top of page

The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

Recent Posts


photographer unknown

After two months of drought Waterfurlong has finally experienced a welcome deluge, bringing with it one of the most delicious of all garden scents - rain on parched earth.

You’ve probably come across the name for this -petrichor - derived from the ancient Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the golden fluid said to flow through the veins of the gods). How surprising to discover the word was only coined in 1964 and not by a poet but by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

When scientists Isabel (Joy) Bear and Richard Thomas of the Division of Mineral Chemistry in Melbourne decided to investigate the phenomenon, they found a small Indian perfumery had successfully captured and absorbed the elusive scent in sandalwood oil. The perfumery called it matta ka attar or ‘earth perfume’, but its origins remained as mysterious as ever.

Bear and Thomas embarked on a series of experiments and eventually discovered a yellowish oil trapped within soil and rocks that had been exposed to hot, dry, outdoor conditions. The oil was found to be secreted during periods of drought by soil-dwelling bacteria as an ingenious means of signalling to nearby plants that they should halt root growth and seed germination. This fragrant oil was released by contact with water. Bear and Thomas published their findings in the journal Nature, naming the oil petrichor – the blood of the stone.

When rain-clouds eventually build up after hot, dry periods, humidity in the atmosphere fills the pores of rocks, sand and soil with tiny amounts of moisture. This begins flushing the oil from the stone and releasing petrichor into the air. Once raindrops hit the arid ground the process intensifies and the scented elixir carries far and wide on the wind.

During the last few years The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has taken the research a stage further. Using high-speed cameras, its scientists have observed that when a raindrop hits a porous surface it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact. As in a glass of champagne, the bubbles then shoot upward, ultimately bursting from the drop in a fizz of aerosols. Watch MIT’s slow-motion video of the petrichor process in action. (1)

Whilst recent downpours have begun to refresh our gardens

and defer the spectre of a hosepipe ban, how much more relief they must bring in hotter climes. The novelist Alexander McCall Smith often refers to the delight of smelling rain in the air in his marvellous Botswana-based No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

‘Mma Ramotswe awoke and lay in bed listening to that most blessed of sounds - rainwater drumming on the tin roof of a house. It was what the country desperately needed if the crops were to be saved and the cattle to flourish. It would heal the earth and soothe the minds of the people and the animals waiting for just this relief. It would lower the temperature and bring cool and green to a land that for months had been hot and brown. The blessing of rain was the one thing in Botswana that would unite those who might disagree about much else: pula, the word for rain in the Setswana language, also meant good fortune - ‘Pula! Pula! Pula!’was the encouraging chant that children learned in school and carried in their hearts for the rest of their lives.‘Pula! Pula! Pula!’‘(2)


(1) © Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

(2) The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine © Copyright Alexander McCall Smith: Little, Brown: 2015

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

bottom of page