Magic Wand Required

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Daddy’s little pink pawed princess is leaving billets-doux for her bit of rough. He’s a big black tom cat with a feral air and a pair of testicles so huge, he has to swing one leg wide, to accommodate his stride. If his vocal prowess is anything to go by, he has enough to go around. It’s a mercy at least that she pees in the drain outside the potting shed, to advise on the state of play. She was neutered very long ago by a vet in a land far away, so despite his potent miasma, her swain is destined for disappointment.
Primula vulgaris Belarina™ “Pink Ice”
Primula vulgaris Belarina™ “Pink Ice”

The pond is likewise a disenchantment. In previous years, twenty or more heaving beasties turned the surface into a froggy fornicatorium, with baritone cries of “broughp”. Apparently the “ribbit” with which we are all familiar, is the call of the Hollywood marsh resident. Probably all method actors, they will have their Stanislavski coaches to help them to inhabit their part in the fantasy. I’ve been out every morning to check if any frogs were dogging. Sadly, I am a frustrated voyeur and the live sex show has failed to materialise.
Hermodactylus tuberosus (Black widow iris)
Hermodactylus tuberosus (black widow Iris)

Worldwide, amphibians are a source of constant wonder. Hot countries produce toxic frogs as bright as a summer dress, which advertise a disastrous dining experience to would be predators. Some live by waterfalls where singing signals can’t be heard, so they wave at each other. Around six thousand amphibian species are seriously endangered by Chytrid fungal malady which is wreaking havoc in damp places everywhere. It has been called the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates. The filthy fungus disproportionately eliminates species that are most rare and specialized, so the vivid, gesticulating critters are more in peril than the common or garden variety. The bully boys that survive anything up to and including being run over by an eighteen wheeled truck, can act as carriers, living through the sickness to pass it on to more delicate specimens, like web-footed Typhoid Marys.
Amphibians akimbo
Amphibians akimbo

At last, two exhibitionists are to be seen in my patch, nestling amongst a dumpling of spawn between the Iris stems. The male on top has a vacant, innocent expression on his face which belies his amorous intent. The female is busy keeping her nose above water. She looks as if she’s thinking about ironing which needs her attention. I’m worried at the lack of participants in the orgy. I can see that treatment of wild animals in their natural environment is almost impossible and I don’t fancy dumping fungicide in bulk around the garden. Some of our most intelligent scientists are crawling around the Hadron Collider like worms through cheese. Can they take time off to sip another discipline and concoct a frog death cure? Stick to the important stuff, girls and boys, we need a happy ending. Subatomic particles will still be there after you’ve saved the world, or at least the element at risk of croaking.

Out Of My Tree

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This is all my husband’s fault. I used to remember the names of people and places, with plants being my specialist subject. I could startle any audience with the breadth of my recall and the amount of often useless information at my command. Before Google, Attila used me as a handy human encyclopaedia. He works out answers mathematically and this doesn’t help with “Who starred in “Lawrence of Arabia” and in which other films did he appear?” I don’t do numbers. Once the sum exceeds ten, I have to take off my shoes and socks, to supply the necessary digits.
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Boy” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Boy” (Lenten rose)

We were wandering around an open garden. I left my spouse to his own research, while I furtled in a flower bed, inspecting something unusual. I was dragged away from my reverie, to face a group of gardeners clustered around a modest shoot of purple foliage. Attila squared his shoulders, pride evident on his features. “My wife knows the name of nearly every plant on the planet” he said. Some ten people turned to me, awaiting my pronouncement. I searched within. Nothing, nil, nada, zip. Of course I knew what it was, I grow it myself, I just couldn’t say what it was called. Their expectant faces, my blush of embarrassment and the miserable humiliation stay with me still. My reputation for knowing my onions was in tatters. It took me a fortnight to summon Atriplex hortensis, red orach, to mind. Now I struggle to memorize my address.
Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (red orach) seedlings
Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (red orach) seedlings

Rain has stopped play outdoors and I’m looking for dry jobs that don’t involve cleaning the oven. I have a disgraceful, over-full box of shame in the potting shed, wherein I keep plant labels, empty seed packets and tags of unbelievable scruffiness. Some are finely laminated and inscribed with the most exquisite inks known to mankind, others are written in pencil on the back of yoghurt pot shards. I’m forever intending to put them in an album, since I can’t abide plastic markers stuck in the ground. Any keeper of cats knows that they take a deliberate delight in screwing up a sticker system. I dragged the container to the kitchen and washed the waterproof labels to remove ancient mud deposits. I strewed the lot on radiators to dry all over the house, ignoring impertinent comments so occasioned.
Excess is necessary
Excess is necessary

I trimmed off anything needless, leaving any picture and the official designation of each specimen. I’ve collated the lot in loosely alphabetical order, because I usually think “I’m sure that begins with “P””. I’m often wrong. I have stuck the entire collection to sheets of blank paper, making handwritten notes where needed. Now I have a compilation of many examples of plants that I have introduced, without embarking on an extended trawl through the RHS tome, full of a cast of thousands. I promise to include new additions without delay. My partner in crime suggests incorporating a gold star for good performance, a black mark for something that has died ignominiously and a grey blob for an item that has disappeared amongst the undergrowth and could still be surviving somewhere, for all I know. This is a nerd’s bespoke heaven. I feel an anorak’s satisfaction in a little micro management and I’m better equipped for identification in this blog or summer’s open day. I’m using strong glue in a small room with the door shut, to keep out inquisitive pets and family wanting to help. I’m suffering from double vision and hallucinations; as they say hereabouts, I’m off my face.

Doris Day

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I was woken on the morning of the storm’s arrival by flocks of Anser brachyrhynchus (pink footed geese) flying overhead. They leave early every year, their departure for summer in Greenland and Iceland heralded by honking. Now their calls were tinged with hysteria and punctuated by squawks of alarm. The windows rattled, the doors shook and the chimneys tootled a counterpoint to the poultry panicking in the sky above. The meteorologists have been salivating over the coming tempest for days. On schedule as promised, Doris made landfall on the north-west coast of the UK.
Helleborus orientalis “Red Lady” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis “Red Lady” (Lenten rose)

I wandered around the garden, tying back anything that had escaped its moorings. I moved quickly through occasional squalls and driving downpours, wind assisted, although perhaps that’s my personal problem. All of the heavy duty supports had withstood the assault of the weather. Sod’s Law states clearly that anything which must be re-attached in a bit of a breeze will have long, sharp thorns, or branches which lash you in the face, or both. Frenzied and inventive swearing drifted over the rooftops, to harmonize with the moaning house and quacking wildlife. The ancient yew trees at the end of our plot have never looked so lively. Neither have the cats, who completed their ablutions as if they had a gale in their tails and rocketed back through the door as if jet propelled.
Primulas (primroses) for planting
Primulas (primroses) for planting

Attila regarded my scratched and spoilt features with considerable agitation; usually I don’t come back from a little horticulture in quite such a tattered state. Immediately he volunteered to shop for supplies, in case conditions worsened and we were confined to quarters. I waved him away, so well wrapped in outer layers that he looked like a beach ball wearing large black boots. Upon his return, we delved into bags of produce for re-stocking the fridge. Vegetables stashed, the last of his treasure comprised a wide selection of lilies from Lidl, £2 for three or four bulbs per packet. Pink “Lollypop” and “Muscadet”, white “Rialto”. Bondage wounds forgotten, I arranged them in the kitchen, where I could admire both them and his acumen. How lovely, I knew exactly where I wanted to plant them. My mind was awash with plans for candy sweet, sugar coated subtle confections of petals.
Winter garden
Winter garden

Last of the lot were bags of “Salmon Star”, which gives you a clue as to the colour but no real hint as to the aggressive shade. I hadn’t the foggiest notion where they would fit and get enough sunshine to bloom. I dare not leave the placing to my spouse, who has no problem with clashes which put the wind up me. Unless I take a strong hand, he would be siting orange next to cerise. Into every life a little rain must fall.

Not Getting The Baby Bathed

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I should be outside, scrimmaging around the rain soaked lawn on hands and knees, in trousers of steadily increasing clamminess, both inside and out. The old leaves need cutting off the Hellebores, so that the flowers may be better appreciated without thinking about demise, destruction and brown crispy splodges. I showed willing and wrestled the spiders in the potting shed for possession of the secateurs. Whilst doing so, I had plenty of time to contemplate the moist footwear that awaited, once I danced through the puddles between me and the job in prospect.
Chaenomeles x superba “Crimson & Gold” (ornamental quince)
Chaenomeles x superba “Crimson & Gold” (ornamental quince)

I’m not as daft as I look. I stayed dry in the conservatory and cut down the Brugmansias, leaving 6 inches (15 cm) of last year’s growth. In a few weeks, I’ll lard them with fresh compost and Gro-sure fertiliser. Thereafter I’ll start mounting an irrigation campaign, so that by summer I will be drenching them with enough water to give the Aswan Dam pause for thought. The old foliage on the Agapanthus (Nile lilies) and Zantedeschias (callas) has done all the photosynthesising it possibly can. Now veering between crunchy and slimy, I cleared it away to make room for new leaves whose snouts are already pushing up through the soil. I chopped down the stems of some of the Hedychium (ginger lilies) to make a path in the undergrowth, thus filling the air with the scent of spices. This certainly beats working.
Snowdrop City
Snowdrop City

I ought to be pruning roses but the wind is northerly and invariably finds the gap between jeans and jumper. Instead I went to Preston and the Harris Museum. They have an idiosyncratic collection of glass and china, some ancient workaday pieces and others too precious ever to be used. A small clothing collection is similarly distinctive, with outer garments to interest all genders. Corsets, bustles and similar underpinnings for female victims of fashion may be viewed in close-up. Mine was not the only hot breath to fog the glass display case and I was able to swap notes with other heavy duty underwear enthusiasts. I told Kevin that his secret should be safe with me, I wouldn’t tell another soul.
Work No. 960 - Martin Creed at Harris Museum, Preston
Work No. 960 – Martin Creed at Harris Museum, Preston

Upstairs we inspected artwork by Stanley Spencer and Atkinson Grimshaw, amongst others. There was one luscious floral painting and an improbable still life with inflated apples and highly varnished grapes. To my considerable surprise, we found an installation by Martin Creed entitled “Work no. 960”, consisting of thirteen cactus plants arranged in increasing size. The uniformed guide shyly confided that they were not to be watered until March. I’ve rarely been so grateful for a modern piece which made me struggle to find a meaning. The botanical content made me feel that despite all evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t slacking it off entirely.

People In Glass Houses

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We were looking for a new home and saw this place after many weeks of searching and failing to fall in love. The whole building was beautiful, crying out for a caring hand, not to mention drills, saws, and several sledgehammers. I clocked the abundant marble, high ceilings and ornate friezes, whilst noting the overarching smell of damp and decay. The main roof was ruined, electrics and plumbing defunct and the kitchen a fiction. Copious fluid secretions from both ends of two gigantic resident Rottweilers didn’t help, since I am definitely a cat person. I saw the conservatory for the first time, sunshine gleaming through the stained glass and was lost to reason.
View from the upper deck
View from the upper deck

The room consists of rendered brick construction, erected as part of the main house in 1902. When we took ownership, the rotting woodwork was painted grey to conceal the mould. Some walls were defaced with an extensive cartoon, poorly painted in garish colours. The effect was so bad that I felt embarrassed for the owner who had perpetrated such a crime. The doors were hanging from their hinges and most of the plaster had fallen off. The corrugated plastic roof was derelict; when the wind got underneath, it clattered, rattled and banged. The ridge beam and rafters creaked like a galleon under sail. How do you belay a mizzenmast? I understand that halyards are involved. The two flower beds were full of dust, dog doo, fag ends and heaps of other rubbish. I didn’t register the wreckage; from the first, a vision of the finished project was burned on my brain.
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)

Whenever I could escape from renovating living rooms, I headed out to stop the worst of the draughts from gaping holes wherever I found them. I cleared the beds of refuse and emptied them of so-called soil as deep as I could and still climb out to make the school run. I refilled them with peat free compost, which turned out to be poor in nutrients but large on planet saving smug gittery. The cactus collection of decades’ standing was spread across the tiled floor, with only minor bitching about their impeding non gardeners’ access to the garage. My first deliberate purchase was Acacia dealbata (mimosa) which I intended to reach the roof as soon as possible. Daughter Cineraria stood on the landing to survey the result and started slowly to descend through the floorboards. Her eyes fixed on mine as she sank, Cindy showed no inclination to move and I dragged her away before she dropped down to the foundations beneath. Thereafter, the builder added replacement of the soggy joists to his extensive list of jobs.
Winter from the sitting room
Winter from the sitting room

We were too busy decorating to have a social life. The étagère bought for serving barbeques that never happened was swiftly pressed into service to hold the cacti. We heated the sun room for the first winter; this town was notably warmer that year. Due to spousal pressure upon receiving the fuel bill, this practice ceased and the greenery had to take its chances with the chill. Some houseplants liquefied under the cruel regime. Tibouchina urvilleana (glory bush) went west, a few Begonias were blitzed and I learned not to risk notable sissies such as Calatheas or Crotons. I bought a Magnolia grandiflora and an Eriobotrya japonica (loquat) to give me a little height. I acquired subsequent treats when I found them, from many and various sources. Annual gifts to me comprised entirely of trellises, obelisks, pots and plants. After fifteen years, the view of the conservatory is nearly identical to the sumptuous picture in my imagination at the start. The bad news is that after all of the scrubbing and scraping, I am looking the worse for wear.

Too Many Irons In The Fire

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I’ve been incredibly busy working on the calories in the post Christmas pantry. Going at it hammer and tongs, I can cut a hole in a packet of plain crisps like a saw mill through soft wood. Of course it’s raining outside, this is England, after all. Typically for February, it’s the sort of penetrating drizzle that were you out in it, would render you soggy down to your underpants. The lazy wind doesn’t bother to go around you, it just goes straight through. The showers are interspersed with sunlight so low and bright, that your eyes fill with tears, making the weeds hard to see.
Galanthus nivalis (common snowdrops) amongst the leaf litter
Galanthus nivalis (common snowdrops) amongst the leaf litter

The garden is down to imagination at present. Planning the year’s sweat provoking toil is easier than actually undertaking the hard graft. Nevertheless, I am eager to get busy with a trowel. I can dream of the touch of a rose petal to my lip, to soothe impatience. In my mind I can see the swathes of blossom, smell the scents and hear the birds squabbling over territory like fish wives. That has a nice ring to it. In fact, if I go out and churn the soggy soil, I would compact the structure and cause more damage than gain. I’ve read the seed catalogues, thumbed the perennial brochures and generally have consumed so much plant porn that my head is dangerously full and my heart rate is close to critical.
Helleborus x hybridus “Double Ellen White” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus x hybridus “Double Ellen White” (Lenten rose)

Rescue comes in the form of daughter-in-law Angelica, with my grandson in tow. At three years old, Herb is a little young for the finer points of Latin nomenclature. I find that he can be bribed to attempt a few common names with the aid of cake or ice cream. It’s still too cold for the latter, so we take off for the delights of the nearest garden centre with a café, so that I may attempt the subornment of an infant with gingerbread. While the junior branch of the family checks that the play area is up to scratch, I browse the bags of summer flowering bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and other roots lined up for my delectation. The photographs have been tinted and pimped to the max and poor Attila is helpless in their grasp. The prices are so steep that he has to stop and fan his wallet. I feel like a complete party pooper, pointing out that the pictures are bald lies for the seduction of swains like himself. Like most plants, he would have to wait for several seasons and court a little luck before attaining the glory painted on the packet.
Echinocactus grusonii (mother-in-law's cushion)
Echinocactus grusonii (mother-in-law’s cushion)

We retire to the coffee shop for comfort eating. Huge scones piled with strawberry jam and pillows of cream are two for the cost of one, so we stuff our faces. Although many green specimens have caught our eye, we feel unmoved to reach for our purses. Angelica’s house is still infested with builders so until they finish, her garden remains the preserve of horsetail and hawkweed. I have no room for another Dahlia and need to bring last year’s bumper purchase of Iris to bloom, before I can justify buying any more. I did spot a tiny, ridiculous and unusual cactus that would make a worthy addition to my collection. Got to strike while the iron’s hot.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

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Last Saturday’s opus went out without email notifications. When I find out why this happened, people will be blamed. Punishment will consist of their being lightly beaten with stems of Margarites (distinctive, clinging smell) or a week of compost turning (ditto). If this is the second ask, I apologise.

How could you? After all the love and care, the drips of moisture and preferential share of rare daylight, to quit after ailing over three months in hideous time lapsed slow motion. Davallia tyermanii (white hare’s foot fern) has turned from three bright shreds to a trio of crispy stalks over the winter. I showed the corpse to Botanical Barbara, who said that it flourishes so well for her, that she’s trying some in the garden. The worst of houseplant offenders is Adiantum (maidenhair fern) which is a diva of the worst water. This is a miserable bag of green spleen which shrivels at the first hint of neglect. The plant is astonishing only in the fleeting moment that it takes to turn to a stiff ruff of withered curls.
Pieris japonica “Variegata” (ready for action)
Pieris japonica “Variegata” (ready for action)

The secret, of course, is paying attention. All the book learning in the world will not help, if you take your eye off the object of your obsession. I read the label with care, mooch through my volumes of instructions and quarter the internet for hints and tips. No matter what I do, pansies fail to thrive. Wet, dry, cold, warm, sunny, gloomy, I’ve tried them all. They die without more than an early sprinkling of colour and that due to the efforts of the nursery of their birth, not me. This enables my next door neighbour to lean over the wall with a pitying smirk at my ineptitude. I can produce rhubarb by the hundredweight, dahlia blooms as big as your head, lily flowers so redolent with perfume that it makes your teeth itch but because I can’t get on with violas, I don’t feel like a real gardener.
Hardy ferns (obviously trouble free)
Hardy ferns (obviously trouble free)

I know about sticking to the right plant for the right place, still I’m aware that outrageous success may result from chancing your arm. My soil suits bulbs down to the ground, perennials prosper and shrubs are sensational. Nevertheless, I hanker after the ones that get away. I long to supply spinach for the kitchen, without seeing the crop bolting before I can get a harvest. I crave obelisks covered with Clematis or sweet peas, I’m not fussy which. I want racemes of scented Wisteria hanging over the front door. No matter how much pruning, fertilising, watering and mulching I undertake, victory eludes me.
Davallia tyermanii (white hare's foot fern)
Davallia tyermanii (white hare’s foot fern)

Perhaps television holds the answer. The experts stroll about their vast estates, dishing up directions for cultivation with casual élan. They present their glowing clumps of blossom, usually grown from seed with record breaking speed and so heavy that the camera operator has to assist with lifting the pots off the greenhouse bench. Their foliage is so profuse that they have to part stems in order for their grinning faces to be visible to the audience. I end up swollen with indignation, shouting at the screen. “Well,” says Attila, hiding a smile, “they’ve got to be told”. Upon close inspection of my much maligned indoor fern, I find a tiny sliver of new growth and leaves the size of pinheads. I feel like the love child of Gertrude Jekyll crossed with Christopher Lloyd. Perhaps I should tell someone.

A Man For All Seasons

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You look out of the window and see the sunshine gleaming on the bare bones of branches against an infinite sky. The light coruscates upon the dew drenched grass and you think “the weeds are getting cheeky, there’s some hairy bittercress that has my name on”. You tool up and step out into the January garden and realise that you’ve been had. It’s damned chilly, right parky, brass monkey weather.
Arum italicum “Marmoratum” (Italian arum)

Arum italicum “Marmoratum” (Italian arum)

The bulbs know no better and are beginning to shoot leaves into the crisp air. Helleborus (Lenten roses) are doing their best, bless them but otherwise, most plants are staying well covered. The Aroids (Arum family) are a welcome exception. The most noticeable greenery is currently Arum italicum “Marmoratum” whose striking leaves have braved the worst that winter can throw at them. The plant is quietly spreading itself along a north facing border in the company of ferns and Heucheras, for a splendid seasonal show. I grow the wild cousin Arum maculatum in a particularly dank, shady patch, for the spires of toxic orange autumn berries which give it one of its designations, lords and ladies. Many of the common names are gender related, including cuckoo pint, from Old English pintel, meaning a protrusion or penis. All flowers of the genus have a characteristic spadix which rises in a decidedly phallic manner. If this is going to give you the willies, look away now.
Iris reticulata “Alida” (even blooming before the snowdrops)
Iris reticulata “Alida” (blooming even before the snowdrops)

David Attenborough makes me hot under the collar. When he truffled through the tropical forests of Sumatra, to embrace the delights of Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum), I came over quite peculiar. I cherish A. konjac (voodoo lily) in the conservatory; although the summer foliage is exotic and profuse, I have yet to achieve a flower. Given the close confines of the glass house, this may be a blessing. Dave’s biggest bloom in the world had an outrageous odour that made his eyes water. My Arum dracunculus (dragon’s arum), grown outdoors, has a spring time burgundy spathe, a prominent knob and a disgusting reek, for attracting pollinating flies. The smell is so bad that grown men cry, women faint and children play elsewhere. I’m grateful that in my thin soil, it’s a poor performer.
Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” (black mondo grass)
Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” (black mondo grass)

Glorious Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily) is unperfumed and works well in a warm bed at the height of the season, better in the pond. It is propagated without difficulty from generously produced seeds, or by splitting mature clumps. Several sexy Arisaema (cobra lily) are hardy tuberous perennials which produce mysterious hooded blooms that develop from easily recognisable odd leaves. Protected from frost, the callas are so ravishing that they are worth a little trouble; in Greek, the name means the most beautiful. Despite this transparent attempt to titillate my enthusiasm and stimulate some internal heat, my nose and toes are still frigid. I’m retiring to a cosy crackling fireside and may even keep my coat on.

Herbal Healing Hokum

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My head is stuffed, my nose is glowing and my throat has been replaced with an instrument of torture from the least forgiving dungeon of the Middle Ages. I don’t want to over dramatise this but I’m crawling towards Death’s Door and I need love, sympathy and most of all, a cure. In answer to my feverish battering at a keyboard, the International online community suggests that Echinacea may possibly, doubtfully, debatably, offer some assistance. The plant is a hardy perennial that retreats to the blissful depths of its winter bed, which is where I should be. If you think that I’m going outside to find some, dig it up and make a tisane, you are sadly mistaken.
Back garden, looking south east
Back garden, looking south east

I’m brewing a stew of lemon rind, juice and honey, which helps with most of my symptoms. Before citrus fruits were imported, you had to consult the witchy wife for a restorative, concocted in insanitary conditions and smelling strongly of unpleasant vegetation. They made the best of what was available, so dandelion root and goat’s pee would have likely made a large showing. Modern simples make much of the therapeutic value of garlic. I suspect that they are working on my granny’s theory that if it tastes vile, it must be good for you. If consumed in generous quantities, it should keep everyone at a distance, thus avoiding the transmission of germs. My uncle used to swear by the healing power of a whole raw onion taken with a liberal helping of dark rum. Although an amiable man, we used to avoid him if we heard his sneezes and he had a handkerchief to hand.
Cynara scolymus (globe artichokes) spring growth
Cynara scolymus (globe artichokes) spring growth

Nicholas Culpeper was the 17th century sage who committed to print much of the knowledge of his times. Dated 1652, “The English Physitian” (sic), includes his recommendation for the use of burdock to alleviate dog bites, flatulence and toothache. Pennyroyal assists with vertigo and helps expel gas. Dittany draws out splinters and allegedly, the smell drives away venomous beasts. If you slap on enough of the stuff, it will probably sort out indigestion as well. He paired herbal nostrums to the planetary influences, so carrots were to be used under Mercury and ivy, columbine and cabbage were deemed effective under the moon. At various times in the January sky, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are visible. Mercury also makes a brief appearance and the moon is bright and lively, so most of his treatments should be useful up to and including Brassicas.
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Lady” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Lady” (Lenten rose)

After a little research, I found that paracetamol consists of a benzene ring core, substituted by one hydroxyl group and the nitrogen atom of an amide group in the para (1,4) pattern. There’s more on Wikipedia, if you are a glutton for punishment. Along with modern dentistry, the Internet and accurate cosmology, it’s one of many reasons that I wouldn’t wish to live in the past. I’m going to raid the medicine cupboard for any or all of the above and shall retreat to a darkened room until I feel better. Someone wake me in spring.

Weather Whinge

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Once you start this malarkey, you’re doomed to a life of inspecting the dirt or the heavens. As far as I am concerned, the year doesn’t start until crocus begin to shoot skywards and snowdrops sprinkle the soil. I don’t want to look at the outdoor canvas of brown sludge, until clumps of Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore) make a striking statement with lime green blossom. The splash of colour is visible from a front window, so there’s something out there to keep me cheerful.
Fog is what we do best
Fog is what we do best

The UK is at the junction of four weather fronts. We get wet and mild from the west, warm from the south, cold from the east and north. We’re constantly battered by rain, storms, snow and heat waves, sometimes all on the same day. It makes choosing sensible shoes a nightmare. We even get rare, feeble tornadoes and half-hearted hurricanes, which are frightfully un-British. Small wonder that the opening gambit of many conversations is “Lot of weather we’ve been having lately”. I’m taking this opportunity to stay indoors by the fire, reading about plants. Any enthusiasm is about plugging gaps in knowledge and I admit to not being good at trees. I envy some country dwellers their ability to identify an alder from the shape of its leafless skeleton. I would have difficulty with recognition if it were fully dressed and wearing a personalised t-shirt with a badge on its chest.
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)

I confess that this is not the climate for getting down and dirty with the weeds which are taking advantage of my current lack of vigilance. I scuttle from front door to car with a deliberate self-imposed soft focus before my eyes. Nevertheless, there is a large Taraxacum bulking up in a bed, which I’m watching with murder in mind. The scientific name for the genus originates in medieval Persian writings on pharmacy, dating from about 900 AD. The English common name is a corruption of the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth”, for the shape of the leaves. It is also called blowball, cankerwort, witch’s gowan, Irish daisy, monks-head, priest’s-crown, and puff-ball; other common names include faceclock, piss-a-bed, swine’s snout and wild endive. I call them bastards.
Lonicera fragrantissima (winter flowering honeysuckle)
Lonicera fragrantissima (winter flowering honeysuckle)

Writing a regular blog compels me to wander with a camera affixed to my face. Looking for something fetching to photograph, I notice that Taraxacum cophocentrum (rounded leaf dandelion) is making hay in the lawn and will require action, if the drizzle ever stops. T. cambricum (Welsh dandelion) takes no notice of any frontier and is becoming a nuisance in my borders. I am indebted to A.A. Dudman and A.J. Richards for their authoritative volume “Dandelions of Great Britain and Ireland” (ISBN 0-901158-25-9). I picked up my copy in a second-hand bookseller, where I had gone to dry off and keep warm. The purchase wasn’t cheap at £1, since I found many other prizes to add to my collection and the resulting muscle strain from carrying them will keep me stationary and smelling of embrocation for a while. I’ve learned a lot about wild flowers, so feel I know more about my enemy. The Latin is making my head spin and my ears aren’t wide enough because my brain is full; perhaps it’s time to return to pretty pictures of trees.