Put it down to too much sun, or too much time spent thrashing through the head-high overgrowth along the field path, but I seem to have a case of wild oats fixation. Their seeds have been shed and the remaining sheaths are paper thin and tinder dry and the light dances through them. And I am entranced.
This plant is a Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare also known as the Bull or Common thistle, and the most likely candidate for the role of ‘National Flower of Scotland’, although this particular one is growing in Much Wenlock beside the allotment hedge. I’m not sure why the Scots particularly took thistles to heart (a prickly enterprise if ever there was one), though there are possibly clues (not always decipherable) in Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 epic stream of consciousness in which one features. It is called A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle, and at 2,685 lines long, and written in Border Scots dialect, is a challenging read, though the version at the link above does provide a glossary here and there. Go there if you wish to discover some stunning Scots vocabulary.
Here are two tiny, rather more accessible excerpts, the first describing the thistle seen in the moonlight; the second likening it to the chief drone on a set of bagpipes:
The thistle canna vanish quite.
Inside a’ licht its shape maun glint,
A spirit wi’ a skeleton in’t.
Plant, what are you than? your leafs
Mind me o the pipes lod drone
– And aa your purply tops
Are the pirly-wirly notes
That gang staggerin ower them as they groan
And then this is what happens next, in my version of reality that is:
…a ‘pirly-wirly’ explosion of would-be thistles. Those floating seed heads get everywhere, making it yet another highly successful pest of farm fields and gardens. In its favour, the flowers are much loved by moths, butterflies and bees (as well as being most striking to look at) and birds, especially goldfinches, like to feed on the seeds.
This lovely flower can be a monumental pest if it finds its way into garden borders. It belongs to the convolvulus family, and comes in several varieties, some of which have smaller pink and white striped trumpets. This, I think, is hedge bindweed, Calystegia sepium and it is presently spreading beside the field path. Like its cousins, its plant-strangling capacity knows no bounds, and if you try to dig it up and leave the tiniest scrap of the plant behind, in an eye’s blink, you will have a brand new bindweed. Or maybe several.
Richard Mabey in Flora Britannica suggests that some of its many vernacular names reflect the degree of horticultural nuisance. Snake’s meat and Devil’s guts are certainly blunt expressions of gardener antipathy. But there are picturesque names too. E.g. Lady-jump-out-of-bed, and Granny-jumps-out-of-bed seem to derive from a children’s game: ‘Grandmother, grandmother, pop out of bed’ a refrain chanted while pinching out the base of the flower and watching the trumpet float to the ground like an old-fashioned nightgown on the loose. Sometimes the Grandmother is a Nanny Goat. There is also: Lazy Maisy jumps out of bed.
Other imaginative names include Old Man’s Nightcap, Poor Man’s Lily, White Witch’s Hat, Bridal Gown and Belle of the Ball, and then there are numerous variations of bindweed: Barbine, Bellbind, Withywind, Waywind.
When it comes to eradication, the Royal Horticultural Society does not hold out much hope for simply digging it out. Chemicals seem the only answer, but they do suggest a method of damage limitation, glyphosate-wise. This involves sticking garden canes into the soil near any bindweed eruption, thereby encouraging it to grow up the cane. Later you can unwind it onto bare soil and spot-treat it without harming other plants.
Or you could just live with it, and try to keep it under control. I have the hedge variety in the guerrilla garden. It keeps winding up the crab apple tree, and I keep hoiking it out. I also have the smaller pink and white striped ground-creeping variety in several places on my allotment plot. This is field bindweed or Convolvulus arvensis and I’ve become quite adept at digging it out, which checks it, but does not remove it entirely. At the moment it is also in flower and really very pretty. So I guess it will be staying. For now.
Also known as Leopard’s Bane, and another wonderful member of the daisy family. I am not entirely sure which variety of Doronicum it is, but am plumping for D. plantagineum as this name means plantain-like in reference to the leaf shape. Most Doronicum varieties seem to have heart-shaped leaves, and flower earlier in the season than the one in my garden. But if anyone has a better idea, please tell me.
Nor do I know if this particular variety has any noteworthy therapeutic properties, but we do have a powerful lack of leopards here on Sheinton Street, so it clearly has some very active big-feline-defence ingredient. It is also standing up bravely against the hot, dry weather and, along with the drumstick alliums, is the most vibrant bloomer in the garden at the moment. Not for long though. The golden rod, which is all over the place, is about to do its stuff. I’m looking forward to the all-yellow garden.
These days this shrubby little plant of the daisy family is most widely known as Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium). Its original home is in the Balkans, but it is now widespread across the northern hemisphere, including in and around my garden, where it happily self-seeds. It reached Britain in the Middle Ages, perhaps brought by returning Crusaders (that’s only a guess). It was certainly used medicinally by the Ancient Greeks. As the name suggests it was used to relieve fevers. Other uses included the relief of headaches, particularly migraine, rheumatism and general aches and pains.
Many migraine sufferers swear by it, and make sandwiches of the leaves, or chew them neat (warning: they taste very bitter). There have been a number of clinical trials. Some claim it works e.g Dr Stewart Johnson’s study at the City of London Migraine Clinic (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica). Other studies claim it was no more effective than a placebo, which always sounds damning.
Of course modern medicine is most interested in identifying and then commodifying the specific so-called active ingredient of any medicinal plant because then you can clinically test the substance in known amounts, and if it is deemed to work, licence and market it. But then plant chemistry is extremely complex, and medical herbalists do not think in terms of isolating specific ingredients. They use whole plant parts – leaves, flowers, bark in tinctures, decoctions and teas. Any so-called active components will be in very small quantities, and the treatment may take weeks or months to effect healing.
Anyway here is the conclusion from a scientific study reported in Pharmacognosy Review 2011 Jan-Jun 103-110 and posted on The National Center for Biotechnology Information website. You can read the whole article at the link:
T. parthenium (L.) contains many sesquiterpene lactones, with higher concentration of parthenolide lipophilic and polar flavonoids in the leaves and the flower heads. The plant also contains high percentage of sterols and triterpenes in the roots. Flowers and leaves and parthenolide showed significant analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activities, which confirmed the folk use of feverfew herb for treatment of migraine headache, fever, common cold, and arthritis, and these effects are attributed to leaves and/or flowers mainly due to the presence of sesquiterpene lactones and flavonoids. Feverfew also use as spasmolytic in colic, colitis and gripping, and as vermifuge and laxative. The uterine stimulant effect of the plant agreed with the folk uses of the plant as abortifacient, emmenagogue, and in certain labor difficulties and also agreed with the warning of the drug producer, which indicates the prevention of using feverfew during pregnancy but not agree with the folk use of the drug in threatened miscarriage. Taking great concern of the useful benefits of the plant, it can be advocated as a safe, highly important, medicinal plant for general mankind.
I took this photo last night as I was coming home from the allotment. The sun was setting over the rapeseed field and illuminating the grasses along the headland. This is a broad strip of land on the town side of Townsend Meadow, left uncultivated as a defence against flash floods. The variety of grasses that grow here is bewildering, and I’m sorry to say I have never tried to learn which is which. They are very beautiful though in the evening light.
Grasses (Gramineae) are among the most successful plants on the planet and, excluding the polar zones, cover 40% of the earth’s surface. They of course include cereal crops, rice, bamboos, and pasture grasses and so are of immense importance to humanity. Grass is also an elephant’s food of choice, making up a substantial part of its 300-400 lb daily vegetable intake. I mention that fact here because our headland grasses have so benefitted from the agrichemical feeding of the rape plants uphill from them that they are now doing a pretty good impression of elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) also known as Napier Grass. This particular grass featured in he-who-builds-sheds’ doctoral research on grass smut in the Kenya highlands, and so is a species close to our hearts, and we both know how to identify it.
Coming up is another grass I know: wild oats. The sun was reflecting off its spikelets, which was all rather mesmerizing.
Thursday’s Special: Lost in details This week Paula has given us an intriguing challenge and photo to match. I’m interpreting it here both in words and images
Last week I found an arum lily behind our garden fence. On Sunday afternoon I found another fine specimen growing in the shade of the lime tree walk in our nearby Linden Field. I had gone there to photograph the lime trees coming into leaf, and the avenue was a haven of leaf shadow and dappled light, and wonderfully cool in our unexpected heatwave. There was also the heady whiff of wild garlic. The plants whose leaves I had been cropping earlier in the year were bursting with white star flowers. You can eat those too. But you definitely can’t eat the arum lily, also known as Cuckoo-pint (pint to rhyme with mint), Lords-and-Ladies, Parson in the pulpit and Willy lily – though the roots were apparently once crushed to make household starch for crisping up Elizabethan ruffs (Richard Mabey Flora Britannica).
Spotted over the garden fence yesterday.
Wood Anemone . Anemone nemorosa . Windflower . Grandmother’s Nightcap
I hadn’t meant to go wild flower hunting. I was only intending a quick dash along the old railway embankment beside the Linden Walk. A bunch of wild garlic leaves was the objective. They had started appearing soon after the second snow, and I’ve been cropping them on and off since early February. Now all the shady ground either side the former track bed is carpeted in clumps of lush, green, garlicky leaves.
I’ve found that chopping them into a jar and steeping them for a week or so in unfiltered cider vinegar makes for a delicious salad dressing ingredient. You can also treat this as a general spring tonic – a dessert spoonful in a big glass of water. The leaves are also good in a pesto sauce instead of basil, and you can chop them with abandon into soups, curries and casseroles. When they start to flower, you can use the tiny white florets too.
Anyway, as I picking my way through the undergrowth I came upon the wood anemones creating their own little galaxies under the lime trees. They are one of the loveliest of our spring flowers, and their presence is an indicator of ancient woodland. In his Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey also says they do not seed, but their roots spread very slowly in dappled shade. If you spend some time with them, you will see how they turn their faces always towards the sun. Less appealingly, their foliage is said to have the musky odour of foxes, though I can’t say I noticed any such smell when I sniffed the leaves.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
Dare one say it – suddenly spring seems more intentional, as if it’s meaning to stay for more than five minutes? These lesser celandines were blooming hell for leather yesterday when I was delivering stuff to the allotment. Even the spider seems to be having a bit of a sun bathe (apologies arachnophobes) rather than being sneekily on the hunt.
Things being transported to the plot included three black bin bags of leaves gathered from mother-in-law’s lawn (they will take a couple of years to turn into very useful leaf mould) and twenty new seven-foot canes. These last are not for this year’s runner beans, but for peas. After seeing last summer’s mega-pea-crop success of fellow allotmenteer, Dave, I thought I would give climbing pea Alderman a go. This is a heritage variety, apparently favoured by ‘good old boys on their allotments’, and not much to be found elsewhere.
You need to treat them like runner beans using plenty of tall supports because they may end up growing six to eight feet tall i.e. heading for around 2 metres. The beauty of this variety is that it crops without surplus production over several months. Whereas modern pea varieties tend to produce all at once, which is why you need to sow the seed successionally e.g. every couple of weeks, which can be a faff if you lose track of time.
At the moment the pea seeds are just germinating (I sow in trays due to allotment mice), and yesterday I moved the first batch into the cold frame, so I truly am hoping that winter has gone. I will report back in a few months time on how this good old girl is getting on with the Alderman.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell