Summertime brings major tennis tournaments for us to watch whilst eating the fruit of our labours in the garden; strawberries, raspberries, salads. In Britain we host Wimbledon for a couple of weeks in June and July.
One of the delights of a summer garden has to be picking your own strawberries and eating them straight away, sweet and still warm from the sun. Strawberries do well in containers, and in small areas; special strawberry pots with holes around the sides or hanging baskets both maximise space and are often easier to keep slug free. These could be kept outside or kept in a cool greenhouse for an earlier crop.
Kent growers supply virtually all the 8000 punnets of strawberries that tennis watchers eat daily throughout Wimbledon fortnight. Yes, you did read that right, nearly 8000 punnets of strawberries a day. On the positive side, they are local fruit, Wimbledon being in the South West of Greater London (or in Surrey, or London Borough of Merton, boundaries sometimes being in question) so it rubs geographical shoulders with The Garden of England.
Strawberries were eaten by the Greeks and Romans. This wasn’t the cultivated ‘garden’ strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) that we know today, but a much smaller fruit, the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Although they’re both members of the rose family, the garden strawberry is a hybrid. It was first bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s, and then further developed in America; its parents are from both South America and North America. Nowadays, Kentish strawberries at Wimbledon are world famous, so it’s turned into a very cosmopolitan fruit!
Strawberries are also seasonal; ie this is the time of year for strawberries in the UK; which is why the legend of King George V introducing the eating of strawberries and cream whilst watching tennis at Wimbledon is so popular. In 1907, George V, then Prince of Wales attended Wimbledon and did eat strawberries and cream. But it is perhaps more memorable a date for being the first time the Centre Court was protected by a tarpaulin. Typical British summer weather, then!
As for the tradition of eating strawberries and cream, according to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, it started with the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877. So why strawberries and cream in particular? Well, we’re back to seasonality. We may now be able to eat strawberries year round, transported from various parts of the globe; back in 1877 it was a different story. Although frozen meat was beginning to be transported by this time (mutton was first shipped from Argentina to France in 1877) it involved quantities of ice. The first refrigerator patent was licensed in Germany in 1877; but it took a while for this to become a reliable method of preserving food. Strawberries are more difficult to transport any distance, as soft fruit is easily bruised and it’s more difficult to freeze them without causing discolouration and loss of taste, for example.
So what is the connection between tennis and the Monarchy? Apart from strawberry eating that is. ‘Real’ or ‘royal’ tennis is so-called to distinguish it from ‘lawn’ tennis – which is the game played at Wimbledon. There are ‘royal tennis’ clubs in both Boston (home of the Tea Party) and Washington in the USA. It’s known as ‘court tennis’ in America, to distinguish it from lawn tennis.
In Britain, Hampton Court Palace has its own indoor Royal Tennis Court, the oldest surviving ‘real’ tennis court still in regular use in England. It was part of the original Palace as rebuilt for Cardinal Wolsey in the early sixteenth century; before he thought it politic to give it to his lord and master Henry VIII. Henry Tudor must have played ‘real’ or ‘royal’ tennis in this court; he was quite an athlete in his youth. The court was last refurbished in the reign of Charles I, another tennis loving monarch.
Hampton Court is also known for its maze, its vine; its haunted gallery and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show in July; but that’s another blog…
Marie, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
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