FLAX IN GARDENS (5th part)
A LITTLE STORY
Joël Raguénès - Regionalist novelist from Brittany: "And the land became ... a sea of blue flax". This book recounts an epic surrounding flax and hemp, two plants which, in the middle of the 17th century, made Brittany the foremost textile region of Europe. It is also a romance of love and adventures, a dazzling fresco of the life of a Breton family.
Extract: "Look Jan, look at those blue flowers. These are blue flax flowers. God gives them to us once a year, to teach us about beauty and how ephemeral it is. Tomorrow, after a dazzling day, they will disappear and the flower will lose its spring finery, leaving us its useful parts. ... "
Thanks to unique soil, expertise and climate, flax planted in the Seine-Maritime produces a fibre of high quality which is highly sought after. Flax cooperatives can be found throughout the Pays de Caux of the Seine-Maritime, but pretty shops and workshops also abound. A visit to the Écomusée Tradition du Lin museum will open your eyes to flax and its multiple uses.
A tip at the end: plan a stay in the Seine-Maritime in the month of June, to contemplate fields covered with a bright blue carpet against the magnificent backdrop of the Alabaster Coast...
FLAX IN GARDENS (4th part)
Flax, a symbol of poetry, or romance with a sentimental connotation? The blue of a flax flower, ranging from a nearly white light blue to a deep blue with violet reflections, on top of long flexible stems, is a manifestation of the plant's delicacy and its fragility, especially as this short-lived flower can't be picked. And yet, a tuft of pretty blue flowers in the garden will keep our green niches bright, flower after flower, every day for several weeks. Then come the pods, elegant capsules in place of the flowers that will hold until autumn and whose stems, which must be cut, as it is impossible to break the robust strands by hand, will serve as mulch or go to compost.
The annual flax 'linum grandiflorum', in vibrant colours of bright pink, red or salmon, will liven up a rocky corner, a flowery meadow with some poppies, daisies, Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist), cornflowers, cosmos ... sow rather late, in April or May.
We also sow 'linum usitatissimum' near the potatoes in our kitchen garden; they drive away Colorado beetles. But with or without beetles, and with or without potatoes, we plant blue flax in the kitchen garden at the end of winter, taking care to watch for slugs and snails.
Let's not forget perennial flax 'linum perenne spp', which also has pretty blue flowers and a slightly bluish foliage, which you'll encounter every year with pleasure. If your soil is rather compact, do not hesitate to add sand. It will also thrive in your rocky corner in a light soil. To be continued
To be continued
FLAX IN FIELDS (3rd part)
USE OF FIELD FLAX
The long fibres are used in textiles, while tow, (or short fibres) can be used in various composite materials: sports equipment, vehicles, wind turbines, cigarette paper, banknotes ... shavings, (woody particles) emerging from the scutching process, are transformed into particle board, boiler fuel, animal litter, mulch for the garden, and other goods.
PRODUCERS OF FLAX
Quality is the result of the know-how of these people, who are responsible for:
• Selecting which varieties to plant
• Choosing soil quality (loamy and deep soils)
• Sowing in tight rows to obtain finer fibres
• Monitoring growth for 100 days (insects, fungi)
• Flowering for 10 days
• Grubbing up (five weeks after flowering) when the stems have a beautiful blonde colour
• Monitoring flax fields after the fibres are grubbed up and lay on the ground, when they must be flipped for the retting phase that uses micro-organisms and bacteria to dissolve or rot away much of the stem material to facilitate separation of the fibres and straw.
• Scutching: separation of the different parts
Flax will leave for the factory in the form of large round bales To be continued
To be continued
FLAX IN FIELDS (2nd part)
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Linum usitatissimum, from the family 'Linaceae', is one of the earliest cultivated species and the oldest fibre in the world, traces of which dating back 36,000 years have been found in the Dzudzuana cave in Georgia. It is difficult to determine when this plant was first cultivated, but it was probably at the time the Pharaohs ruled in Egypt, that production of flax began developing to make clothes, funerary fabrics, sails for boats and ropes or nets. The seeds were also savoured for their nutritional qualities, as is still done nowadays.
In France, while the Gauls were already cultivating flax, it was Charlemagne who had it grown in the royal domains at the end of the eighth century, before cultivation became widespread from the eleventh century onward. Flax fibre is apparent in the composition of the Bayeux Tapestry, produced around that time.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the invention of the flax spinning machine by Philippe de Girard was what made the north of France one of the first centres of industrial spinning mills in Europe (at Cambrai).
With mechanisation, small production facilities were no longer interesting to industry and the surface area of cultivated flax fell drastically. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the cultivation of flax was revived in France (by Belgian farmers), and crop surfaces increased from 20,000 to the 75,000 hectares now in production.
Flax is mainly grown in Northern Europe, in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Flax thrives in a temperate and humid coastal climate with largely stable temperatures, rich and deep soil, such as in regions close to the sea like Picardy, Seine Maritime, Eure, Calvados, and Orne ... these areas produce the finest linen fabrics in the world.
To be continued
Over the next weeks, you'll find several articles highlighting different aspects of flax in the fields and gardens
FLAX IN FIELDS (1st part)
Flax is a fast-growing, annual, herbaceous plant grown for its fibre and predominantly blue flowers (white flax is less productive). There are more than 200 species around the world. It can reach one meter in height at maturity and its stem can grow to a diameter of 0.5 to 1cm.
You can't miss these pretty blue flowers with their long, tender, green stalks swaying in the wind; at maturity, thousands of round pods appear before the plants are left to dry on the ground, their stalks turning from a bright green to light green then to straw yellow ...
A peculiarity of flax is that its pollen is not attractive to insects, although the flower is visited by bees, bumblebees and butterflies and is therefore pollinated like most other flowers. But often, in hot and dry weather, the flower opens, the anthers, which form the end part of the stamen that is the male organ, split apart, allowing pollen to escape. The anthers stretch and curl, depositing the pollen on the female organs, the stigmata, causing the flax flower to self-pollinate. The flower fades and its petals fall.
Flax flowers open only for a few hours and are often already faded by midday. Each plant has multiple flowers opening in continuous succession over about two weeks, but the most beautiful bloom is when the first flower comes out. Photographers and amateur painters of blue flax, are often in contact with growers around Lommoye in the Eure and Loir département (France) so they may be present during this exceptional first flowering that lasts a single morning.
To be continued