Each year at this time I look at one of the Christmas traditions relating to horticulture and this year I have chosen nuts! I find it quite frustrating that nuts in shells are only available at Christmas as I like to use them all year round so I decided to find out why nuts in shells are traditionally served at Christmas in a bowl on a table with nutcrackers!
In ancient Rome nuts were common gifts especially popular with children who valued them as toys as well as food. Small boys enjoyed playing marbles with them! They could be covered in gold as adult gifts and used as decorations. Each nut had a special significance:
Hazelnuts were thought to prevent famine, as they had once done during a Hannibal siege.
Walnuts were supposed to bring abundance and prosperity and were even capable of acting as an antidote to poison.
Almonds were believed to offer a much needed protection against the effects of heavy drinking!
Nuts in the garden
Hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds can all be grown successfully in our gardens and there are plantations (Kent Cobnuts) supplying British produce year round!
Hazelnuts grow wild in this country but there are also cobnuts and filberts which can be grown as garden trees in poor soils. Hazels are great as screens or part of a wildlife hedge and can be coppiced to the ground to harvest the branches as bean poles and pea sticks.
Walnuts grow into very large trees and Almonds have the additional beauty of the blossom on Spring. I grow ‘Ingrid’ and have nuts in the Summer. They look very like shrunken peaches, and are indeed related, but inside are the sweetest most almondy kernals. Walnuts and almonds like a fertile well drained soil and careful pruning to retain the size and shape each year if required.
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