Saturday, 22 July 2017

Laburnum

In late April and early May, Milton Country Park is white with hawthorn blossom. The only tree to break this hegemony of white is a solitary laburnum bush that grows besides the path as it winds it way along the east bank of Dickerson's Pit. Its branches arching over the path are heavy with long clusters of bright yellow flowers, fully justifying its alternative name of 'Golden Rain'.

Close up of blossom heavy branches of Laburnum
Golden Rain - 4 May 2017
This picture clearly shows how appropriate the name 'Golden Rain' is.


But beware!  This beautiful bush has a reputation for being highly poisonous.   Although all parts of the bush are toxic, the main danger is to children who eat the seeds as they would eat peas.  Symptoms range from nausea to, more frighteningly, convulsions, frothing at the mouth, and going into a coma.  Fatalities are extremely rare.


Flowering laburnum bush overhanging path with hawthorn blossom further along.
Path besides Dickerson's Pit - 4 May 2017
The bright yellow flowers eclipse the white hawthorn behind.

As with many plants of late introduction into Britain, there is very little folklore associated with the laburnum, which was first cultivated here in the mid sixteenth century.  One snippet that I found interesting, is that a laburnum will fail to flower if a neighbouring tree is removed.


Medlar Tree

 

Close up of a single medlar flower surrounded by leaves
Medlar Flower - 11 May 2017
Single flowers are almost hidden among the full grown leaves

My next tree, the medlar, certainly does not challenge the dominance of the hawthorn.  A single tree is situated at the southern end of the orchard.  Its blossom is almost hidden by its leaves, which are full grown by the time its single white flowers are out.


Close up of a bud of medlar just beginning to open
Medlar Flower Bud - 11 May 2017

I have included in this post, not because of its visual impact, but because its name intrigues me. To me, it sounds medieval, conjuring up the age of chivalry, of knights in armour, and grand banquets.  It is certainly old.  The medlar, which has been cultivated for thousands of years, was first brought to England in the eleventh century.  

But it is not possible to discuss the medlar's name without considering its fruit.  'Medlar' is thought to be derived from the French 'Medler', and means nothing more than the fruit of a small fruit bearing tree?!


Close up a medlar fruit
Medlar Fruit - 6 September 2016

One alternative name is 'open-arse' or 'openaers', derived either from the appearance, or the laxative properties of the fruit.  The French also have an alternative name 'cul-de-chien' or 'Dogs Arse'. 

It is with the more vulgar name that the medlar first found its way into English literature: in the prolog to the Reeves Tale, Chaucer uses the term 'open-ers' or 'openarse'.  Later, Shakespeare was to use both 'medlar' and 'open-arse' in a single speech in Romeo and Juliet.  In modern literature, D H Lawrence continued the faecal reference, when, in one poem,  he described the medlar as: "Wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa".

Wayfaring Tree

 

Close up showing umbel of five petalled white flowers
Wayfaring Tree Flower Head - 23 April 2017

Another tree which flowers in late April or early May is the wayfaring tree.  There are just a few of these tree in the hedgerows at the north end of the park, their white flowers overwhelmed and easily overlooked among the apple and hawthorn blossom.  I only spotted them for the first time this April, after more than two years of paying close attention to the plant life in the park.


wayfaring tree with white flowers growing in hedge beside a path
Path by Wetlands - 23 April 2017
Wayfaring tree embedded in one of the hedges at the north end of the park

'Wayfaring Tree' is another of those traditional English names which I find so evocative.  The name was given to it by Gerarde, describing its habit of growing by the wayside.


 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Wisdom of Dandelions

It seems that almost every plant, no matter how small  or insignificant, played a part in the world of our ancestors. Plants were used for food, for medicine, for protection against witches and evil spirits, and as good luck charms. They could foretell the future, forecast the weather, bring bad luck into the house, and act as link to the otherworld of pixies and fairies.

Low growing clump of dandelions on edge of path
Dandelion - 25 April 2017
Though dandelions are abundant outside of Milton Country Park
inside there are only a few clumps growing on the edge of paths.

The dandelion - the name is from the old French dents-de-lion referring to the leaves whose shape resembles lions' teeth - has a reputation as something of an oracle.  The flowers can be used to foretell everything from a child's future wealth to the true status of a woman's love, as well as forecasting the next day's weather.  The seed heads are equally potent: blowing on the seed head can yield such diverse information as the time of day, the number of children a child will have, and the state of the blower's love life.

Germander Speedwell

Close up of a clump of speedwell
Germander Speedwell - 25 April 2017
Close up the resemblance of the flower to birds' eyes is obvious
Its alternative name is birds-eye trefoil

If the dandelion flower is for the picking, my next flower, germander speedwell, definitely is not.  To pick one of its tiny blue flowers was to risk having a bird peck one's eyes out; a belief presumably based on the resemblance of the flower with its dark blue periphery and white centre to a bird's eye.  Except in Ireland, where it was sewn into clothes to protect against accidents!

A patch of grass infused with the bright blue flowers of germander speedwell
Clumps of Germander Speedwell - 4 May 2017
The only substantial clump of this flower on a small triangle of grass at the north of the park.
Massed flowers like this add a cheerful blue flush to the meadow

In any case, the name 'germander speedwell' suggests happier assocations: 'speedwell' - a flower to speed the traveller on her way, cheered on by its masses of bright blue flowers. 

Cuckoo Pint

Close up of single cuckoo pint flower
Cuckoo Pint Inflorescence - 17 April 2017
Though large cuckoo pint flowers are easily overlooked for two reasons:
firstly, they are green; and, secondly by the time they come to flower
the plants are often hidden among the fast growing nettles and cow parsley.

The cuckoo pint (rhymes with mint, and is short for pintle a name for the penis) is the dirty postcard of the plant kingdom. The resemblance of its flowers, with their poker shaped spadix  partially enclosed in a pale green hood or spathe, to human genitalia has titillated the imagination of generations.  As a result, it has been called over 150 names including lords and ladies, devils and angels, boys and girls, naked boys, naked girls, and jack in the pulpit.  The starch in its roots was used for stiffening altar clothes, church linen and Elizabethan ruffs.

Comfrey

Path through woods lined with comfrey covered in white blossom
Comfrey - 11 May 2017
In the woods in the south of the park,
there is a large mass of comfrey growing either side of the path.

Comfrey is an example of a plant cultivated for its medicinal properties.  The name 'comfrey' , derived from the Latin 'con firma' to grow together, and other traditional names such as knitbone and boneset, reflect its value as an aid to the healing of broken bones.  It has also been used as a poultice for bruises and to relieve arthritic pain, and a remedy for nappy rash.

White Dead Nettle

Bike track with banks of white dead nettle on either side
White Dead Nettle - 17 April 2017
Up to this year, there have been just a few clumps of this plant in the park,
this year it lines the bike tracks at the south of the park.
Finally, white dead nettle reveals how much pixies and fairies were part of the popular imagination.  Its flowers, which occur in pairs, were said to be pixie shoes left outside their house.  Maybe, the likeness can only be seen after drinking a distillation of the flowers which according to Gerard makes the 'heart merry' and 'restores the spirits'. From its alternative common names of 'deaf nettle', 'dumb nettle' and 'blind nettle', the white dead nettle is three wise monkeys all rolled into one plant!

Further Reading

I have listed all my sources for this post on a separate page 'Folklore References' 

Next: Laburnum



Saturday, 24 June 2017

Apple Blossom

My camera and I disagree about apple blossom.  We agree that close up the individual flowers with five white petals tinged with pink are among the most beautiful of the springtime tree blossom.  We disagree about the impact the flowering of the apple trees has on the landscape of Milton Country Park in general, and its orchard in particular.

Close up of fully open apple blossom white with pink tinge and underside to petals.
Apple Blossom - 23 April 2017
White petals with pink tinge and underside

This has been a good year for blossom and the orchard has been the prettiest I have seen it. To my eye, the apple blossom was plentiful and stood out from the background.  The camera saw things somewhat differently: the blossom was there, but was only one of a number of elements competing for my attention in the final picture.  

A row of apple trees all in flower
Orchard - 25 April 2017
Apple blossom at its peak. The bare branches and the metal guards
around the trunks seem far more prominent than I remember them

This is not the first time in the course of this project that I have come up against this phenomenum whereby the visual weight of an item is completely reduced, even though the proportion it occupies in the final picture is probably greater than it was in the original scene. It underlines how the brain interprets a picture completely differently from the way it interprets the image formed on the retina by the original landscape. 


View along path with tall apple tree overshadowing the path
Path by Wetlands - 16 April 2017
Apple tree growing by the path
which seemed far more obvious than it does in this image.

 

 Folklore

 

A spray of apple buds, pink, almost red with the white petals beginning to emerge
Buds - 9 April 2017
The buds on this tree were a very deep pink, almost red

Over the ages, the apple has featured prominantly in myths and legends, which is hardly surprising given that there is evidence that man has been eating apples for over 7000 years. Here, I want to highlight some of the folklore that is specifically associated with apple blossom.


Apple flower surrounded by spray of partially opened buds.
Blossom - 23 April 2017
Its not difficult to see why apple blossom
should symbolize a woman's beauty

In China, apple blossom symbolises a woman's beauty. In other cultures, the flowers are associated with love, and have been included in love sachets and candles to attract love.  In Wales, apple blossom was laid in coffins to restore youth in the afterlife.

Close up of apple blossom
Apple Blossom - 23 April 2017
Catch a falling petal to bring you luck
Catch twelve for a year of good fortune

I finish with a bit of English weather lore:

If apples bloom in March
In vain for them you'll search;
If apples bloom in April
Why then, they'll be plentiful;
If apples bloom in May
You can eat them night and day.


From that, it appears that 2017 should be a good year for apples!

Further Reading

Fresh Fruit Facts and Folklore
Apple History, Folklore, Myth and Magic
Tree Lore: Apple
Apple Folklore
The Magic of the Ogham Trees: Apple - Quert
Fruit in Mythology

Next : The Wisdom of Dandelions



Saturday, 10 June 2017

Catkins

In early April, sandwiched between the white blanket of the early plum blossom and the delicate pink and white apple blossom, the willow trees flower.  The narrow leafed white willows gleam gold in the sun from the myriads of catkins curving between the leaves and around the branches like an army of woolly caterpillars.  The goat willow is still leafless, and its plumper, straighter, flowers make the bushes appear as if they have been covered with balls of pale yellow cotton wool. Although the willows are some of the most numerous trees in Milton Country Park, their flowers do not have the impact on the landscape of the massed white flowers of other spring flowering trees.


Close up of a series of curving willow catkins
White Willow Catkins - 9 April 2017
In Scotland, branches of willow catkins were used
to decorate churches to celebrate Palm Sunday.

To the English imagination, the willow is the tree of summer, long hot lazy summers spent messing about on the water.  A role immortalised in its eponymous reference in Kenneth Graham's classic 'Wind in the Willows'. And if not on the water, then sitting in a deckchair watching cricket on the village green and listening to the sound of leather on willow, before eating scones and drinking cups of tea in the interval between innings.


White willow tree covered in catkins gleaming orange in the sun
White Willow - 9 April 2017
This tree with new shoots growing from its broken trunks,
illustrate why willow is a symbol of rebirth and immortality in many parts of the world

Over the centuries, willow has had less happy associations and became particularly associated with grief.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forsaken lovers would wear a cap made of willow twigs and leaves.  A couple of hundred years later, willow found its way as a decoration on gravestones.

Close up of a single branch of Goat Willow with catkins
Goat Willow Catkins - 2 April 2017
These catkins in the house are reputed to reduce fevers

Yet for an indigenous tree, known from ancient times, the willow has attracted relatively little folklore or mythology.  The Druids believed that two scarlet snake eggs were hidden in the willow, one contained the sun, the other the earth, from which the universe was hatched.  Celtic tradition holds that the willow is a source of great psychic energy.  

Bush of goat willow covered in catkins
Goat Willow - 2 April 2017
The goat willow catkins are far more conspicuous than the white willow counterparts,
not only are they thicker, but there are no leaves to hide them.
  
Perhaps, our ancestors did not feel the need to weave stories around the willows, because they were, and still are, such really useful trees.  Listed uses include: cricket bats, baskets, wicker furniture, wattle and daub walls, outdoor furniture, ornamental boxes, doors, fodder and fuel.  This is apart from the medicinal uses of willow, which, we now know, are derived from the salicylic acid in its bark.  Salicylic acid is the active ingredient of Aspirin, and just like Aspirin, willow bark was used to relieve pain and reduce fever, as well as treating a wide range of other conditions including gout, rheumatism, sore throats (as a gargle), skin conditions, whooping cough and catarrh. 

White willow bush covered in seeding catkins
White Willow Seeds - 30 April 2017
By the end of April, willow seeds are well formed
and far more visible than the preceding catkins


But the willow is not only useful to humans, it is a valuable food plant for many insects.  In particular, the caterpillars of  three of our largest moths, the red underwing, the puss moth, and the eyed hawk moth, all feed on the willow.

On a botanical note, I have identified the narrow leaved willows in the park as white willow, but this is by no means certain, as they could equally well be crack willow or hybrids. Similarly, I have used the name goat willow for the broad leaf varieties with only marginally more confidence.


Close up of white willow seeds
White Willow Seeds - 2 April 2017
These seeds will soon blow about the park like snow
and give a fluffy white covering to ground and water.

Hornbeam


Other trees in Milton Country Park that have catkins at this time of year include birch, poplar and hornbeam.  The latter is a tree I have never seen, or at least positively identified, until this year.  Even then, I initially confused it with the beech trees: it has similarly shaped leaves and a smooth bark, but the leaves are out earlier than the beech and the flowers are completely different.

Branches of hornbeam with catkins
Hornbeam - 2 April 2017
The hornbeam is associated with clairvoyance, wisdom, and long life.
In some folklore, the hornbeam itself is held to be immortal.

The wood of hornbeam is very hard, harder than oak, and it is this characteristic that gave it its name: in Old English 'horn' meant hard, and 'beam' meant tree. Because its wood is so hard, hornbeam is rarely used for cabinet making as it tends to blunt tools, and is much more commonly used where its strength is an asset: for making butcher's blocks, cog wheels, and striking hammer in pianos. Romans used it to make their chariots.

Close up of a pair of hornbeam catkins
Hornbeam Catkins - 2 April 2017
Fertilised seeds mature and ripen to nutlets
a favourite food of the hawfinch

Further Reading

Mandy Haggith: Willow
Trees For Life: Willow
Kindred Spirit Magazine: Willow Ways
Tree Lore: Willow  
Woodland Trust: Willow, white (Salix alba)

Woodland Trust: Fascinating Tree Facts
SooperArticles: Common Hornbeam Tree

Next: Apple Blossom
 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Unfolding Spring

Spring.  As the sun moves nearer the equator, the days get longer and warmer.  On the trees, new leaves and flowers burst out of the buds which have been dormant during the winter.  The countryside is transformed from a dull monotone to a celebration of vibrant greens. 

Young sycamore leave, shine yellow green backlit in the sunshine
Young Sycamore - 24 March 2017
Sycamore are amongst the first trees to get their leaves.
Here at the end of March the new leaves shine in the spring sunshine.

In the past two years, I have tried to capture the landscape of the park at the tipping point when the trees first begin to turn green, with results that have not been wholly convincing.  This year, I have photographed individual buds as they unfurl. 

Close up of field maple leaves unfolding
Field Maple - 26 March 2017
Field maple is one of the dominant shrubs in the park.
Their new yellow/green leaves give the park a springlike feel. 

In February, the trees are drab, brown and bare, hide nothing.  The opposite bank of Dickerson's Pit is clearly visible across the water from the path that runs alongside the eastern border of the park.  By June, the trees are completely covered with leaves, whose colours range from the willow's silvery green, through the red green of the sycamore, to the bright saturated colours of the hawthorn, and which form an almost impenetrable screen between the waters of the pit and the visitor.

Bramble shooting out of thick thorny stem
Bramble - 26 March 2017
There is plenty of new growth on the brambles,
but plenty of last year's leaves are still in evidence.

But the change is gradual, and like all gradual changes, it isn't noticed, particularly since it is punctuated by tidal waves of white spring blossom. How late would the leaves have to appear before anyone remarked on the delay? For instance, imagine if the winter was very cold and extended so that the trees were still bare in June, would anyone talk about the lack of leaves, or would they discuss how late the hawthorn flowers were?

Spray of young oak leaves against a blue sky
Oak - 23 April
Oak are one of the last trees to get their leaves.
This was one of the oak trees on remembrance meadow.


Neither is it a single monolithic process, but a whole series of changes as each tree species gets its leaves at different times.  It starts with the elder in February; this is followed by the sycamore, then the hawthorn; and, finally, in May, the beech and the poplar.  As far as I can find out, only the relative timing of the appearance of the leaves of the ash and the oak has made it into weather lore:

    Ash before Oak - we're in for a soak,
    Oak before Ash - we're in for a splash





Closeup of stickly bud as it is just starting to unfurl
Horse Chestnut - 26 March 2017
The unmistakeable sticky bud of the horse chestnut
on one of the newly planted chestnut trees at the south end of the park.

Perhaps the one bud everyone knows is the sticky bud, the large bud of the horse chestnut which is covered in a sticky resin.  The resin serves a dual purpose, it protects the bud from frost and water damage, and also against attack by small insects.  As the day temperatures rise, the resin melts and very quickly the large palmate leaves unfurl.  



Close up of hawthorn bud with unfolding leaves and growing flower buds
Unfolding Hawthorn Bud - 26 March 2017
Close up of bud shows emerging flower buds
amongst the unfolding leaves


Close scrutiny of a developing bud reveals it is far from a simple case of a single leaf emerging from a single bud. Take, for instance, this picture of a developing hawthorn bud.  There is clearly a rosette of leaves, inside of which are the flower buds.  All tightly packed together in the minimum possible space.  If this were the end product, we would admire it.  As it is only a short lived stage in the development of the anticipated flower, it is ignored.

But beyond a masterpiece of packaging engineering, consider what a photograph cannot show.  Each new cell that is created has the same DNA, and therefore the same potential, as every other cell in the whole tree.  What controls how any particular cell develops? What determines whether it becomes part of the fabric of the leaf, part of a vein, or part of a petal?


Further Reading
Aesculus hippocastaneum
Horse Chestnut 
  
Next: Catkins 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Blackthorn


One of the pleasures of writing this blog has been learning about the plants that I have photographed.  It has not been the botannical science that has piqued my interest so much as the folk lore and herbal remedies associated with the trees and flowers.  For it is the plant lore, and the origins of some of the romantic sounding vernacular names, that give such a fascinating insight into way our predecessors viewed the world. 

Twig of blackthorn laden with flowers
Blackthorn Blossom - 26 March 2017
Superficially very similar to the plum blossom, but without any leaves
and the individual blossom are slightly smaller.

Previously, in this blog, I have discussed how the name we use for a plant or flower alters our perception of it ( see my post 'Using New Eyes Part 3' ). I believe that the same is true of anything that we have learnt or have been told about something.  So after reading about the old superstitions surrounding some particular species, we can never look at it in quite the same way again; we see it in a  new light.

One bush that I will now look at somewhat differently is the blackthorn, a shrub that is easily overlooked in Milton Country Park as its white flowers appear just as the very similar cherry plum blossom is dying off.  It is very easy to confuse the two species, as I did in 2015 when I misidentified all the early white cherry plum blossom as blackthorn. In fact, there are only half a dozen or so blackthorn bushes in the park. 

The name 'blackthorn' is not a great revelation: it is simply a straightforward description of the bush, and suggests the means of distinguishing it from the cherry plum, which does not have thorns.


Blossom only visible a sparse white sheen over the hedge
Blackthorn Blossom in the Hedge - 17 April 2016
I took this photograph last year, but have not bettered it  since.
The blackthorn is quite lost among the surrounding the bushes.
Interestingly, by mid April this year, the blackthorn had finished flowering.

 What has changed the way that I look at blackthorn is learning that it is the preferred wood for making shillelaghs.  Apparently, wood from the blackthorn root is particularly suitable as it does not crack during use.  Shillelaghs were originally clubs used for fighting and self defence, and are still used in a form of martial art.  Now, whenever I see a blackthorn bush, I will inevitably think of it as the source of that most potent symbol of Ireland.

Beyond its Irish connection, and its use in making sloe gin, blackthorn has gained a sinister reputation over the thousands of years it has been known to man. It has been very heavily associated with witches and the dark side of their craft. Its wood was used to make a wand with thorns at its end used to cast spells to bring harm to others. The tree is also linked to warfare and death.


Other Flowers


This is my third post in a series on the subject of March flowers in the park. The first two in the series dealt with plum blossom and with daffodils.  Besides these and the blackthorn, there were a few isolated bushes in flower, a couple of which caught my eye.

Looking up into the canopy of berberis bush lots of yellow flowers among green leaves
Berberis - 23 March 2017
A single bush besides the jetty on Dickerson's Pit


The first was a large berberis bush on the banks of Dickerson's Pit.  It had clearly been established for a number of years, yet I had completely missed seeing it up until now. Though I am disappointed in my failure to spot the bush, in many ways, it is a very good illustration of the underlying philosophy of this whole project: there is a lot to gained by close careful observation of our environment, however familiar it may be.


A close up of a single branch of flowering current with racemes of flowers
Flowering Current - 21 March 2017

Then there are a number of flowering current bushes scattered around the park.  Their pink flowers providing a contrast to the prevailing whites and yellows of the other blossom in the park.

In the Garden 

 

Single blue hyacinth surrouned by red leaves
Blue Hyacinth - 12 March 2017
A colourful corner in the Sensory Garden
with a blue hyacinth surrounded by the red leaves of a bush I cannot identify

There was more colour in the sensory garden, which is at its prettiest in early spring.  But without any large blocks of colour, the interest was in the detail, like the contrast between this blue hyacinth and the red leaves surrounding it.


Low view of white polyanthus with pale green hellebores and daffodils in the background
White Polyanthus - 12 March 2017
In the background to these white polyanthus, growing in the raised bed in the sensory garden,
 are hellebores and daffodils.

I particularly enjoy photographing the raised bed, as it is very easy to get a worm's eye view and a just a few square inches of garden becomes a landscape filled with towering plants.

Close up of picture of purple and yellow polyanthus
Polyanthus - 15 March 2017

In the same bed are a number of other polyanthus plants.  I liked the way the flowers of this plant seemed to be being held in a protective cocoon of green leaves.

Further Reading

I found the following websites helpful:

Blackthorn Tree Lore: Blackthorn
The Magic of the Ogham Trees
Shillelagh

Next: Unfolding Spring



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Flowers From Hell

Daffodils are forever associated with Wordsworth and the Lake District, and his host of golden flowers dancing in the breeze. The impact of their large colourful trumpet flowers is heightened by the fact that they flower at a time when the rest of the landscape has lost very little of its winter drabness; even a single flower is easily spotted. So relatively few daffodils have a major effect on the landscape of the park, particularly in the area around the Visitor Centre and the childrens' playgrounds.

Close up of a group of daffodils with deep yellow trumpets
A Fanfare for Spring - 12 March 2017
Outside the Visitor Centre, a group of daffodils at their best
welcome the visitor.

From Hell to Life Preserver

These first flowers of spring are seen as a symbol of rebirth, but that has not always been the case – in ancient Greek mythology, Wordsworth's gleeful blooms were seen as flowers from hell. Pliny claims that daffodils grew on the banks of the underworld river Acheron to cheer the passing souls. In another myth, daffodils were white until Pluto dragged Persephone, the worman he loved, down into his underworld kingdom and turned the bunch of the flowers she was carrying yellow. Egyptians also included daffodils in funeral wreaths.

A cluster of daffodils around a tree trunk
Group of Daffodils - 12 March 2017
There are no great masses of daffodils in Milton Country Park
just groups of flowers in the grass or around the trees.
Almost all the daffodils are found within a couple of hundred yards of the visitor centre.

The daffodil fared little better under the Romans who introduced the flowers to England in the mistaken belief that their sap could help to heal wounds; in truth daffodil sap has entirely the opposite effect and acts as an irritant. More macabrely, Roman soldiers carried a bunch of daffodil bulbs around with them to be eaten if they were mortally wounded in battle. The bulbs are both narcotic and highly poisonous, so presumably the men thought that they would die peacefully and painlessly.

Over the ensuing centuries, daffodils have gathered a lot of folk lore, some good and some bad. I find it interesting to speculate on how these various beliefs started, and how they became established and spread. We are used to daily headlines telling us what to eat and what not to eat for a long and healthy life. And we know where these stories come from: scientists have studied the diets of thousands, if not millions of people, over many years; then analysed the results on powerful computers to come to their conclusions. Even then, the more sceptical of us wonder how they could isolate the effects of one food from a mass of diets, different life styles, different genetic susceptibilities, etc. Our predecessors had access to none of this.

Clumps of daffodils growing beneath silver birch trees
Naturalised Flowers - 12 March 2017
Clumps of daffodils naturalised below the birches beside the car park
Their bright yellow flowers dominate the otherwise drab scenery

Take for instance, the belief that to deliberately avoid trampling on daffodils is to bring good luck. Is this no more than a lord of the manor trying to preserve his view from his dining room window; a sort of 'keep off the grass' notice for an illiterate and superstitious population?

Or what about the stricture never to give a single daffodil, always give a bunch, because to bring a single daffodil into the house will bring bad luck? Is this just a way of saying don't be mean? 

A small clump of flowereing daffodils shine bright yellow among the trunks and leaf litter
Beneath the Trees - 6 March 2017
There are a number of small clumps of daffodils scattered throughout the park,
many beneath the trees, where their bright blossoms shine brightly
 among the brown leaf litter.



But good luck and bad luck are very general and fuzzy ideas, whose interpretation depends on how someone looks at life. Yet, some beliefs are quite specific: to bring daffodils into a house with poultry in it would stop the eggs hatching or the hens laying any more eggs. How did this come about? Did farmer Giles walk into his local pub one night, and tell everyone that his hens had stopped laying eggs ever since his wife brought those daffodils into the house? Did someone else vaguely recall that something similar had happened to old Martha in the next village? Then as the tale spread, did others remember similar incidents – naturally forgetting all the countless bunches of daffodils that had had no effect whatsoever on laying chickens? So a legend was born.

Close up of two daffodil flowers with more daffodils in the background
Sensory Garden - 12 March 2017
The golden trumpets of daffodils dominate the central bed in the Sensory Garden

Wordsworth, of course, reversed these bleak views of the daffodil with his famous celebration of the plant. Now, in the twenty first century, this flower once associated with death is now being used to improve life: since the late 1990's daffodils have been grown commercially for their galanthamine content, a substance which has been shown to slow down the progress of Alzheimer's disease.



Further Reading