Over the last few days brief periods of brighter weather and sunny spells almost lulled us into thinking spring is round the corner. On two days running, the young one rushed out of nursery, cast aside his duffle coat and danced most of the way home. But it was not to last and as I write, yet another sudden cascade of April like showers makes me look up and do a brief circuit round the house to close open windows, for fear of a repeat of the invasive hail stones of last week. Our handkerchief sized bit of bald lawn in the back garden is wet once more and makes me think I haven’t seen it truly dry since last September or October. Why sunny spells – goodness knows – surely only the English would think of resorting to magic for better weather?
At the moment, I am ‘under the weather’ (and where did that come from?) having caught conjunctivitis from the small one. It’s got to the eyeball as pin cushion/ cricket ball in the face stage which makes all sewing, knitting and blogging a bit of a trial. But you can’t sit there doing nothing can you and blogging seemed the easiest option, so here we go with another little summer flower for the altar frontal which was embroidered in sunnier times and in a more rural place.
Cow parsley froths its foamy way along most English lanes and rural roads in May-June, just after the flowers of the blackthorn and just before the May blossom really gets going – all white but so different and each worthy of a place on the Farrow and Ball paint chart perhaps ousting all those gloomy named whites – Lamp White, Old White, New White, Strong White, etc… A weed and a member of the carrot family, ordinary mortals tend to love it while botanists bemoan its success. Richard Mabey (Flora Britannica) commends it as “arguably the most important spring landscape flower in Britain” but then diminishes the compliment by describing regions “ornamented by mile upon mile of this indomitable dusty smocking” (thank you for the smocking image, Richard – lovely!). The name ‘cow parsley’ just sets it out as a lesser plant than parsley. Queen Anne’s Lace – alluding to its filigree appearance looking very like the costly hand made collars and cuffs of Queen Anne and her courtiers – was a conscious attempts to give the plant a more attractive name and a more interesting back story, though why a weed of no commercial value should need one I’m not sure. Sometimes though, like T.S.Eliot’s ‘Cats’, having another name is quite useful. Mabey tells the story of visitors from Alaska wanting to buy some pendants with tiny pressed cow parsley flowers in a National Trust Shop in Warwickshire. Unsure that the name cow parsley would impress their Alaskan womenfolk, they seized joyfully upon the Queen Anne’s Lace alternative and immediately thought the flowers looked even prettier! A rose by any other name!