Country Diary: Wallflower – the symbol of fidelity

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Taking advantage of a rare breath of spring this year in mid-April, I took Tigga to Scarborough’s Castle hill. Daffodils were only just coming into bloom, and blackthorn bushes just beginning to open reluctant buds.

Alexanders colonised the ground, its tall grooved stems bearing dark, glossy-green leaves and umbels of yellow-green flowers.

Wallflowers were beginning to brighten the scene with clumps of golden yellow flowers. It was possibly introduced by the Romans, and flourishes on many ruined castles and abbeys.

It’s long tap-roots penetrate into the mortar, enabling it to flourish on open sunny sites.

We often employ flowers’ names to illustrate personalities of people. Shy, withdrawn young ladies who sit aside at dances are appropriately named wallflowers. Inhale the delicate perfume.

In bygone days it was known as the comforter, on account of its comforting fragrance. It was planted on castle, or manor house walls near windows to help dispel any musty odours. Nowadays, its welcoming perfume greets you, when planted in troughs or urns beside the door.

There was a time when gentlemen wore sprigs of wallflowers in their caps as a sign of constancy to their girlfriends. It has always been the symbol of fidelity.

It was Robert Ingram (head gardener to the Duke of Rutland), who improved the strain of these yellow ‘gilly flowers’. These gave rise to the wonderful variety of shades now available. Treat yourself!

You may also like to try alexanders (ie Macedonian parsley) as a kitchen herb. Although it has a very powerful taste when raw, it does have pleasing uses, and it’s dominating the dykes of castle hill, so try several stems as I did.

The main flowering period is April to June. The tiny yellowish-green flowers are carried in dense, rounded umbels vaguely reminiscent of small cauliflower heads when young.

They may be used in salads, and even young leaves make a spicy addition too. They also give a unique myrrh-like flavour to stews. The whole plant is edible, and the stems resemble celery.

Use the pale, lower stems, and cook in slightly-salted water for five or ten minutes. They can be eaten with butter, like asparagus, or mixed with white sauce!

Now is the time to listen to the dawn chorus if you rise early. Evenings inevitably mean the haunting call of a neighbouring tawny owl, and the blackbird’s flute-like song, delivered from a prominent song post. It’s loud, clear notes combine to make phrases which last for about six seconds. There’s a pause. Then another phrase of similar length is delivered.

Our last visit to Seamer Road’s mere delighted us with excellent views of a tree-creeper spiralling a tree trunk close beside our little bird feeding station. As nature awakens, there’s natural food for all species to enjoy.