Home: wild flowers and my roots

It is lovely, this work of helping people to be inspired by places. I work with marvellous historic, cultural and natural places and their stories and significances. I spend a very large proportion of my time being excited, enthusiastic, attentive, empathetic and absorbant.  Forging connections between people and place is great – and it can be tiring.

Every so often it is good to be home and concentrate on my own connections with my own backyard. So, this morning, me and my dog took a stroll. The same stroll that we take most mornings when I am at home.  Today, I thought about just why this is so important to me.

The place is important to Max too – but I am not sure he thinks about it so much.

Along this very ordinary walk, are a range of very common wild flowers. Each one of them this morning spoke to me of my memories, and local customs, folklore, history.  They spoke to me of rural England and my roots here.  I realised I knew them all, and something about every one of them.

Foxglove: I never really believed foxy ladies , (or was it lady foxies?), wore them on their paws but we wore them on our fingers as children. Until my brother put his finger in one with a bee in – ever since, I have been slightly wary of them.

I do know their scientific names too – but that’s not what I was remembering this morning.

Stinging nettle: with the pollen my husband is so allergic to and the stinging leaves that cause so many childhood tears. We all know nettles …

… and the dock leaves that deadened the pain. I was told that there would always be a dock near a stinging nettle, evidence of justice. I am no longer quite sure of that. But it is true on this walk.

I was thinking of the roots we share, how entwined we are, and how these plants define where I belong and where I have come from. Butterbur leaves wide as plates wrapped butter for market, lasses plucked ‘ goosegirl sticks’ to drive the birds to market.

Eyebright, one of my favourite flowers, used, in days gone by, they do say, as an eyewash. And maybe it is.

They are all very common wayside plants, that have marked my personal path and the path of my people.

Rosebay Willowherb is a plant of Industrial Britain, it was rare until the railways and later the bombings of the 1939-1945 war produced ideal conditions for it.

They are meeting places, traps, resting places, breeding grounds and foodplants for insects.  I know many of them, by one name or another, or maybe just as nodding acquaintances, too

Hogweed: Many years ago, I spent a summer watching beetles, hoverflies and others living out their lives on the platforms of hogweed heads. Brief encounters. It was one of the better ways to get a Zoology degree.

Memories and stories, conversations and experiences. Far too many for here and now.  Most mornings I wander past them, but today every plant triggered something.

I remembered Tasmania and the virgin forests that are quite possibly the most wonderful natural environment I have ever seen. The conservationists there struggled not to laugh at how we conserve hedgerows here – it seems such a tiny, worthless remnant to them.

I had a vision of what it would be like to leave England and the hedgerows behind. The myriad of familiar plants, each with stories, conversations, memories, uses, powers, would be lost. Imagined t the people who knew them, adrift in a new alien flora.  I felt that as a frightening, enormous loss.

Goosegrass: sticks to fur and scratches skin. I remember decorating clothes with it. My daughter remembers, less pleasantly, boys messing it into her hair.

So it is good to be here in late summer, noticing all these very ordinary plants, reconnecting with my own patch, its past and my own.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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