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A Week on the Estate: Frosty Spring, Blooming Blackthorns & Cleansing Lemons

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The estate is looking resplendent in this cool, bright spring weather, but conditions are a tad challenging for our wildlife and livestock. Overnight frosts have been frequent and while the temperature seems set to rise next week, there’s no end in sight for the prolonged dry spell that’s left the land parched in places. Drought or deluge seems to be the new normal for Eastern England.

In the Walled Garden, the ground was warm enough to plant this season’s root vegetables. Supervised by one of our curious Lincolnshire Buff cockerels, we dug suitably deep and well separated rows and planted parsnips, onions, beetroot, carrots and potatoes.

Out and about, Estate Manager Paul Barnes photographed some magnificent blackthorns in full bloom. Our resident Master Distiller Tristan Jørgensen is thinking ahead to all the lovely sloes these trees will yield in the autumn.

blackthorn composite

The blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) is always quick to welcome spring with its effusive white blossom, even when the weather’s chilly enough to make other trees wait. This abundance of blooms makes the blackthorn a vital source of nectar for early pollinators in the colder weeks of March and April. After flowering, its leaves provide food for all manner of caterpillars, which in turn feed the nesting birds for whom the blackthorn’s dense, spindly branches are prime real estate.

In the right setting, the blackthorn can live for a century and grow to 6m in height. While it prefers plenty of sunlight and water on well-drained land, it is hardy and adaptable, doing equally well in both planted hedgerows and unmanaged scrub and woodland.

As the Latin name suggests, the blackthorn shares a common ancestor with plum trees and both produce dark, intense fruit. After pollination, the blackthorn’s flowers develop through the summer into the sloe berries that traditionally go into that warming winter liquor, sloe gin.

fruit & gin still

On the subject of fine tipples, Tristan Jørgensen has been stocking up on limes, lemons, oranges, strawberries and raspberries courtesy of J Shaw & Son of Louth. These fruits will form part of the complex and secret botanical mix of his Massingberd-Mundy artisan gins. The citric acid from the lemons also proved a sympathetic and natural way to give the inside of Angelica – Tristan’s 120L production still – a good spring clean.

Finally, the latest instalment of ‘Our Days’ comes courtesy of Cecile Stevenson, Kath Brown’s ‘littlest bridesmaid’. This week, Cecile tells the story of the day she visited South Ormsby Estate to mark the scattering of her Auntie Kath’s ashes near St Leonard’s Church, 80 years to the day after she served as a bridesmaid at her wedding.

 

* Blackthorn flower image courtesy of Michiel Thomas via Flickr CC

* Sloe image courtesy of Dean Morley via Flickr CC

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