Last week I took my husband & a friend to visit The Manor at Hemingford Grey, near St. Ives in Cambridgeshire. This remarkable house, parts of which date back to 1130, is probably the oldest constantly inhabited house in England & was the home of the author Lucy M. Boston until her death in 1990. The Manor is now the home of Lucy Boston’s daughter-in-law, Diana Boston, & can be visited by appointment. It is difficult to describe the magic & atmosphere of the house & its gardens. The house is full of memories of Lucy Boston’s fascinating life & personality & also contains many of the items Lucy wrote about in her Green Knowe series of books for children.
The garden is a wonderful, magical environment. The more formal areas include collections of beautiful & rare roses & bearded irises & some fantastic examples of topiary. But it is the secret garden which particularly attracts me, with its moat & trees providing shade & mystery.
One majestic tree which features in Lucy’s stories sadly had to be felled a little while ago & its trunk now lies on the ground, providing a home for a beautiful collection of bracket fungi & lichen. This reminded me of a student at one of my summer school courses, who brought with her a selection of woollen samples dyed using bracket fungi. The colours ranged from lemon yellow to rusts & browns & this was the first time I had come across the use of bracket fungi as dyes. I have to confess that, to me, the bracket fungi are too beautiful to collect to produce colours which can be so readily obtained from other sources. I prefer to leave them alone. But if you have bracket fungi in your garden & need to remove them from their hosts, or if they are on branches waiting to to be chopped for firewood, it may be worth experimenting with them in the dyepot. Use an alum mordant & try out some of the colour modifers to vary the shades. (See the section on Dahlias for details of using colour modifiers.)