Country diary: where the wildflowers grow weird and wonderful


Planted across a large area with hardly any paths, the wild and the cultivated flow together in my garden. In it, I grow 80 species of wildflowers, with many such as pignut, sanicle and harebell found just outside the boundary walls. The leaves and roots of these wildlings provide food for the larval stages of insects, in particular the moths that I study by using a light trap once a week. Their flowers feed the adults and the garden is rich with bees, butterflies, beetles, flies and other invertebrates.

Adding to these wild species are some quirky variations that I enjoy for their sometimes weird shapes. Unusual colours and double forms have been sought-after for centuries, often occurring naturally and spotted by keen gardeners. It was in an Oxfordshire lane 40 years ago that the Northumberland botanist John Richards, when leading a group looking at dandelions, noticed a newly emerged cow parsley with deep purple foliage. Now Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s wing’ is a favourite at the Chelsea flower show and grown worldwide.

The green flower of Anemone nemorosa 'Virescens'.

A low stone wall supports a raised bed where I grow these oddities. There’s a wood anemone, Anemone nemorosaVirescens‘, its lacy “flower” made up of tepals and sepals, pale in the centre, ebbing out to lime green. Another wood anemone, a frou-frou double named ‘Vestal’, has heads that nod slightly under the weight of excess from its crisp white pompoms. This was developed from an original double, Anemone nemorosa ‘Alba Plena’, which was found growing in a garden in 1830. Today, the RHS plant finder lists 148 cultivars of this pretty spring flower.

Nearby is a Canadian woodland plant that’s a startling brilliant white. In double bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex, the sterile stamens are modified into petals in a dramatic peony-like flowerhead. Round its skirts shine the purple-black leaves of a lesser celandine Ficaria verna Brazen Hussy’. Later, there will be the tight buttons of double buttercups, a multipetalled lady’s smock, dark-leaved purple plantain, white water avens and double red campion. Many have no nectar, but it little matters among the mass of spreading lungworts where dark-edged bee-flies hover, wings a-blur, and male orange-tip butterflies have aerial dogfights above the honesty.

Double bloodroot flowers


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