard and we know from experience that many traditional ‘keeping’ varieties (such as the 18th Century (1708) Ribston Pippin, which we’re currently eating), develop sweetness and complexity through time. The textbooks suggest the best months to eat various varieties, but in our experience this will vary hugely from one year to another. Frankly, nothing can beat a few exploratory nibbles. Too often we’ve left the starting of a box of apples until the ‘correct’ time, only to find them over-ripe and woolly in texture.

So first give the apples time to develop some taste and texture (we conducted our little experiment in early December). Then pack them tightly in fresh, dry hay (which you can buy bagged in pet and animal feed shops) in a dish or bowl. When you think they’re ready, press them carefully, while they’re still warm and flexible. Ideally they should be less than an inch thick, although I think ours turned out very slightly fatter. Or you can just place the bowl in the oven and check at hourly intervals. Failing that, you can do what we did: put them in the warming oven over-night, and hope for the best in the morning.

You can find recipes for cooking Biffins on the internet, but if you’ve gone to the trouble of making your own, I’d strongly suggest you eat them plain, without ice cream or custard. Frankly, they’re absolutely delicious. Incredibly complex with a wonderful lingering, aromatic aftertaste. Personally, I don’t mind eating tough skins, but some delicate modern mouths might find them a bit much. And I’d also leave the core (mindful of the fact that ripe apple pips are quite toxic if chewed). Oh yes, and a glass of port enjoyed with the Biffin is superb!

Incidentally, I wonder what Charles Dickens would have written about modern supermarket food?

Our two Norfolk Beefing apples before oven-drying

Our two Norfolk Beefing apples before oven-drying

The apples wrapped in hay, ready to go into the oven

The apples wrapped in hay, ready to go into the oven

A wrinkly Biffin ready to be pressed

Wrinkly Biffins ready to be pressed

The finished, pressed Biffin

The finished, pressed Biffin

Bitten biffin

A bitten Biffin

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , ,

The Adventurous Doll

One or two serious-minded people have been silly enough to suggest that there ought to be more archaeology in this blog. So this post is for them – with my love.

When she isn’t working with prehistoric wood, cooking me delicious meals, slaving away in the garden or acting the midwife in the lambing pens, Maisie likes to knit and sew. She was taught by her mother and at Dorking Grammar School in those post-War days before people became self-conscious about ‘gender stereotyping’ and suchlike. Anyhow, give her a needle, thread and yarn and she can make anything.

This year Christmas was a little hectic. Maisie was working on a major excavation and was, as they say, up to her eyes in wood. So the doll she had decided to knit for her great-niece didn’t get finished on time. In fact it was only finished yesterday (March 3rd). And already it’s had some ripping adventures, which I’ll tell you about shortly.

Maisie has boxfuls of old (the correct term is ‘vintage’) knitting and sewing patterns, many torn out of magazines by her mother, who is sadly no longer with us. The doll in question was featured in Woman’s Own for November 7th, 1981 – which cost 19p (!). So that’s the archaeological content out of the way (phew!!).

Woman's Weekly

Doll in outdoor clothes

The doll is wearing a smart green dress and is also equipped with a yellow cardigan, plus a warm woolly hat, scarf and gloves, for outdoors. And it was when she was taking a stroll in the garden, wearing her warm clothes that she met a rather unpleasant gnome who lived in a hole somewhere in the long border. We don’t like him very much, but we can’t bring ourselves to evict him, because he offends the good taste of our smart London friends – and that gives us both HUGE amounts of pleasure. Anyhow, the gnome had just made a rather unpleasant, slighting remark about the doll’s hat. A passing cat heard what had been said and was about to give the rude gnome a severe biting, when he pulled himself up onto the edge of the jardinière and made a rapid exit. Gosh, that was a near escape!

Doll and jardiniere

Back indoors the doll (who we are going to allow our great-niece to name) took off her outdoor clothes and sauntered into the sitting room for a cup of tea (I almost said gin-and-tonic). There she came across the head of Minnie Mouse. At first it gave her a bit of a turn, but soon she realised it wasn’t real. Just a cushion. (To be quite honest I couldn’t face writing another adventure. Sorry about that.)

Doll in indoor clothes

Minnie and doll

Posted in humour | Tagged ,

Holy Islands (hidden bits of)

This coming Sunday (March 2nd), at 8.00 PM on Channel 4 we’re going to be shown the latest of the Time Team documentaries we filmed last summer. They were fun to shoot, but I must admit I very much missed the noise and team-spirit of the regular excavation shows, now sadly finished forever. There was also a huge amount of travelling involved, with lots of driving, crowded trains and even a flight (to Orkney, which I’ve already covered in a post last year). We were asked to suggest various themes and I came up with ‘Holy Islands’. Channel 4 liked the idea, but as time passed the commissioning editors started to change their minds and the programme changed shape, so that now (I think) it’s about prehistoric holy places and mummies. The mummies, incidentally are those burials found in Bronze Age houses on South Uist at Cladh Hallan, back in 2001 by Mike Parker Pearson and his team from Sheffield University. I managed to include Mike’s site in the two films we made (again for Channel 4) of my book, Britain BC.

So as I’ve already discussed the Orkney part of the film, and have no wish to return to Mike’s mummies (which anyhow he can do far better than me), I thought I’d say a few words about the bits that never make it into the finished film to be screened on Sunday. Often they can be just as interesting as the main topic. I well recall filming a regular Time Team episode on Shooters Hill, on the southern approaches to London. The film was about anti-aircraft defences and other WW2 stuff (a spigot mortar and pill-boxes etc.) which had been sited on top of this prominent hill, which overlooks the City of London and the eastern approaches, from the south. While we were filming the geophys team revealed a large and gently curving ditch which I knew at once had to be ancient. So I immediately told the Director it was probably wartime and part of the outer defences to the gun battery. If I hadn’t told that little porky I doubt if we’d have dug it. But we did, and to my delight we proved it was a hillfort ditch that circled part of the hilltop and had an eroded bank on its outside. It even produced a couple of very weathered sherds of what looked to me like later Bronze Age pottery – somewhere around, or just after 1000 BC. So I was well pleased, as were the local archaeologists – but it never made it into the final programme.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, Northumberland.

The surviving buildings of Lindisfarne Priory.

This time the edited-out archaeology has been the other way around and prehistory has trumped WW2. No film that purported to be about holy islands could avoid a visit to Holy Island, Lindisfarne, with its stunning Priory that produced the world-famous Lindisfarne Gospels – for my money one of the most beautiful books to be created by human beings. We parked on the mainland side of the narrow causeway so that our cameraman could get some moody shots of the island in the distance, when I noticed a stunning double row of WW2 anti-tank cubes. They were hastily made from the poorly-mixed concrete that is so characteristic of the time. Then as we started to drive across, I suddenly realised that had there indeed been a battle, the wonderful Priory ruins would undoubtedly have suffered severely. Still, what were they to do? It’s easy to forget that Britain’s uniquely rich array of some 14,000 medieval churches is the result of not having endured major wars and land battles, unlike our neighbours on the continental mainland.

Two rows of WW2 anti-tank cubes, still in situ.

Two rows of WW2 anti-tank cubes, still in situ.

One of the Lindisfarne cubes, showing the distinctive, hastily-mixed WW2 concrete.

One of the Lindisfarne cubes, showing the distinctive, hastily-mixed WW2 concrete.

We were also filming a short distance south of Lindisfarne, at Low Hauxley, Northumberland, where Clive Waddington and his team have been excavating Early Bronze Age cist and cairn burials that have been eroding out of the cliff (and after that tidal surge in December, they dug them in the nick of time!). Again, we were pausing for a bite of lunch when I noticed that two massive concrete walls that extended out onto the beach, to protect the pumped outfall from a reservoir, were in fact made from wartime concrete anti-tank cubes that had been hauled or bulldozed there from elsewhere nearby. We know that at the end of the war, Britain’s beaches (especially along the east and south coasts) were covered in cubes and scaffolding and barbed wire. I’ve seen air photos taken, I think in   1944 or ’45, and there’s little room for bathers – anywhere. What strange times they must have been. I also wonder whether we today would ever be capable of rising to the occasion so swiftly. I cannot see planning officers or town hall bureaucrats granting anyone permission to erect such environmentally unfriendly things as anti-tank cubes, unless, of course, they were clad in timber and made to look Tudor, like some of the new housing estates. But I digress…

The cliff at Low Hauxley, Northumberland. The figure is close to the Bronze Age burial site.

The cliff at Low Hauxley, Northumberland. The figure is close to the Bronze Age burial site.

Low Hauxley, WW2 anti-tank cubes re-arranged to protect the outfall pipe from a modern reservoir.

Low Hauxley, WW2 anti-tank cubes re-arranged to protect the outfall pipe from a modern reservoir.

Posted in Archaeology, Broadcasting, Time Team | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Egg on Face…

A charming reporter from the National Geographic phoned me this evening. She wanted to do a piece on Stonehenge and the new visitor centre for their travel supplement. Suitably flattered I said something gracious and then started to answer her questions. Question 1:

‘Recently I was at the new Stonehenge visitor centre shop, where I bought a copy of your wonderful book Britain BC. So of course I thought you’d be just the person to answer a few questions…’

And then the questions followed, which I responded to as only I can. Simper, simper. Except that…

Except that, I recalled saying in my last blog post that:

“One consequence of the general ‘dumbing-down’ that is such a sad feature of so much modern marketing is that one rarely comes across anything interesting to read in an English Heritage or National Trust bookshop. Site guidebooks aside, it’s just the same old predictable, lavishly illustrated, if largely plagiarised, pap ground out by the usual celebrity suspects. Yawn, yawn. So I tend to spend my money on ice creams, which can sometimes be locally made and invariably stimulate my imagination far more than the books on offer.”  OUCH! Sorry English Heritage. Grovel, grovel…

Or was I right?

Oh God, now I’m assailed by horrible doubts….

Posted in books | Tagged , , ,

New Directions: Two Very Original Books on Archaeology

One consequence of the general ‘dumbing-down’ that is such a sad feature of so much modern marketing is that one rarely comes across anything interesting to read in an English Heritage or National Trust bookshop. Site guidebooks aside, it’s just the same old predictable, lavishly illustrated, if largely plagiarised, pap ground out by the usual celebrity suspects. Yawn, yawn. So I tend to spend my money on ice creams, which can sometimes be locally made and invariably stimulate my imagination far more than the books on offer. So now I’m going to suggest two books to take with you if you find yourself heading out into the countryside to visit ancient or prehistoric places.

Pagan BritainThe first is Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain (Yale University Press). I got to read it in proof stage, so that I could write a glowing reference for the back cover (not something I will agree to do if the book isn’t genuinely good, I hasten to add; I don’t get paid to do it!). It’s a superb piece of work and beautifully written, too. There isn’t so much as a hint of a textbook to it, yet it is packed full with facts. And don’t let the P word in the title put you off: that has nothing whatsoever to do with the sort of fruitcakery you’re likely to encounter if ever you’re mad enough to linger among the alternative crystal shops in Glastonbury (the town, not the festival). Hutton is careful not to remove the religions he discusses from the lives of the people at the time – as we currently understand them.  So I see it as a deeply rooted, or grounded, book, which sets religious and spiritual beliefs in their social context. To my mind it is just the sort of book one should read before visiting the newly made-over Stonehenge. And speaking as someone who has long been fascinated by ancient religion in all its bewildering and contradictory complexity, I rather wished this book had appeared thirty years ago, when I was wrestling with the problems of Neolithic ritual and ceremonial, as I tried to understand what had been going-on at Etton, some five and a half millennia ago (see my Seahenge, chapter 8). It’s a topic that has kept me stimulated ever since, and I will return to it in my next book for Penguin, which will be published early in October. The point is, that until quite recently nobody would have dared to have written about ancient religion if, that is, he or she wanted to retain so much as a shred of academic credibility. Thankfully, those dreadful, dreary times are largely past when to be a ‘scholar’ one had to stick to ‘hard facts’ and stay well clear of things that were ‘not provable’ or could be considered ‘speculative’. As I see it, we prehistorians are in the business of providing alternative models for life both in the crowded present and, perhaps more importantly, in the increasingly unstable future. And that requires imagination, not predictable stodge.

Which brings me seamlessly to my second book, Stonework, by Mark Edmonds and Rose Ferraby (Group VI Press, Orkney). In many ways the two books I have chosen to discuss could not have been more dissimilar. Pagan Britain is published by an established publisher of top quality books. It is thick, learned and packed with useful references. In many ways it exemplifies the old way of doing things, which is not to say, of course, that that will stop any time soon. But Stonework is, as the Pythons would have said: ‘something completely different’. For a start it’s self-published. Again, in the past the words ‘self-published’ could often be read as ‘unpublishable’; very often such books were produced by authors who were too arrogant to accept an editor’s changes. And sadly they were often tenth-rate. But with the coming of the internet all of that has changed. Now authors  can use Twitter and other social media to promote their work. Bloggers like me can write reviews; but it is not without its risks: I could have written something hostile, had I taken against it. Put another way, the ‘new’ self-publishing, whether truly self-done, or run through Amazon or Kindle, is not an escape from a real and hostile world. It’s another world of its own, entirely; another way of doing things, but one in which the author has far more control of his or her book’s production. In fact, I’ve been amazed by the extent to which I’ve been consulted by the nice folk at Unbound in the production stages of The Lifers’ Club. Never before have I been offered a range of styles and typefaces to choose from – and as for the cover(s), that has taken at least three attempts to get right. And now it’s spot-on. In fact, I’m delighted with it. But I digress…

No, the point I was so laboriously trying to make was that many authors today, especially those with an artistic or craft bent, turn to self-publishing to produce the book that not only looks right, but feels and handles right. Today, reading can be about far more than words and pictures alone. And Stonework is a prime example of this new genre of beautifully produced and crafted books. And being self-published there are few middle-managers and directors to ply with salaries and bonuses, so its price is very reasonable (just £25, which includes post and packing).

I first met Mark Edmonds, who wrote the words and did some of the illustrations for Stonework, many years ago, when he was a student. Since then he has become a leading authority on the Neolithic and has done some amazingly original research into the polished stone axes that were made in Cumbria and were exported all over Britain, between four and five thousand years ago. Etton produced loads of them, and Mark kindly described them in my final report (Etton: Excavations at a Neolithic causewayed enclosure near Maxey Cambridgeshire, 1982-7. English Heritage Archaeological Report No. 18 [1998]). Many specialists content themselves with classifying their chosen objects into endless categories and sub-divisions. Indeed those reports make an excellent substitute for diazepam, if you’re having trouble getting to sleep. But Mark has always been fascinated by why his chosen stone axes were fashioned in the first place. What made them so special and why did people seek out the wonderful creamy-green stone (that archaeologists labelled prosaically Group VI) and then quarry it? But they didn’t mine it somewhere convenient and low down, but high in the scariest cliffs of the Pike O’Stickle. I’ve looked up at those quarries, but the Fenman in me quakes at the thought of climbing up there, which Mark has done, of course, many, many, times.

So this book is a celebration of Group VI and what it might have meant in the past and how it affects us in the present.  It’s all about impression, feelings and time and is refreshingly fact-free. Mark describes it as ‘a different way of telling’. Personally I think you’ll get more from it if you can learn a bit about Group VI first. So if you don’t know anything about the topic I would strongly recommend that you visit the website which Mark has set-up (the tab ‘contexts’ gives you all you need to know in a nutshell):

https://sites.google.com/site/group6press/home

You’ll be able to read about Group VI there, and of course you can buy the book on it. There are some useful references, too.

I was going to include some photos of the book, but I have to confess my pictures couldn’t do justice to its texture and feel. So I gave up. Another friend of mine, Mike Pitts, who edits the CBA magazine British Archaeology has written a very good review of Stonework, and with pictures that do the originals justice. It’s well worth a visit:

http://mikepitts.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/stonework/

In two days time I’ll be poring over the first proofs of The Lifers’ Club. But there’s still just time to get your name in the list at the back (along with people like Mark Edmonds and Mike Pitts…). Meanwhile I’m wrestling with the plot of Alan Cadbury’s second adventure. The thing is, he never reports his stories to me the same way twice. It can be very frustrating and it makes the construction of a coherent narrative almost impossible! In fact, late last week I’d had enough. So I told him to get stuffed – I was that fed-up. Then yesterday evening he turned up at the pub and bought all the beers. So I suppose he’s forgiven, at least for the time being…

Posted in Archaeology, books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

More Words on the Weirdness of the Season

At last I now understand why politicians have invented Quangos (Quasi-autonomous non-governmental  organizations). It is of course to avoid blame. More to the point it’s to avoid having to make long-term decisions. So you tie the Quangos’ hands with stupid Treasury rules and then blame them when the Thames and the Somerset Levels flood. Meanwhile what’s happening in Holland, where the land is far lower-lying? Because the politicians there are more rooted in reality (i.e. they don’t inhabit a privileged Westminster Village), they realise that flooding events matter and affect the lives of ordinary people. So they have taken a long-term view and have set aside proper ‘washland’ areas that can absorb flood waters – indeed, we have similar things in the Fens (in part thanks to Dutch influence and advice).

My utter contempt for the short-termism of British (or more specifically Westminster) politics has just reached a peak, after listening to Eric Pickles MP blamed ‘the experts’ at the Environment Agency, whose Chairman, Lord Smith has turned round and blamed the Treasury who then pointed out that a previous (Labour) government had set the Treasury rules… Meanwhile, ordinary people, their farms and households, are being swamped beneath metres of sewage-filled floodwaters. That’s why I have just Tweeted:  ‘Dear Father Thames, hurry up: PLEASE flood Parliament!’ (and to my amazement it has been extensively re-Tweeted and Favourited). Trouble is, a far-sighted civil engineer, the great Sir Joseph Bazelgette, constructed the Thames Embankment while he was transforming London’s sewer system, in the 1850s and ‘60s and a by-product was the protection of the House of Commons (I discuss it in The Making of the British Landscape, pp. 548-9). So my selective flood almost certainly won’t happen – which I’m not really sad at, because I’d hate to see the Abbey and Westminster Hall under water. If only we could squeeze all the politicians into an Ark and pack them off to Mount Ararat… in evening dress…in the depths of winter. But I fear I digress.

But it has been a weird season. Yesterday we were pruning roses (me with a chainsaw, Maisie with secateurs) and Maisie came in for tea with this lovely little bunch of mixed David Austin roses. We’re very fond of his newly hybridised English Roses, which all have good disease resistance and most have fabulous scents.  They also survive well into winter and normally we can pick several for Christmas, but this year they have been exceptional. The varieties we grow include, Brother Cadfael, The Crocus Rose, The Generous Gardener and Sharifa Asma. Their leaves tend to get a bit blotchy in winter, but we don’t bother to spray against fungus then; life’s too short. Apart from the early bulbs, which I described in my last post, the other plant that has been wonderful this season has been Iris unguicularis (older gardeners will remember it as I. stylosa). It favours hot, dry rubbly and well-drained soil, so we have it close by a south-facing wall, in full sunshine, alongside a gravel path. Its flowers only last about 48 hours, but they smell gorgeous and are as delicate as any plant in the garden.

I’ve included two versions of the photo, one taken with, one without flash. They’re both very different. I suppose it depends on what you’re after: a record of the time, the flowers and the room, or a picture of the flowers. Can’t decide.

Oh, and one final thing. I made a mistake in my last blog post when I mentioned ‘agapanthus’; I should have said ‘acanthus’. Sorry!

Winter flowers (taken with flash)

Winter flowers (taken with flash)

Winter flowers (without flash)

Winter flowers (without flash)

Posted in Gardening, Tirades | Tagged , , , , , ,