I’ve adored plants for as long as I can remember. Walks with Grandma Grace on the Sussex Downs were always magical, as she told me the country names for the wild flowers we spotted.
“Those are Milkmaids, in their little bonnets,” she’d say, or, “That’s Jack-by-the-Hedge. This is Bird’s Foot Trefoil. See how the flower looks like a little sparrow’s foot?”
I found the names and the flowers equally enchanting.
When I was still too young to read, she bought me the Observer Book of Wild Flowers.
“I know it’s rather grown up for you,” she said. “But I thought you could tick the ones you see, very lightly with a pencil, until you’re bigger and you can read all about the flowers.”
I loved that book. It went everywhere with me and spotting a new specimen was always a tremendous joy.
Grandma Grace is, naturally, long gone. What fun she’d have in the garden of Lime Cottage, though, if she were able to visit. There are some cultivated plants here, of course, but much of the colour and beauty is provided by the native species she loved so much.
The spring brings Bluebells and Herb Robert. Forget-me-nots follow, then Yellow Flags, Foxgloves, Soapwort, Yellow and Purple Loosestrife along with sundry Cranesbills, Speedwells and Dead Nettles.
Most are welcome (Bindweed and Goosegrass less so) but just occasionally I’m thoroughly perplexed by some unfamiliar arrival.
This spring a very vigorous something began to entrench itself in the centre of a flowerbed. I couldn’t decide whether it belonged on the compost heap or deserved a place in the garden, but since I was curious, I gave it a stay of execution and waited to see what it would be.
The leaves were soft and downy, their shape familiar, but I couldn’t recall seeing anything quite like this. With the most amazing rapidity, the stem became a trunk and the plant was peering down at me from at least 8 feet in the air. I’d never seen anything like it. Even if I’d been able to hack through it, by now I had no intention of doing so. It’s sheer rampant energy and determination had earned it a place in the garden.
Clusters of buds began to form. Now these DID look familiar – I’d seen this species many times before, but only at a tiny fraction of the size. The clusters of buds multiplied by the day – there must be several hundred now. Each day, I’d hurry down to see if any had opened. If this was what I thought it was, I would be in for a spectacular show.
Yesterday I finally got my reward. This huge beauty was smiling down at me.
Out came the Concise British Flora (the Observer Book having long since vanished) and I hunted for a species of mallow that grows like a triffid. There it was – a Tree Mallow! Apparently they’re very rare in England – only found occasionally on Cornish cliffs. How it had found its way into my garden is a complete mystery.
It’s not perhaps as tidy as its cultivated cousins, and it has certainly laid claim to a huge patch of ground, but I’m delighted with my ‘tree’. It flowers, the book tells me, from July to September, so it seems that I’ll have a flower-filled summer.
Being biennial, it will go out in a blaze of glory – leaving as suddenly as it arrived. I have a feeling, though, that its offspring will return.
Wise, sometimes then, to wait before making a judgement. So glad I did.