3 JANUARY 1936, Page 20



In the flat meadows of a Midland valley, just before Christmas, with hoar like silver sugar on everything, skating seemed like the finest pastime in the world. When nearly all sports have become commercialised or cheapened or even embittered by publicity, skating remains a supremely friendly, social, beautiful thing, to be enjoyed for its own sake, without snobbish membership of dubs, absurd correctitude of dress or rules, uneasy rivalry or class distinctions. It stands at the other end of the scale from hunting, a democratic and friendly affair, as against the class narrowness of the meet. To skate easily round the track, in the almost red December sunshine, to meet friends, to stand quite still and take great breaths of ice air and stare at solitary bird-flights above the sugar willow-trees, and finally to skate off again with fresh wind is to experience some kind of exhilaration that no other sport and no other country pastime can give. It stimulates the mind in a most wonderful way, so that there seems to be more smiling and laughter on a stretch of ice than anywhere else in the world. The glumness of a Test Match or the mannered heartiness of a hunt meet become pathetic beside the gaiety on the ice. And, this year, skating in fog was a new and almost weird experience, the skaters like ghosts, the rime-bearded grasses and sedges at the marsh-edge like strange ferns in some phantom ice-age, the echoes of skates and laughter strangely magnified. It is this sound of skates that to many skaters is the most beautiful and exhilarating thing of all : the clear musical cutting of steel on fresh ice that carries so far on the quiet winter air. And, hearing it again after too long an interval, one longed for those fabulous frozen winters of country life in another century, when frosts were—reputedly—terrific, and men put on their skates by firesides and struck off from house doors for frozen rivers.

The Love Apple

"A tender annual ; of long trailing growth, producing bunches of large round berries, which are used by the cook and confectioner, as an ingredient in soups, as a pickle, and as a preserve."

This description, taken from Abercrombie's Practical Gar- dener, 1823, hardly seems at first sight to fit the modern tomato, of which 54,000 tons were produced commercially in this country in 1931-32. The year 1823 has some significance, however, for it happens to have been this very year when the tomato's value as a fruit was being recognised here. Although the earliest European reference to it had been by Matthiolus, in his herbal of 1554, and the first recorded cultivation of it in this country by Gerard in 1596, the fruit seems to have found nothing but disfavour until Sabine championed it in 1822. Matthiolus called it Maltz aurca and Pomi d'oro, apple of gold. Almost all pre-twentieth-century horticultural manuals call it the love apple. Today nearly 4,000 acres of commercial glass- houses are devoted to its cultivation in Great Britain alone, and the import total of 1933 was 145,150 tons. All estimates of the home-grown total must be rough, if not even speculative; since no possible account can be taken of the poundage pro- duced by every owner of a garden fence. To those owners and to all in fact interested in the cultivation of the tomato the Ministry of Agriculture's Pamphlet No. 77: Tomatoes (1s. 6d.

net) ought to be invaluable. It deals authoritatively with every aspect of the plant's cultivation, from sowing to gather- ing. It recommends, incidentally, the use as a fertiliser of dried blood, a compound which fed, last summer, some of the choicest fruit I have ever seen—fruit which, moreover, kept perfectly till Christmas.

Plough Monday

This year Plough Monday will fall on January 6th, which is also Twelfth Day. The occasion, remembered and celebrated regularly in my boyhood only twenty years ago, belongs, now, to the long category of vanishing country festivals, though it survives in the eastern agricultural counties, where boys .still blacken their faces, dress in white and collect coppers by singing some local form of the traditional mtunming ditty :

"Think a poor plough-boy, Give us one ha'penny. Coo--oome I" The day originally marked the end of the Christmas holidays and the return of the ploughmen to work, and the plough used in the procession was called sometimes a fond or fool plough, since the procession was fond or frolicsome and not serious, and sometimes the white plough, since the mummers were dressed in white. Mr. David Garnett has a description of the ceremony in, I think, Go She Must, in which those who give nothing to the mummers have their door-steps ploughed up. I have never otherwise heard of this, nor in fact have I ever seen the plough itself play any part in the procession. In recollection I see only what were for me the terrifying black faces of boys who were not plough-boys, all dressed in make- shift white smocks and carrying turnip-lanterns, and any nnunrnery which survived even twenty years ago was quite unconscious, and any meaning which Plough Monday still had had long since been commercialised. Originally there was also a queen of the subsequent banquet, but in my recol- lection there was no banquet, a celebration which would in any case, I think, have been too tough for most queens.

Flower Colours A correspondent to a gardening paper has been complaining of the lack of artistry and intelligence shown by compilers of catalogues. It is often necessary, he complains, to compare the remarks of half a dozen nurserymen before he can decide whether a plant is white or mauve or pale blue, whether it grows 3 or 5 ft., and whether it flowers in June or August. Most gardeners will sympathise with him. Miss Jekyll com- plained bitterly of the colour-blindness or colour-stupidity of those responsible for the descriptions of asters, one of her favourite flowers, though she disliked the pink and magenta varieties. It was the white and the smoky shades of mauve and purple that she liked so much and which were all-im- portant in the scheme of her famous grey border in late summer. Exactitude in colours was everything to her, and a scheme could be ruined by a nurseryman who knew no difference between purple and mauve or between mauve and blue, and finally she did no ordering of asters except during the flowering season, when she could trust to her own perfect eye to separate the most delicate shades and calculate their ultimate effect. Blue and scarlet seem to make the average nurseryman drunk, so that anything of washy magenta or vermilion becomes Scarlet Beauty or Scarlet Glory, and anything of mauve or purple becomes Heavenly Blue or Azure. As all gardeners know, there are precious few, blue flowers, and almost as few scarlet, but no doubt it is profitable sometimes to improve on Nature. Nevertheless, I have never yet, in spite of catalogues, seen a good blue phlox or a scarlet lupin, and Sidalcea Scarlet Beauty, seen in the grounds of a famous nursery last summer, flaunted chalky magenta spikes that were a disgrace to the raiser and an insult to a charming family.

Botanical English • Reginald Farrer, who let a good deal of fresh air into the various academic departments of horticulture, vigorously attacked the humourless use of that odd jargon, botanical English. The value of a recent treatise on the genus mecon: °psis was ruined for me by the inordinate use of this stupefying lingo, and the current issue of the otherwise delightful Curtis's Botanical Magazine loses much of its bloom for the same reason. The following reads like an extract front some horti. cultural Work in Progress: "Receptacle (ovary) subcylindric, 1.5-2 cm. long, Calyx orange-scarlet, campanulate, ventricoee, 1.5-2.5 cm. long ; lobes tlangular-subulate, strongly recurred. Corolla adnate below to the inside of the calyx tube ; lobes subulato, at first connivent afterwards recurved. . . . Fruit oblong—obovoid or almost elevated, I must add that all this applies to a charming and rare plant; Gurania malacophylla, from the Upper Amazons. Its flowers, though one would not guess it, are .rather like orange hyacinths, and the fruit exactly like green miniature silk-haired