Monday, January 19, 2009

Of Silkworms, Orchids... and Columbian Rebels.

Silkworms are fussy creatures. Like Giant Pandas they live only on one type of plant: the white Mulberry Bush (not the black one). If they are fed anything else they sicken and die. Mulberries, in turn, are fairly fussy too: the ground must be well-drained, and they prefer a little warmth. They can be grown in the UK but their season in leaf is short - from May to October.

This, more than anything, has dictated the distribution of silk production around the world. The UK, for instance, is generally too damp and cold for effective production, so my pampered creatures are living in our airing cupboard, and they seem to be quite happy in there.

Presumably, the silk farm at Lullingstone Castle Silk Farm in Kent kept its silk worms in a similarly cossetted environment. I was excited to come across it on the internet today, and then disappointed to find that it had closed in 2004. It seems to have had an auspicious history - providing silk for three royal weddings, including Princess Diana's in 1981. I remember that gorgeous voluminous dress of ivory silk and now realise it must have taken the cocoons of tens of thousands of silk worms.

So, the only British Silk farm has closed, which is sad, but there is something equally interesting in its place. The heir to the Castle, Tom Hart Dyke - the twentieth generation of his family to live there - is a gardener of the most adventurous sort. He has established a garden which has plants from all over the world planted in the outline of the continents. It was, apparently, an idea he thought of when one of his orchid hunting trips went a little wrong and he was kidnapped by rebels in Columbia(!) In the account I was reading it seemed like a remark slipped in by a particularly laconic dinner party guest. He has written a book about his experiences called THE CLOUD GARDEN - which looks like it would make interesting reading.

So, where was I? Ah yes, the vagaries of the domesticated silkworm....more on this later. I have some boxes to clean out.

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Blogger BarbaraS said...

I'm detecting a distinct theme here... are you researching for a book, or...? :)))

Tue Jan 20, 08:52:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Heh, looks like you've 'cottoned on', Barbara! (Groan)

Tue Jan 20, 06:37:00 pm  

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