written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Verging On Vernal

It is supposed that all poets like to write about flowers, even bad ones  - flowers that is, not poets.

As Saturday's Dead Good Blog prepares to celebrate the indisputable arrival of Spring (after a couple of false starts it feels as though we're verging on vernal now), I figured a botanical-themed piece would be apt.

Accordingly, this week I give you my favourite - and least favourite - flowering plants. I know, contain your excitement! It's a bit like those 'nominate' fads that work their way around Facebook from time to time - e.g. nominate your favourite film by just putting up a picture of the poster, or your favourite album or book by just posting its cover. I always thought it was, if not a pointless exercise, at best a bit of a frustrating experience. I would always want to tell people why I love the examples I've chosen and to understand in turn what it is that they find so compelling about their own choices.

So here first of all is my favourite flower - and I'll just let you enjoy it for a lingering moment before I explain why...


This is primula vialii, more commonly known by a variety of names including Vial's primrose,  orchid primula, red-hot-poker primrose and Chinese pagoda primrose. It is a rosette-forming herbaceous perennial hailing originally from south-west China where it used to thrive in the wet meadowlands of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces - though sadly it is now a rare find in the wild and is classified as an endangered species. (The plant's Latin botanical name was bestowed in honour of Paul Vial, a French missionary priest and scholar who lived and worked in Yunnan province at the end of the 19th century and who is credited with bringing the first specimens of this lovely primula back to Europe.)

Primula vialii is a very striking plant, as I hope you'll agree. Its leaves are typical of the primrose family, lance-shaped and hairy, but its distinctive blooms have an appearance unlike any other in the genus, a beautiful conical spike on top of a stout stalk, with hundreds of lilac corollas opening out from red buds. It is best grown in clumps in a border or cottage garden in a relatively moist (but well-drained) or shady position, grows to a height of about 40cm and flowers through June and July. This lovely plant was granted the RHS Order of Merit in 1993.

I think the reason I like it so much is because of the shape of the blooms and the vibrant and unusual - almost garish - combination of colours, both of which put me in mind of those rocket lollipops on sticks which were popular in my youth. (Maybe they still are?) I intend to be planting some out in my own back garden over the Easter holidays.

Just as Vial's primrose is a herbaceous hero, so another oriental plant must rank as the villain of the piece. I nominate as my fleur du mal  reynoutria japonica - better known as Japanese knotweed (though also called monkeyweed, Hancock's curse and donkey rhubarb)...


It is quite the last thing anyone wants to see springing up in their garden. It can grow to a height of 4 metres and has been classified by the World Conservation Union as one of the most invasive species on the planet. Brought to Europe even earlier than Vial's primrose in the mid-19th century, it was originally favoured by Victorian gardeners for its bamboo-like appearance (though it is not a bamboo) - but it broke out of its cultivated confines and started to spread in the wild via a rapid-growing underground root system. There are now parts of the UK where it is endemic and attempts are being made to stop its spread, even eradicate it. That can entail bringing in heavy plant (no pun intended) to excavate and destroy the root system. The mere existence of Japanese knotweed in an area can send house-prices tumbling. It is a horror loved only by bees! Avoid at all costs and report it if you see it.

Finally, today's poem isn't about my favourite (or even least favourite) bloom, but rather it tries to capture that almost giddy sense of nature exploding into Spring at this time of year along the reaches of my local river, the rippling Wyre...

Wyre Sprung
Sweetened by showers,
hawthorn and campion
burst into confusions of joy.
Bluebells and daffodils ring out.
Blossoms in profusion float
on wind-tide resuscitation.
The blanched rime
of winter's sickness
is thrown off in a flash,
in this flush of timely fresh fever
as quick-coursing Spring
flows up the banks of the Wyre.

(It first appeared in the Lancashire Dead Good Poets'  publication Walking On Wyre, 2014)

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the onset of warm days, S ;-)
Reactions:

24 comments:

Lady Curt said...

On my walks I often come across Japanese knotweed in the most unusual places. I avoid it as I'm wary I might pick up seeds on my boots or clothing...it is indeed a curse...

Anonymous said...

What a beautifully written blog.

Celia M said...

That's interesting Steve. I always thought primulas were quite stumpy little plants, the sort you see in floral borders. Yours looks stunning.

Matt West said...

Anything tangerine for me buddy - roses, dalias, gladeolis. Up the Pool!

Unknown said...

My grandmother always had red hot pokers in her garden but I didn't realise they were primulas!
Daffodils are my favourites, the harbingers of Spring, golden trumpets heralding the beginning of another new life cycle

Will Mckechnie said...

Well written and informative

Rochelle said...

Another lovely blog Steve - and a fine poem. FYI (unknown and others) it's a bit misleading that Vial's primrose is sometimes called a red-hot-poker primrose because there IS a separate plant called the red hot poker (or kniphofia), the red and yellow one commonly seen in people's gardens. That is not a primula, it's an asphodel and originates from Africa as opposed to China.

LG said...

Another fab blog and poem Steve. My floral nominations are - good flower: red rose (for love and for Lancashire of course) and bad flower: black calla (just looks so sinister).

Anonymous said...

Tremendous.

The Existentialist said...

A weed is just a flower in the wrong place.

Anonymous said...

Botany and Poetry rule boquet :)

Carey Jones said...

If only I had a garden! Great blogging and poetry. Thank you for sharing.

James Cooper said...

My favorite is cannabis sativa (which makes all other plants look beautiful as well).

Anonymous said...

That's a lovely little poem. Whereabouts along the River Wyre were you?

Anonymous said...

A most interesting blog. Those primulas look amazing. I love the Wyre Sprung poem as well. My favourite flowers are roses for their colour and scent (not the bland imported ones). For a baddie I'll go with you, that Japanese knotweed is a past.

Jay Daley said...

A lovely informative blog. Good flower - hyacinth (for the smell), bad flower - dandelion (for getting everywhere it's not wanted). Enjoyed the poem Steve. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful seasonal blog.

Anonymous said...

That's a deceptively simple but very lovely poem. I like the subtle allusions to Chaucer, Clare and Hopkins woven into the dynamism of the piece.

The Contrarian said...

Thumbs up - Venus Fly Trap. Thumbs down - Peace Lily :-D

Anonymous said...

Another fine blog Mr. R.... Happy Easter/Bunnyfest.

Nigella D said...

What a great gardening blog :-) My favourite flower is love-in-a-mist.

MoonGoddess said...

Uplifting:-) sweet peas, stocks, violas, pinks, roses. Dispiriting:-( the creepy-looking weed that falls into tiny little bits when I try and pull it out of the wall

Steve Rowland said...

Yes MG, down with creepy-looking weed!

Anonymous said...

Let's hear it for the nettle - red admiral butterflies thrive on them :)