Celebrating the history of Cressing Temple Gardens

Three cheers for the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens! They have been awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for £63,900 to carry out essential renovation to the garden structures, produce a year in the life of the garden film, improve the way we explain the garden to the public and inform them about the plants and invest in more volunteer opportunities and nurture volunteer skills.

The news was well received by Essex County Council who own the site. Dee O’Rourke, Head of Culture and Green Spaces said: “We couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens group for their work and success in securing this funding. The volunteers play such an important part in helping us maintain the beautiful gardens and setting that is Cressing Temple and we can’t wait to see how they put the funding to use for this exciting project. We are sure our many visitors will be just as thankful to them as we are.”

The site manager was also very pleased: “Lovely news this week for the Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens group of volunteers. We are thrilled for the Cressing group and can’t wait to see their work over the coming months. Our parks rely heavily on the role volunteers play in working with us and we are so grateful.” Want to know more about volunteering with us? We’d love to hear from you – find out more on the Country Parks website    http://www.visitparks.co.uk/volunteering/

We will keep you posted as this project takes shape. The first job is to replace the floor of the viewing platform, which has been closed to the public for several months, and we have been keen to get cracking. You can see the perilous state of the floor here.

The volunteers and Cressing staff made light work of dismantling the old oak floorboards.

Unfortunately this revealed the rotten state of the joists which will need to be reinforced before the new floor goes down. One thing leads to another in this kind of job.

We are now eagerly awaiting the start of the repairs by our carpenter, an expert in traditional timber frame construction. Watch this space for blow by blow updates on our progress.

And now for another triumphant achievement, how about this:

Tim, seen here admiring the mighty mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum) which took quite an effort to wrestle out of the ground. As I’m sure you know, the folklore surrounding this plant and its extraction is legendary.  In medieval texts the root was often depicted wit a strangely human appearance and all manner of special powers were attributed to it.

Our medieval forebears liked nothing better than attributing meaning to things they came across in the natural world and the mandrake plant has had more symbolism attached to it than perhaps any other plant.

Here are just a few of the superstitious beliefs surrounding this plant.

The root was believed to turn into a miniature human and scream in pain when dug up, which was carried out in darkness at midnight. Animals were often used to pull it out, avoiding the inevitable curse of the malign evil spirit that lived in the plant which would inflict madness on anyone brave enough to attempt it. How are you feeling Tim?

In ancient times strange rituals were built around the gathering of this plant. The Greeks believed they first had to draw three circles around the plant with a sword, then facing the west to avoid evil spells, the taproot could be severed. To cut a second piece the gatherer must first dance around the plant using a magical sword  made of virgin iron and only ever used for Mandrake gathering.

Mandrake was sacred to the moon goddess, Selene, on account of its powers over sleep and death. Selene is also the goddess of witchcraft so in Medieval England Mandrake was the natural witchcraft plant.

Once gathered the Mandrake root was treated with great care and reverence. Washed in a running stream for a day and night it would then be wrapped in a clean white linen cloth and stored somewhere safely in a wooden box. It would be brought out whenever certain spells were being used, accompanied with the appropriate prayers.

Another legend that was particularly favoured in Germany between the 15th and 18th Centuries was that Mandrake would grow at the spot a crimal was buried or beneath the gallows on which he was hanged. The roots were known in Germany as the ‘little gallows man’. Pretty gruesome.

The mandrake is an amazing plant with its ability to put down an impressively stout taproot in a matter of a few years. No wonder it became the subject of so many tales and superstitions. But it had a very practical and essential use in medieval times that had nothing to do with superstition. It was one of the chief components of a medieval anaesthetic called Dwale potion. The medieval word ‘dwale’ means confused or dazed and a combination of the gall from a castrated boar, lettuce, hemlock, henbane, opium, mandrake and bryony would surely have been very effective. They contained powerful chemicals such as morphine, hyoscine and narcotic alkoloids that would put you to sleep for hours at a time if administered correctly. I guess mistakes would have been costly!

With this perfect weather I hope you are all getting out in your gardens. This is the perfect time for planting so if you have any spaces to squeeze in one or two extras don’t forget our plant table is well stocked and extremely good value. Small pots holding big plants that are just ready and bursting to get going in your gardens. And all your purchases go to help us keep the walled garden looking beautiful and bountiful all year.








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