Monday, 2 June 2008

Froth on a daydream

Over the garden wall...

The lanes are bordered with foam – hedges here are mostly hawthorn, or may (bringing to mind the country saying about ne'er casting a clout till may be out, particularly apt yesterday, when wind and rain had moved in after Saturday's glorious sunshine), while along the verges a froth of Queen Anne's Lace dances in the gusts, its delicate heads weighted by raindrops.

My recent post with its picture of heartsease reminds me that country names here and across the Atlantic may differ. In North America Queen Anne's Lace seems to refer to the wild carrot (daucus carota) whereas I was brought up to use the name for anthriscus sylvestris, also known as cow parsley or, most unattractively, kecks, which according to Geoffrey Grigson in The Englishman's Flora, refers to the hollow stalks (presumably for the same reason that in some parts of northern England "kecks" also refers to trousers, and even knickers).

Anthriscus sylvestris is listed as a culinary herb, although not one of great value, with dire warnings about not muddling it up with the somewhat similar hemlock (conium maculatum) – though, since hemlock stinks of mice, it's hard to see how anyone could. Grigson points out that the similarity between umbellifer flowers has led to much overlapping of names, hence the different usage in the US, where they attach a legend to the appearance of wild carrot: Queen Anne was a great lacemaker, and challenged the ladies of the court to make something as delicate as the flowerhead – none except the Queen could, but she pricked her finger, and that's why the wild carrot has a drop of red at the centre. Grigson, more prosaically, suggests that the plant is named is for Saint Ann, sister of the Virgin Mary.

Anthriscus sylvestris has strong associations with the Devil and witchcraft, too, reflected in some of its other names: devil's oatmeal and hare's parsley, oldrot and gipsy's curtains. Perhaps the prettiest, however, is its Wiltshire name of moonlight - think I might start calling it that. The maytree too, has attractive alternatives, but I'll save them for another post.

This pretty spiraea echoes the effect of the Queen Anne's Lace and mayblossom


Rob Clack said...

At our previous house, 25-odd years ago, we had a 20m square patch on which we planted trees - alder, ash, etc. We left the grass, just mowing a meandering path through it, and scythed it twice a year. The smell of crushed cow parsley takes me straight back to sunny summer weekends idling away the hours. Wonderful!

galant said...

I adore the whiteness of spring ... the cow parsley (Queen Anne's Lace) and the Hawthorne. A few years ago we spent a brief holiday in Rye, East Sussex, and one morning walked along the Old Military Canal. Its banks were a froth of white from the Hawthorne. It truly was the most splendid sight, set against a brilliant blue sky. Frogs croaked and sheep grazed or stood under the trees, thereby gaining shelter from the sun. We returned a couple of years later, at the same time of the year, but the weather wasn't kind to us, it was chilly and dull and the Hawthorne wasn't yet in bloom. One day we will return when the blossom will again lift our spirits.
Margaret Powling

GeraniumCat said...

Sounds lovely, Rob - I hope our paddock will be like that one day.

Galant, one evening a few years ago I caught a flight from Belfast to Newcastle, and the scenery was quite beautiful, every field in northern England, it seemed, was a green square surrounded by white lace, and the evening sun made everything golden.

mountainear said...

I grew up in south Warwickshire calling Cow Parsley 'Keck', but haven't in my adult life met anyone else who did so. Love the kecks/underpants link, it seems so right and earthy - my boys have always called their pants their kecks. I'd always thought that a northern term. (One of many I came to learn having married a Mancunian)

Isn't the different use of vocabulary across the country a fascinating thing?

Jane Badger said...

Here in Northants we call it kek, so it's maybe a Midland thing. One of the horses who used to live here loved it. Since he died, we've not had another who ate it, so it has proliferated in a way which shows just how dodgy our pasture management is.

I do love hawthorn season though - that amazing soapy scent on evening walks.

GeraniumCat said...

M'ear, I only knew the word because I married a northerner. I love regional differences, where I used to work there were 3 of us from different parts of Scotland and we used to sit and compare words

Jane, I didn't know that horses would eat it. The other scent I love at this time of year is whins (gorse) - deliciously coconutty.

Jane Badger said...

We don't have any gorse round here at all, alas, but I do love that scent. The elder is in full flower at the moment and that is lovely too.

mutterings and meanderings said...

We call it 'cow parsley' and the horses - all of them - adore it. The Grey Mare grabs it when she's walking by.