There is a tendency to think that civilisation, and our knowledge of all that goes with it, has evolved to such an extent, that there are no mysteries left. If we do not know the answer, we expect to find it on the internet - and usually do. But there are still things that we do not know - whether there is life such as ours on other planets, for example, or more up close and regular, excuse the pun!, - what makes the bowel work!
Which brings us to plant talk. More than 20 years ago, Prince Charles was ridiculed when he disclosed that he talked to the plants in his garden. He was unrepentant, and said he thought that they were all the better for it. The newspapers had a field (or perhaps garden) day; most people thought he was loopy as a lupin. However not everyone agreed, for example - Colin Crosbie, a gardens superintendent at Wisley in Surrey UK, was reported as saying: "I'm a great believer. I definitely talk to plants. Most gardeners are quite tactile and we do talk to them. Sometimes we talk kindly and sometimes we threaten them. There are times with a plant when you say 'If you don't do something this is the end. You are not producing flowers. I'm very sorry, it's going to be the compost heap.' - It's amazing how they respond"
Which brings to mind the episode in Faulty Towers, when Basil vented his frustration, by beating his broken down car with a stick! However on a serious note, plant communication is no longer a mystery, having been confirmed in scientific studies carried out by Professor Jim Westwood, whose speciality is plant pathology and weed science at Virginia Tech in the United States. According to the Professor, plants can communicate with each other, and they share information. He examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and two host plants, arabidopsis and tomatoes.
He discovered that to suck moisture and nutrients out of the host plants, dodder and the host were able to exchange messages within cells. During this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of messenger molecules were being exchanged between both plants, allowing them to freely communicate.
He said that through this exchange, the parasitic plant may dictate what the host plant should do – such as lowering its defences to make it easier for the parasite to attack. It is thought that using this new information, scientists could discover if other organisms such as bacteria and fungi also communicate.
In the context of the vines, this may explain for example, why the monks were able to produce excellent quality wine in Burgundy, for well over 1,000 years, without recourse to powerful synthetic chemicals which poison both the plants and the land. The monks understood nature. Without any assistance from technology, they knew just where to plant the vines to produce the best wine, and what to plant with the vines to best protect them. Much of this understanding was lost when the monks were unceremoniously evicted in the name of progress and the Revolution. However some of this knowledge is being rediscovered in biodynamic farming, which is all about finding ways to protect the vines and enhance their immune systems naturally, without the need to resort to the ever stronger blockbuster poison. Thus creating another unknown - what will be the lasting long term environmental impact of damage to the soil from use of artificial supplements ? This mystery has recently opened up as the subject of a study by the cunningly named, Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Eco-System Services ‘IPBES’. For politicians intent on ignoring the louder and louder claxon calls to take some effective preventive action, the name could not be more conveniently inane. However the IPBES analysis has confirmed the impact on global warming of the destruction of our soils by the use of chemicals as fertilisers and pesticides.
This is what Gevrey winemaker Rossignol Trapet has to say:
“When the Domaine was created in 1990, we adopted a healthy and sustainable viticulture. In 1997 we officially started to use biodynamy on certain plots, and extended it step by step to the entire estate in 2004. First we had to convince our employees of the benefits to the soil and on their own health!
The Conversion has not been easy. At first the vines did not know how to defend themselves, their immune systems were weak, and they became fragile and sensitive to fungus, rot, diseases… So we helped them to strengthen their immune defences, with the assistance of biodynamic preparations such as manure and nettle….”
Now the vines, the land, and their workers, are all thriving, and the Purple Mustard Club purchases the excellent wines of the Estate. What is more, this week's supply of chemical free cherries for Hotel Les Deux Chevres, came from the unsprayed trees of the Estate's vine workers!
Which sort of goes to show -if you look after nature - life can be a bowl of cherries!