Wednesday, 25 June 2008

All fluffed up


There was a tremendous kerfuffle in the garden this morning. OH had taken the dogs out and I was just switching on the laptop and thinking reluctantly about starting work, when I heard indignant shrieks and flappings from the Bluebells. I couldn't imagine what was causing such consternation but when I squinted out of the window there was a strange dog in the garden. I rushed out, wincing as my bare feet (I never wear shoes indoors) hit the gravel, shouting as I went, and a young and enthusiastic springer spaniel made a beeline for the gate. She belonged to one of the builders working on the farmhouse next door, and I am afraid I was distinctly frosty as he retrieved her.

The chickens had all disappeared into their roost (they were perfectly safe, they have a heavy wire run to protect them from the foxes, which would have no qualms about helping themselves during daylight hours), but when I looked in on them, they were all crowded into the nestbox in a heap of quivering feathers and dark mutterings: "Shouldn't wonder if no one can lay for weeks", they opined, "but yes, a little fresh lettuce may help. Mind you put the stalk in too, for a nice dose of its soothingly narcotic sap." They are well-versed in country lore, those girls.

You can be sure that I shall glower at the builder every time I pass, but I can't help remembering a very young springer who chased next door's ducks, and everything else he set eyes on, to my intense mortification. Lovely dogs, but fluff-for-brains and great sufferers from selective deafness, so I have never wanted another. Not that Senior Dog and The Bolter are saints, but TB is asleep under my duvet at the moment, so all is quiet.

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