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
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)
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)
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.