Tag Archives: garden finds

Bottles in the soil – garden finds

Buried glass bottles can be delicate things and can break easily when the soil is being worked, so I thought myself lucky to unearth this one. It’s a Victorian ink bottle and is very similar to one held by the Museum of London, which dates their piece 1866-1900.

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Being octagonal in style, it may have once held ink for a rubber stamp and carried a label like the one below.

octoenglishinklabelMore here

The property I found it on was once the village post office and this bottle must have been discarded over 100 years ago. Other items occasionally surface from the garden here – this is where the old slate pencil popped up.

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Another little piece of history turned up last week in the soil of a very old garden in Witney, Oxfordshire. Old gardens in Witney are a good source of garden finds and this fragment pleased me. I’m pretty sure it’s the neck of a salt glazed gin bottle, possibly Dutch, and 18th or 19th century.

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Finding part of a gin bottle in this particular garden brought a smile to my face as a small gin story could go with it. A couple of years ago, I was working in the front garden which faces onto the pavement. The owner, an extremely respectable older lady, was talking to me there when one of her neighbours, known to both of us, happened to pass by. They chatted for a moment or two and, since she’d recently had a fall, he enquired after her health. Then he leaned in a little more closely and, after a perfectly-timed pause, asked quietly, ‘Was it the gin?’.

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Finding fossils in unexpected places – gravel

I don’t care for the human world just now – there is madness in the air, uncaring behaviour towards all living things and little love being shown for those who need it most. I don’t approve. Sometimes I have to turn away and look at something else. That ‘something else’ jumped out at me from the apparent mundanity of the gravel in the courtyard at home and has turned those previously rough looking stones into something much more interesting and far from mundane.

gravelNot very exciting, is it?

shell-fragmentLook more closely and details emerge

It happened that as I walked from the car to the gate one day, my eye caught a pattern of grooves in one small round stone. Looking more closely I realised it was a fossilised bivalve, worn almost smooth but still showing its original shape and these last blurred features of its previous self.

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I have some other very similar fossilised bivalves picked out of a Jurassic cliff face in a quarry so compared them and thought they might be related. If both are roughly the same age, that likely makes them from the Callovian era of the middle Jurassic, some 163.5–166.1 million years ago.

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Going back outside with a magnifying glass, I put down a kneeling mat and crawled around to see what else was there and was rewarded with a variety of fossils. Nothing large or pristine, but fossils nonetheless. In around half an hour I’d found sponges, sections of belemnite, a couple of sea urchins, fragments of corals and quite a lot of bones and shelly pieces.

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boneMy retired-GP dad said this is ‘possibly the epiphysis of a long bone’

There was one piece I longed to be a worn tooth but someone with far more knowledge than me assured me it was also bone. That was a little disappointing, but there you go.

maybe-toothI wish this could have been part of a tooth

Since that first piece was found, I’ve been marvelling that the layer of dull grey stones outside contains so many remains of creatures which lived up to 166 million years ago. At their youngest, they’re probably from the Cretaceous, some 145–66 million years ago.

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There you have it – I craved distraction and found it right on the doorstep and in pleasing quantity. I also found someone else who looks at gravel.

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I found a crayfish in a really weird place

Over the years that I’ve spent in gardens, I’ve come across all sorts of curious things – chocolate eggs, lost toys, hundreds of clay pipe stems, old bottles, fossils and oyster shells – but on a day in 2010 I made the oddest find to date. I was happily pruning a rambling rose that was trained against a lovely old Cotswold stone wall, when a flash of blue appeared amongst the foliage. The first thing that came to mind was a faded Hydrangea flower head, but there weren’t any Hydrangeas. Looking closer, I was astonished to find, hanging in the branches about 2m from the ground, a long-dead crayfish.

I admit that I’m not especially familiar with crayfish, wildlife on dry land has always been more my area of interest. I’ve watched them scurrying about the bottom of a shallow stream in the Lake District and I’ve been served them once, though I would rather not repeat that experience. A more fiddly and unrewarding meal I have seldom eaten. Crayfish haven’t been part of my life, so to come across one dangling in a rambling rose was a considerable surprise.

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Back indoors, I set out upon the agreeable pursuit of looking things up and discovered that there is only one native crayfish in the UK, the freshwater white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), which is increasingly threatened by an invasive American type, the signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus. The signal crayfish eats everything in its path and damages river banks by digging deep burrows which cause the river banks to collapse. Crayfish need lively-flowing streams and rivers to live in and it happens that there is a lively-flowing river running through this town, the river Windrush. I then discovered that signal crayfish have been found in the Windrush and realised that many of the  holes I’d seen in the banks are likely to have been dug by them. Comparing the shape, colour and markings of the claw of the crayfish I found to the one shown here, I concluded that it is a signal crayfish.

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So how on earth did this crayfish get itself from the river, some 500m away at the closest, and into a rambling rose in a town garden? The only answer I could come up with is that it was caught in the river by a heron and then dropped as the bird flew over the garden. Did the heron simply lose its grip on the bony shell or was the crayfish putting up its last fight and struggling to break free from the heron’s beak, snapping its claws at the bird’s face? Or maybe another heron was trying to steal the first heron’s catch and the crayfish was dropped as they argued. I’ll never find out how it got into that rose, but it reminds me that the world is vast, that there are countless questions I’ll never even ask, let alone be able to answer. There’s no looking this one up, it will always be a puzzle, but a bit of mystery is a good thing.

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