Derek – Friday 14th May 2021

It’s been raining on and off. No complaints after dry April. It’s chilly, though, which has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that plants in flower last longer. Hot days accelerate the life cycle giving shorter flowering times. It’s down to chemistry; the warmer it is, the faster are chemical reactions. Though with living processes there is a limit, and that’s above 35 degrees, give or take, due to the fall off in the efficiency of enzymes. The disadvantages of colder days are that seeds struggle to get going in the chill, and our garden gets fewer visitors.

There’s aquilegia, here and there, in the garden, purple and white varieties. I remember the first time I saw this flower in the wild (Aquilegia vulgaris). I could barely believe its intricacy. The deepness of the horns of the petals, and the spurs. However could such a flower evolve? The answer is time and natural selection. Flowers have existed for 150 million years, so there’s been lots of time to increase complexity.

It’s also known as columbine. The root of the name, columba, is Latin for dove as some observers saw the nectaries (horns) as being like doves’ heads. The botanical name aquilegia means eagle, so named because the spurs of the flower suggested to other observers the talons of an eagle. I associate the flower with Ophelia. There’s an awfully sad scene when she is scattering flowers shortly before she drowns herself, her father dead and Hamlet has abandoned her:

‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. – Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, But they withered all when my father died.*’*

Near the front of the garden, by the buddleia, a hawthorn is in flower. Our tree is small, but the blossom is in profusion in large trees, with tresses of small, five petalled florets. ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’ has nothing to do with any sort of nuts, which of course mature in the autumn, but with the hawthorn’s other name, the may tree. Spray or knots were brought into houses and churches at this time of year to celebrate spring.

Another folk line is: ‘Ne’er shed a clout till May is out.’ There’s two arguable meanings to this. One is that May can still be chilly, so keep your winter clothes on till June. The other refers to the may tree. You can shed your winter wear when the may is in flower. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust goes for the latter. Not that it matters, but I prefer it too.

There’s a large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) on the flat stones where the honey bees congregate. It has huge compound eyes and is barely moving. Has it just come out of its skin, and its new one is drying off? I can’t say, but it is very vulnerable to a passing bird. Life is all risk for wildlife.

At the foot of our new pergola is a speckled laurel. It looks as if white paint has been dripped on the leaves. Could it be those playing cards again? Perhaps they have been painting the hawthorn, the White Queen offended by the red variety. You know what queens are like. Hold on to your head.

Comments 2

  1. Great post Derek, thank you – I learn something every time. As a child we knew aquilegia as Granny’s Bonnets, my favourite name for them.

  2. I like Granny’s Bonnet. But I think she’d only wear it for special occasions, like a wedding. Not a hat for every day.

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