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The Mysterious Case of Dartington Hall

A relatively new-found pleasure is scouring local charity shops for books on plants and gardens. As testament to my dedication to this pursuit, my next major purchase for the house may well be a much larger bookcase, as recent ‘trophies’ are now piling up on the floor. Notable captures include the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants with a stated retail price of £55.00 which I purchased for no more than £3.00, (my self-imposed limit)! These literary treasures are generally in excellent condition and some have become my go-to reference books on subjects such as pruning and propagation.

Recently my mind has been toying with the idea of writing a longer piece,almost as a proposal for an alternative way to supply goods (notably textiles and clothing) to the local community. To say new would admittedly be inaccurate, rather it would be a re-working of medieval practice. Toillustrate the point, I planned to use the example of the ancient town of Lavenham. Having visited this superb location that found untold riches in the wool trade some 600 years ago, I had picked up some very informative pamphlets from *The Little Hall Museum in the market square. This wonderful building, (built in the 1390s) for a family of clothiers,cannot be recommended highly enough. However, as Ronnie Corbett would say, “I digress”. The pamphlets had gone missing and although a rummage through all the likely places had failed, during a more systematic second search, a book fell to the floor.

The book in question was “In My Garden” by Christopher Lloyd OBE. To many in the world of horticulture the name is synonymous with gardening genius, a maverick whose custody of the house and garden at *Great Dixter in East Sussex saw many orthodoxies cast aside whilst remaining true to the spirit of the Arts & Crafts movement. Widely considered to be one of the most important gardens in England, my much anticipated visit in Spring 2019 had left me feeling ever so slightly underwhelmed. However, in the year that has followed, details from the garden keep flooding to the forefront of my mind, giving constant inspiration. Several return visits (now on hold) had been planned for this year to see the garden at different stages in the seasonal calendar. Not only an iconic gardener, Christopher Lloyd was also a celebrated writer, and the book in question was his twelfth published work, sitting along-side his regular column for Country Life magazine dating back to 1963. My copy had cost me 99p from Oxfam, in almost pristine condition, just a little creasing along the top of the dust jacket. The integral lilac woven- edge ribbon acting as bookmark encouraged the pages to fall open at page 109. Here can be found the beginning of a new chapter entitled “Nodal, Internodal and All That.” However, that was not the only thing to be discovered on page 109!

The temptation at this point was to quote Mr Roy on the Basil Brush show at story-time “that's all we have time for this week” but I would not be so cruel. No, the major discovery on page 109 was a white envelope with the following written in black ink on the front:

Dartington Hall

Seeds.

What are they?!

Dartington Hall is in Dartington, near Totnes in Devon, a beautiful part of the world and it is home to the Dartington Hall Trust. The aforementioned is described as “ a charity specialising in the arts, social justice and sustainability” which (at least to my ears) has the whiff of cult about it, though I am sure that is not the case. Inside the envelope were approximately a dozen seeds; how long they have been there is impossible to know. Of course, technically this might make me an accessory to theft, a receiver of stolen goods, but as I unknowingly acquired the seeds along with my purchase, this could be difficult to prove in court. So, the question asked on the envelope now directs itself at me, and I feel it my solemn duty to come up with an answer. The warm and temperate climate of Devon hints at the prospect of a magnificent sub-tropical species and after all, the seed collector as a general rule, tends to focus efforts on the unusual or rare. Equally though, if a successful germination reveals something modest it will be no less a triumph and a reaffirmation of the wonders of nature!

The tray has been prepared and the seed scattered, this post is…. to be continued……

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