Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Ruskin's poppies and Rossetti's May

May is the month of the poppy on my allotment but all this rain and cold means things are a little behind this year. I have always thought of poppies as crumpled silk hankerchiefs, balled into a tight green pocket when wet and then unfurled. Ruskin, however had other, darker ideas on the subject:
Gather a green poppy bud, just when it shows the scarlet line at its side; break it open and unpack the poppy. The whole flower is there complete in size and colour - its stamens full grown, but all packed so closely that the fine silk of the petals is crushed into a million of shapeless wrinkles. When the flower opens, it seems a deliverance from torture : the two imprisoning green leaves are shaken to the ground; the aggrieved corolla smoothes itself in the sun, and comforts itself as it can; but it remains visibly crushed and hurt to the end of its  days.

This is last year's sea of red and pink. A quick visit yesterday revealed lush green growth of every kind but not many flowers. The small meadow of rye grass I sowed as a green manure around my fruit trees (one damson and one greengage) was scythed right down a month ago during the drought. I used the cuttings to mulch broad beans and strawberries. Now there is no need of mulch, the beans are a metre tall and the strawberry patch a carpet of small white flowers (and couch grass). There are poppy buds fat and swelling everywhere ready to burst when the sun comes out.

In an effort to tidy up and suppress weeds I have spread wood chippings around my shed gleaned from the municipal tree surgeons. The ancient vine that curls up and over the roof of my shed now has a smart little flower bed around complete with mini picket fence. In it I have sown purple poppies alongside the black hollyhocks, two Mexican cup and saucer vines (cobaea scandens) and a scattering of sky blue Morning Glory. Potatoes are up and earthed and the garlic has been hoed.  To suppress the weeds I scattered a packet of Nigella amongst the garlic. The patch of rocket I sowed in late summer is a mass of flowers. Self seeded salad is everywhere. Compared to my neighbours' plots my patch looks overgrown, with hardly any earth showing but I will clear space as I need it and hope that the growth locks in moisture when these wet days are behind us.

Here is a poem from Christian Rosetti's marvelous collection of verses for children 'Sing Song' that seems to fit these unsettled spring days perfectly:

There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old


Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.

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