16 February 2015


I've been doing quite a lot of digging lately and although my back protests slightly more than it used to, the gain is more than worth the pain for several reasons-

  • It makes the vegetable garden look tidy
  • It's a good way of getting warm on a cold and frosty morning
  • It gives the hungry robins and blackbirds some much needed soft ground to scour for worms and other assorted bugs
  • It turns up slug and snail eggs and exposes them to frost and hungry birds.

Nice and tidy
As I dug away, with my brain in neutral, I noticed a number of fragments of pottery being turned over with the soil. I've noticed them before, they are there every time I dig the veg garden over, but this time I decided they deserved a closer study so I picked up all the ones I found and put them in my jacket pocket.
By the time I had finished digging I had amassed quite a collection....and a pocket full of soil!

Just like Time Team!
So what have we got? Well, the most eye catching are the delicate blue and white willow pattern fragments, presumably from a plate or a cup in someone's best china dinner service. There are a number of plain white china pieces including a cup handle and some much thicker pale brown chunks which I suspect might have been a fairly heavy-duty bottle or storage jar. In the top right of the photo are two pieces that look like they might be from a casserole or pie dish.
At the top of the photo are some fragments of clay tobacco pipes. These were used from the late 1500's until the early 1900's when cigarettes consigned them to history. Clay pipes were fragile and had a fairly short life but replacements were cheap and plentiful. Maybe the ones I found were discarded by a previous gardener, leaning on his spade having a well-deserved smoke.

But where did all the pottery come from? I don't know about you but when I break a plate or a mug my first instinct isn't to throw the pieces into the garden; any right minded person would simply throw them in the bin. Aha! but in the days when the above crockery was broken there wouldn't have been 'bins' as we know them and certainly no regular rubbish collections. So what to do? The pottery bits won't burn so you can't put them on the fire and they won't rot down so there's no point putting them on the compost heap. 
Most large houses had a 'tip' for things like bottles, crockery etc, often located away from the house in a 'quarry hole', perhaps villages had a communal one? Sometimes broken crockery was incorporated into paths, but there is so much stone in the soil here I can't really see the need for extra material. Maybe the broken pieces were used as crocks in the bottom of plant pots to help with drainage and as the plants ended up on the compost heap, so did the crocks. 
Of course the tantalizing question is, did any of these fragments actually belong to Beatrix? Unless Natalie and the house team have some inside knowledge, I guess we'll never know!

Elsewhere in the garden I've ticked off another of my winter jobs by replacing the rustic fence in the vegetable garden. The previous one had been in place for two years and had become brittle and grown an interesting collection of fungi. I made the replacement from sycamore saplings from Monk Coniston garden and a couple of dozen two inch nails.



There's still not much flowering in the garden, the snowdrops are opening their petals on warmer days and the Viburnum tinus which I pruned rather savagely a couple of years ago has put out a few early blooms. 
Although we've had some bitingly cold weather recently, and it might just be wishful thinking on my part, there's a definite hint of Spring in the air (Florence, my ever chilly whippet has even been seen outside without her coat on!) and in honour of that, my musical link this month isn't 'Digging in the Dirt' by Peter Gabriel but this by the excellent Tom Waits.

Happy digging,

Bye for now.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener