Thursday 17th June
Last Sunday Ivan preached on the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32); he explained that the ‘mustard’ plant in the parable was as much a ‘wild’ species as it was a ‘cultivated’. That got me interested and researching.
The Greek word used mustard is sinapi and the equivalent Hebrew word is hardal. According to Pliny it was grown in gardens, but didn’t really need cultivating as it just popped up where ever. But in the Jewish tradition (the Mishnah) it states that it is not a garden vegetable, but is grown in the fields (as in “flowers of the fields”).
There are a few contenders for the mustard plant of the parable, mostly members of the Brassica family which includes cabbages, cauliflowers, radishes, horseradish, turnips and broccoli.
All the mustards have small seeds (about 1mm diameter) and are rapidly growing annuals; indeed, a seed can start to germinate the day after planting. Our contenders are: Black Mustard (Brassica nigra), White mustard (Sinapis alba), Wild Charlock (Sinapis arvense) and the Mustard Tree (Salvadora persica).
Black Mustard (Brassica nigra) is an upright, lanky plant with large stalked hairy leaves; it can reach a height of 3 metre growing in the wilds of Jordan where it forms thickets, which could indeed shelter birds. It blooms in spring in Palestine, each flower has four bright yellow petals, which later from long seed pods containing four round black seeds. The seeds are the smallest of the mustard contenders and ‘mustard-seed’ was used as a figure of speech, for the smallest measure of size. (www. jewishvirtuallibrary.org)
The seeds are used as a fiery cooking spice and when ground make the most pungent type of mustard.
White Mustard (Sinapis alba) probably originated in the Mediterranean region and is naturalised in the UK, and is now found throughout the world. It’s an annual species growing to 700mm tall and has pinnate leaves and yellow flowers. Each pod contains about 6 pale brown seeds which can be ground with vinegar to make a mild flavoured mustard. The leaves are edible before the plant flowers. White mustard is also grown as a fodder and manure crop throughout Europe.
Wild Charlock (Sinepis arvense) is a common weed in Israel and in the Mishnah is called lafsan (Wild Charlock). It is also found to the UK on roadsides, railway tracks and waste ground. It looks similar to Black Mustard, but is actually not in the same genera. It is much shorter and the seeds are larger. The leaves are eaten as a vegetable, the seeds can be ground to make a mild mustard and oil extracted from the seeds. It’s also known as bazzocks, bread and marmalade and wild kale in the UK.
Mustard Tree (Salvadora persica)
This a small tree typically 6-7m tall with a crooked trunk with a pleasant fragrance of mustard. The leaves break with a fine crackle when walked upon and the tree produces small reddish-black edible berries in clusters, juicy but pungent, which later yield small round seeds. It is a native of desert flood-planes, river banks and grassy savannahs in the Middle East.
Small twigs of the tree known as miswak are popular for cleaning teeth in the Arab world because of their antiseptic properties, and the fresh leaves are used in traditional medicine. But perhaps its large berries make it an unlikely candidate for our mustard-seed candidate?
The two species from St James's list of pioneer herbaceous plants this week are Gallant Soldiers and Rosebay Willowherb.
Tomato blog: artist, Sara Mark writes ...
An unexpected pleasure arising from tending the tomatoes is the number of people I've met and conversations I've had - builders (who have respectfully moved along a bit when they're sitting against the railings on their morning break so they don't squash them), office workers, people who are homeless, concert goers, Caffè Nero staff (when walking through with a watering can), Simon the flower stall proprietor who is very protective of them and the local dogwalker has worked out a grand plan for an Organic Mayfair tomatoes enterprise ...
Greenfly and Aphids
Thursday 10th June 2021
We have an insect theme this week; Greenfly and Aphids it turns out are best-mates. In return for protecting greenfly from ladybirds and other predators, ants feed on a sugary solution secreted by greenfly called honeydew; they even transport them from plant to plant to new pastures to keep up the yield! And while on the topic, did you know that worker-ants live for three years and the queens up to thirty!
Head over to the Eco Church at St James’s Piccadilly Twitter account to catch up with daily postings #30DaysWild featuring plants from the Southwood Garden and courtyard. Day 9 features Liverworts.
As part of our 30DaysWild activity we have been spotting pioneer plants growing ‘wild’ in the courtyard paving and chalking their names. The rain has now washed away all our efforts but we will have another go! Have a look when you’re next here.
The two species from the St James's list this week are Canadian Fleabane and Crepis. Both have windblown fluffy seeds and are pioneer species.
Thursday 3rd June 2021
Thursday 3rd June 2021
41 species of pioneer herbaceous plants sprung up from the chaos in the aftermath of the bombing of St James’s Church in1940. It turns out that many of them were not native to the UK; some were bought here by botanical explorers from the volcanic slopes of Sicily or even as taxidermists stuffing, as in the case of Oxford Groundsel and Canadian Fleabane! Our SJP species list contains plants that are resilient pioneers, opportunists even, adapted to thriving in harsh conditions, but interestingly some are cultivated as cash-crops in other parts of the world.
Last week the UN designated 22nd May as BIODIVERSITY DAY to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, with the #ForNature. The main conference will be held on 11th October 2021 in China, with a focus on “the nutrition, food security, and livelihoods of people, especially the most vulnerable”. Head over to THINGS TO READ here.
ROGATION WALK click here to read a report on our Rogation Walk around the parish boundaries on Sunday 30th May 2021.
Our Plants of the Week are number 3 and 5 on the SJP species-list. One hails from the Mediterranean where it is a common wayside-weed and the other from North and South America where it is cultivated as a leaf vegetable and the seeds traditionally ground into a nutritious flour.
"Give us today our Daily Bread ..."
Thursday 13th May 2021
Thursday 13th May 2021
Last year, the community of St James’s Piccadilly, grew and harvested our very own wheat. This heart-warming endeavor was recorded in our DAILY BREAD project; a series of 31 collaborative ‘posters’ exploring topics that arose in each season. From wheat genetics, Middle Eastern history, Medieval philosophy, the botany of grasses, William Blake, poetry, eco-theology, and much more.
AFTERMATH: weeds & wilding is our new collaborative project, facilitated by Artist (Sara Mark), poet (Diane Pacitti), and scientist (Deborah Colvin).
AFTERMATH: weeds & wilding. As we begin to emerge from the COVID epidemic in the UK we look back at a previous catastrophic event which occurred 81 years ago. In October 1940 St James’s Church took direct hits from explosive and incendiary bombs and was reduced to a near ruin in the first phase of the London Blitz. The aftermath that sprang up from the ruins was a colony of 42 species of ‘weeds’ which were identified and listed by Prof. Edward Salisbury, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
On Palm Sunday, 28th March 2021, a selection of these ‘weeds’ have been sown in the box that previously grew our wheat, and members of the St James’s community from Gloucestershire to Dorset, Sussex, Essex, Leicestershire and across London have sown their own seed mixes. We await an aftermath of prolific, resourceful and resilient plants that previously flourished in chaotic and precarious times. We hope to rediscover their gifts of flourishing and fruitfulness as God’s hope in these post-pandemic days.
Want to be involved? please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
BOMB BOX. A specially made micro-environment designed to mimic the nitrogen-rich but nutrient poor conditions of a bomb-site. These are found naturally in conditions such as forest-fires or post-volcanic eruptions.
The posters for the side of the planter were designed to reflect the month of April: Sowing.
One of the aims is to question false hierarchies: and perhaps the whole concept of ‘weeds’ - which in the case of the St James’s species are wind-dispersed pioneer-herbs, some of which are important food crops in other parts of the world, have medicinal properties or are valuable food/habitat for animals.
BOMB BOX. Members of St James’s Community sowed a selection of seeds from the list of 42 pioneer species, which was discovered in the church archives.
Head over to the Things to watch and listen to pages to see Sara Mark’s video based on a series of mono-prints that she made depicting the wonderful variety of shapes and sizes of the various seeds that arrived with the wind. The prints were also digitally printed onto fabric and then installed in the courtyard to be borne on the wind once again as piece entitled AFTERMATH: seed prayers.
Thursday 20th May 2021
Our theme for May is Emergence and after a very cold wet start to the year, we can at last welcome some more of our weeds as they germinate in the BOMB BOX. The first green shoots of Black Horehound (Ballota nigra), Common Vetch (Vicia sativa), Canadian Fleabane (Erigeron candensis), Gallant Soldiers (Galinsoga parviflora), Corn Chamomile (Anthemis arvensis) and Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) have popped their heads above the rubble and we can already see their different morphologies.
One of our community growers has sent in a photo of her seedlings enthusiastically emerging into the light; she tells us that she has had to thin them out quite drastically. Do let us know how your plants are faring!
The Harbinger tomatoes are establishing themselves and beginning to clamber up the railings alongside the Bulbous flower stall. The rain and wind along Jermyn Street have been unrelenting, so it’s impressive that they are doing so well - there is hidden resilience in this heritage variety that more modern forms are lacking.
Many people who check out the vines growing right on the street have said ‘but people will steal the tomatoes!’. To which the answer is “help yourself, there is abundance here” - and it suits the plants to have their seeds spread far and wide.
Every week we will be introducing a couple of the weeds growing at St James’s post-Blitz, from the list compiled by Prof. E Salisbury in the 1940’s. He identified 42 species on site and the first one listed is Fool’s Parsley: the origin of its name will become apparent!
This week we will be updating our four BOMB BOX words; we like to think of them as a mini-Haiku that captures something of the season... we might ask Diane Pacitti our poet-in-residence to write an actual haiku next month.
“Weeds thrive in the company of humans ...”
Friday 14th May 2021
Quotation from WEEDS: How vagabond plants gatecrashed civilisation
and changed the way we think about nature by Richard Mabey (2010)
It’s 6 weeks since we sowed our seed mix in the BOMB BOX, and still only the corn chamomile has really got going! Several other species are just poking their heads up after this week’s rain and warmer air today.
Above. BOMB BOX is beginning to show signs of life after a very cold Spring.
The Corn Chamomile (Artemis arvensis) has made a quick get-away but other
species are only beginning to show their heads. The Male Fern (Dryopteris felix-mas)
was bought as a small pot-plant because they are slow to germinate at the best of times!