Friday, 18 May 2007

Respect Your Elders!

The elder trees are just starting to come into bloom. Which means it will soon be time to make some elderflower cordial - yum! This fragrant cordial tastes to me like the very essence of wild, faery-magickal midsummer. Every year I make a batch and then vacillate between wanting to give some to everyone who visits so they can taste how gorgeous it is and jealously guarding my stash because I know it will be a whole year before I can make more.

To increase my supply I've been trying to cultivate some more elders in the garden but it's not been easy. Elders are regarded as weed trees by most folk. As such you'd think they grow like, well, weeds. But that doesn't seem to be the case. I've tried sowing elder seeds but they didn't germinate. I've hunted for self-sown elder seedlings but so far drawn a blank. My cuttings didn't root. In desperation I actually transplanted an elder seedling from a flower bed in my parent's garden in Essex and brought it back here to Wales. It made a good start - and was promptly strimmed to a stump by my husband, T. Optimistically, I put some protection around it and it sent up a few shoots, so I removed the protection - and T strimmed it again. This time I replaced the protection and left it, and the poor thing is once again sprouting, although I suspect I may have to wait a few years before it is up to any kind of flower production! In the meantime I have hunted in plant nurseries for additional elders, but as 'weeds', they just aren't available to buy (unless you want a highly expensive foreign species, sambuca nigra, which is admittedly very pretty, but just not what I want).

It makes me ponder just what it is that makes us designate one species desirable and another not? What is it that makes people struggle to grow, say, palm trees in the UK? Or roses in the desert? Why battle almost impossible odds to grow something somewhere it isn't suited to and doesn't want to be? (hmm, the irony of this juxtaposed against the previous paragraph has just struck me. But I'll carry on and hope no one else notices... ahem....) Sadly, I suspect it may be something to do with the perceived kudos of getting one over on Mother Nature. Perhaps in say, Antarctica or sub-Saharan Africa, elders are the last thing in chic gardening circles. (And while we're on the subject of gardening insanity, what is this obsession with grass? I have known people literally crawl around their garden trimming the lawn with nail scissors, just to get that 'velvet bowling green' look - but never actually set foot on it in order to preserve the perfection. I thought the whole point of growing a lawn was that grass is hard wearing and therefore the perfect thing to walk on. But then, I like my lawn natural looking, complete with a good sprinkling of daisies, clover and dandelions. Perhaps it's just me.)

But back to the noble elder, which 'weed' or not, has much to recommend it. Elders are pretty, don't take up too much space, their flowers and fruits benefit wildlife as well as having many culinary uses, the twigs can be used to make whistles, the leaves deter biting insects, and the berries are one of the few effective natural anti-viral medicines we have. And that's just for starters! OK, the leaves do smell a bit unpleasant, but you can't have everything.

Elders also have a rich folklore - from the Hilder-moer (Elder Mother) spirit who lives in and protects the tree to it's association with the fairies. There is a great article about the folklore and uses of the Elder by Glennie Kindred here:

So by now I bet you're all desperate for a fragrant, refreshing glass of chilled elderflower cordial! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of elderflowers, here's the recipe - give it a go. Just remember to leave enough blossoms for the insects and birds to enjoy.

Recipe for Elderflower Cordial:


12-15 sweetly scented umbels of elderflower (thick stalks removed)
900g/2lbs sugar
1 lemon, sliced
32g/1.15oz citric acid

Pour 1 litre/1.75 pints boiling water over the ingredients in a large earthenware bowl. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave for 3 days. Stir well each morning and evening, being careful to replace cover.

Pour into small sterilised bottles and seal, or freeze in ice cube bags to use as required.

To use:
Dilute with water, add ice cubes and maybe a slice of lemon. Find a beautiful spot in the garden and toast the magical elder - cheers (or as they say in these parts, Iechyd Da!)!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Rainy Day

It's another rainy day. For over a month we basked in unseasonably warm and sunny weather, but a week and a half ago it all changed. From wearing sandals and T-shirts I am back to boots and woolly jumpers. As someone said, 'we had May in April and now we're having April in May'.

Unfortunately the change in the weather coincided with a visit from my Mum & Dad. Many of our planned outings had to be shelved, although we still managed to have fun. We visited Cilgerran and its picturesque ruined castle perched precipitously on cliffs high above the Teifi river, went to the Gower and watched the surfers whilst walking on Llangennith beach, ate out at the highest pub in the Preseli mountains (Y Tafarn Sinc), shopped in Carmarthen and Narberth, and somehow 10 days sped by. Mum & Dad left this morning, and although I wish they could have stayed longer I suppose I needed to get back to serious work! There are a million jobs awaiting me in the veggie patch alone - May always seems to be such a busy month.

But I have to confess, it's not too inviting out there. From baked dry a fortnight ago, the clay-ey soil is now wet & sticky, and the weeds have put on a quite amazing growth spurt now the rain has soaked in ('just add water!'). I have been sitting way too long playing with my blog, eating cheese on toast and drinking Earl Grey (comfort food!). Ah well, duty calls. If I don't get on with it and bite the bullet, the weeds will take over completely.
On second thoughts, perhaps just one more mug of Earl Grey...

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Magic in the Mist

It was a cool, wet, misty morning. As I stepped out of the back door to start the daily chores, a movement caught my eye. Overhead a heron flapped slow, silent wingstrokes across the sky, unhurried and graceful for all its size. Isolated from sounds by the enveloping misty drizzle, it was a moment outside time. I could just as easily have been an Iron Age woman starting the day outside her roundhouse, suddenly transfixed by the ghostly appearance of the breathtaking bird.

This old, magical land often feels to me like there are many strata of time and experience overlaid into an almost tangible fabric. I often feel that if I were just a little more sensitive, a little more attentive, I could break through the veil into the thousand other lives and experiences which are woven into an exquisite yet delicate pattern, telling the story of this land through the ages. Neighbours have told me that the lane we are on was once a Roman Road; there are standing stones and ruined castles nearby; sometimes in the garden I turn up pieces of broken china, the fragile bones of a deceased vole, a child's lost toy, a cobbler's last (our house was originally owned by a cobbler). The stories this land has to tell, if I only knew how to ask, or to hear.

This part of the country is the supposed birthplace of Merlin. Truth or myth, it seemed credible on such a morning, as the silent, elegant heron flapped enigmatically away into the mist.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007


Spent a fantastic weekend in Portsmouth at the British Reclaiming Spring Gathering. We did ritual together, had a couple of fantastic workshops and an interesting meeting, talked, laughed, danced the maypole, drummed, sang, ate and generally had a great time. Thank you to everyone who worked on the Gathering to make it such a success and thanks to everyone who attended for making it such fun!

Can it really be ten years since all this started at the first Avalon Witchcamp( Looking around at the the laughing faces dancing the maypole - beloved friends who are also talented and inspiring teachers, organisers, priest/esses - I realise how lucky I am to know such people. I realise how much has grown out of that first camp in 1998 (and the subsequent ones). I realise how lucky I was to stumble across the flier that led me to my first camp. And I realise how it has changed my life.

Yes, I know that sounds corny. But really, it has. In the last ten years I have grown hugely in confidence, branched out in directions I could never have imagined, found wonderful friends and confirmed this is the right spiritual path for me when I was initiated into Reclaiming-Feri last year. All of which is due to my experiences at Avalon.

This year's camp will be our tenth. I hope there will be many more. But even if it were to be the last, I'm confident that Avalon has had a lasting postive influence on my life. And I look forward to seeing where the next ten years will take us...

Happy Beltane!