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Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Hello,

This week’s word is cohort (pronunciation here), which I came across in “Sticklers, Sideburns and Bikinis” by Graeme Donald.

A cohort is a Roman military term. You might remember a legion, it contained 600 soldiers. Each legion was sub-divided into cohorts of 60 infantry men each. They were a self-contained company, which makes sense as the original Latin referred to enclosure.

Roman Helmets

Cohort arrived in English in the 1400s with the meaning of being self-contained and it came to mean a walled court, garden, yard, or enclosure. It also retained the meaning of a group of companions which has persisted to modern English.

The hort element of the word, which has Latin roots as hortus or garden, went on to be part of horticulture. Perhaps the idea was that a garden is a way of enclosing part of nature. I love the notion of Roman infantry sharing linguistic roots with the flowers of a walled garden.

Enclosed medieval garden (Bloom 2016)

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I got that damaged thumb of mine checked out – I’ve torn ligaments apparently so my blog posts will be shorter than usual for the next 6 weeks.

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Hello,

This week’s word is forage. I was chatting about hedgerow harvesting this morning with Scout friends (it’s part of our Backwoods badge) and then couldn’t resist thoughts of foraging while walking. When I returned home I pulled out recipes for gorse wine and hawthorn blossom liquer. Foraging is addictive.

Hedgerow jam – damson & blackberry

Foraging entered the English language c. 1200s from Latin. Foragium was the Anglo-Latin word for fodder or food for horses and cattle. Around the same time it was in Old French as fourrage or fuerre which meant hay or straw, typically for animals. Frankish and old German had fuotar, fodr and fodr which all related to fodder or food.

Nettle soup anyone?

By the 1400s the word had moved on in meaning and related to plundering or pillaging. By the late 1400s that had changed to encompass the idea of roving around in search of provisions. From the 1700s onwards the notion had acquired a military twist. Foraging for provisions for the army’s beasts and soldiers was a vital skill when moving through the countryside. Those with the ability to live off the land were more likely to survive a campaign.

Plantain or Whitefoot – perfect for nettle stings

Luckily I don’t have to feed an army, although my teenage son gives me some insight into that particular challenge, but I love being able to use the environment around me to vary my diet and continue local traditions and folklore. Each year I add one or two new items to my foraging menu. If you’re interested there are great resources on Pinterest (you’ll find me and my foraging board there as GraceTierneyIRL) and the book “Wild and Free Cooking from Nature” by Cyril and Kit Ó’Céirín is a great starting point if you’re foraging in Ireland or the UK. There’s so much more out there than a few blackberries in the autumn.

Primrose – edible flower

Until next time happy reading, writing, wordfooling, and foraging,

Grace

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Hello,

This week’s word is exquisite. I was hiking on Sunday and admiring the new season’s ferns. I love the way they unfurl from the tightest little buds. A stem relaxes into existence and then each leaflet unrolls out from the stem itself. During high summer they’re easy to ignore, providing a green carpet under trees and along stone walls but on a bright spring day their exquisite growth dance is beauty in miniature.

The adjective exquisite entered the English language in the early 1400s from a Latin source and it meant “carefully selected” as it was a direct borrowing of the Latin word exquisitus which meant “careful choice” from the verb exquirere. Exquirere is compounded from ex for out (think exit, for example) and quarere meaning “to seek” (think query, for example).

It’s unclear how but exquisite’s meaning in English mutated with use. By the late 1500s it had changed to mean “something of delightful excellence”. By the 1700s it had refined to mean “something of delightful excellence produced by art rather than nature”. By the early 1800s it had a noun form which was used as another term for a dandy or foppish character.

Hence I shouldn’t describe the delicate tendrils of the new ferns as exquisite. They require no artist to tend them, but I still think they out-shine any sculpture.

Until next time, enjoy the small details in life. Happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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hazelnutsHello,

This week’s word is squirrel. They have been on my mind this week as I beheld my tiny hazelnut harvest (pictured left) and muttered darkly about “bushy-tailed urban criminals”.

I grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for my family’s table. I planned my garden to be productive, including as many native plants as I could. This involved me planting a hazelnut tree in my front garden. I researched it in the hope I could get hazelnuts (my favourite nut) but the books all said to plant at least three together if you wanted nuts and I didn’t have the space, so I selected a contorted hazel with curled stems that looks great in winter and an unholy mess in the summer.

We wind lights around it at Christmas and during the unwinding process one January I was stunned to find a scattering of hazels on the (hazelnut coloured) gravel beneath. I shouldn’t have been shocked. As I explored the lanes around our village I noticed other bushes in gardens and the motorway embankment is planted with native trees, including hazels.

Contorted hazel covered in ice

Contorted hazel covered in ice

I came to depend on a small hazelnut harvest each Christmas, growing as the tree grew in size. Not this year. This year it has halved and many of the nuts show signs of attack by tiny claws. I’m blaming the squirrels. There’s a healthy population of red squirrels in old woodlands nearby and I’ve spotted one clinging to the wall of my neighbour’s house. I’m all for squirrels and I’m happy to support our native reds over invasive grey squirrels any day but do they have to eat my hazelnuts?

Squirrels have been with us for some time (about 36 million years according to the fossil record) and they get everywhere, not just at my hazel tree. The word entered the English language  in the early 1300s. It came from the Anglo-French word esquirel. That came from the Old French word escurueil which was used for the beast or its fur (perhaps culled by angry nuttery owners). It came from scurius and sciurus in Vulgar Latin and Latin but it’s when we reach Greek that the fun starts.

The Latin words came from the Greek word skiouros which is formed from skia (shadow) and oura (tail or backside) with the idea being that the squirrel was a beast whose tail cast a shadow. I have a vision of ancient Greek squirrels using their tails to shade themselves from the relentless Greek sunshine, probably while nibbling on stolen hazelnuts.

Until next time remember to share the hazelnuts, the squirrels need them too,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

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Hello,

At the beginning of June I had a wonderful day out at Bloom (the Dublin version of the Chelsea Flower Show) and was delighted to find an unexpected local connection amongst the show gardens. Bremore Castle, a 15th century fortified house, has been undergoing renovation since 1994 by Fingal County Council and I pass it regularly. As the renovation process draws to a close the council joined with students from Blanchardstown Institute of Technology to create a medieval garden showcasing the skills they’ve learned during the work – stone carving, willow weaving, stone wall construction, etc.

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

It was a beautiful garden and particularly fascinating to me as I’m working on a novel set in that time period which has such a garden as a key setting #EasyResearch. One element which I loved was the small woven beehive, or skep, which was included as a reference to local Saint Mologa whose bee-keeping was legendary and contributes skeps to many emblems in these parts (even the logo of my Scout group which is apt as one of our former leaders is a bee-keeper).

Busy Bee

Busy Bee

The bees have been busy in my own garden with recent warm weather, especially around the patch of foxgloves. One packet of foxglove seeds 12 years ago is still giving us colour every year. They move around the garden, presumably with the wind, but I don’t mind where they turn up as they are so elegant.

Foxgloves / digitalis

Foxgloves / digitalis

The word skep was new to me however, so I had to investigate.

Merriam Webster tells me it’s a domed hive made of twisted straw. Beespoke (great name!) gave me loads of background info including how to make your own skep. The straw skep is now used for transporting summer swarms but formerly were used year round.

A skeppa was an Icelandic Norse word for a half-bushel grain measure – typically a rounded basket (turn it upside down and you have a skep). This travelled to sceppe, the Old English word for a basket, and finally to skep.  The first skeps were brought by Saxons to Britain about 400 AD, and would have come to Ireland shortly thereafter. First official mention of them in Ireland was when St. Gobhnait in Cork drove off cattle thieves by throwing bee skeps at them c. 500 AD. Irish saints were radical.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

p.s. Look who I found in the plant pavillion at Bloom. Definitely a friend of the blog.

IMG_0866

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Hello,

Today is glorious here. It’s only April so temperatures are still hovering around 10 Celcius (50 Fahrenheit for my US readers) but the sky is a clear endless blue and the weeds are growing in my garden. The breeze smells of summer and I spent Saturday planting early vegetable seeds – beetroot and peas outdoors, courgette, cucumber, borlotti beans, basil and peppermint indoors. There will be more to sow in May and June and my tomatoes are already six inches tall on the windowsill behind me as I write this.

My Garden Harvest

My Garden Harvest

With this lovely weather I couldn’t resist investigating an outdoor word and having taken my morning walk today on the local back roads I passed plenty of large open fields, some ploughed for crops, others in grass for livestock. Hence this week’s word is prairie (pronunciation here).

Local sunflower meadow

Local sunflower meadow

Most of you probably know that prairie is wide open grassland, typically in North America. I will always associate it with the wonderful children’s book series “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the television series. Do you recall the little girl running down through the prairie in the opening credits? I think my childhood obsession with having plaits sprouted from that child! Having short curly hair, I never did manage those plaits.

But did you know that prairie is actually a French word dating back to 1682? It originates with an Old French word praierie which in turn comes from the Latin word pratum – meaning meadow.

My own little wildflower corner in the garden - always alive with bees and butterflies

My own little wildflower corner in the garden – always alive with bees and butterflies

I’ve never been lucky enough to visit the American prairies but I can only imagine that they are much larger than any European meadow. It’s easy enough to imagine French settlers using their own term for grass fields and it catching on for the meadows’ larger cousins.

Until next time happy reading, writing and wordfooling. If you see a meadow, I dare you to run through it – but check for bulls first!

Grace

p.s. I’m still working away on Camp NaNo – ten days to go and plenty still to write.

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Hello,

No obscure word this week. I haven’t run out of them (although feel free to suggest some in the comments below). But my priorities for this month – substantive edits to one novel, planning a new novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and end of season garden work – have taken over the blog today.

The combination of the three tasks has made me realise that I view all three jobs through the one metaphor – gardening.

I’ve gardened enthusiastically since my teens and now that I have a garden of my own, about 30 square feet in size, I garden whenever I have time free from writing and my family. I designed the garden in detail before we moved in, researching the right plants, thinking about shade and sunshine, planning for all seasons. I put my vegetable garden (six rotating raised beds for tomotes, lettuce, courgettes, various beans and peas, garlic etc) in a sunny spot where they would thrive, near my herb bed. I added fruiting trees and a vine on the fence. I’ll be picking my grapes just before NaNo starts!

cutting garden croppedI laid out a native hedgerow along the back for wildlife, and turned the remaining sections into a cutting garden so that I can have fresh flowers during nearly every month of the year. There is very little in my garden which isn’t useful or beautiful, and preferably both. Which reminds me to make my descriptions work on the double by letting them tell me about the character doing the observing.

That sounds great, and it is, but it involves a lot of work. Taking the lawn out of the modern suburban garden involves a lot of open ground for weed seedlings so I get to do lots of weeding. Certain plants require pruning. Others grew too large for certain positions and had to be moved. No matter how good the plan, it will need tweaking.

Doing major revisions to my first novel this autumn has made me realise that I write in the same way that I garden. I plan first. It might not be down to tiny detail, but I will always have ideas on characters, setting, motivations, key plot points, etc in my head before I begin to write. I will, just like my garden design, often draw a map of locations first. I blame my childhood obsession with “The Hobbit” for my cartophilic tendencies.

Then I write a first draft. I won’t be happy until that’s complete. Would you leave a section of your garden unplanted?

But just as gardeners, especially annual flower gardeners or vegetable gardeners, will look every spring at what worked well and change their seed selections for the coming season, so too the writer has to look critically at scenes, chapters, characters and story. I often find that I see my garden best through the eyes of visitors. I will only notice that rampant creeper when a friend trips over it. The same thing is true for feedback from my critique partners or editors. I don’t enjoy when my father points out a giant thistle in the middle of my daffodils, but he’s right and ultimately I will don my thick gloves and get that thing dug out, to the betterment of the garden.

That process of improvement can, and should, go through many cycles. This week I’m clearing out lemon balm, a fragrant herb, from under my apple tree. If I don’t, I won’t be able to reach the Elstar and Golden Delicious eating apples for harvest just before Halloween. I’ve managed about half of the job so far and already I can see the fruit dangling down, ripening in the late summer sunshine. I’m also cutting words, scenes, and description from my novel and now I can see the characters more clearly, understand their motivations, and appreciate the curve of the plot better too. Less is definitely more.

apple_harvest_2008_with_treePruning a fruit tree is a bit of an art and I’ve built experience over time. Now I cut out branches that cross (rubbing branches leave wounds for disease), then prune for height (I’m short, not point in having apples higher than I can pick!), and remove boughs which will block the light from the fruit. I’m trying to “prune” my novel in the exact same way – remove bad bits, shorten the length for brevity, and finally edit out anything which lacks clarity.

But unlike a garden, where earlier in the summer I accidentally pruned a fruit-laden branch from my damson (wild plum) tree and halved my harvest in one snip, I can always restore words from backup if I go too far with my delete key.

If, like me, you’re revising or outlining, this week, take heart from the idea that each spring gives us a change to try again. Every draft, every new story, or indeed every NaNo, gives us that chance too.

Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

Grace is ML (organiser) for Ireland NorthEast in NaNoWriMo – a challenge worldwide to writers of all ages and experience to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. She’s currently revising her 2007 NaNo novel for the umpteenth time and planning her 2013 novel.

 

 

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