Saturday, 9 May 2015


I've got a problem this morning. I need to find a a suitable plant. Only I'm constrained by professional status and an uncooperative nature.

Each week at Dirleton castle we like to highlight a flowering bloom, one sourced from the world's longest herbaceous border. The flower bed outside my 'office'. Then comparing and contrasting these with another example from the 'wild flowers' that permeate the garden. Some might denigrate them as 'weeds', whilst others, like Henry Theroux have suggested that 'man has yet to find a use for them'. Or as Winnie the Pooh so eloquently noticed: ' weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them'. It's a way of showing that the rocks and mortar of the castle are not alone in having a history and a story to tell. It's also an entre-prompt for a 'garden chat'. By using some archaic language quotes from the medieval herbalists, I get the chance to be provocative and ask the question: "so, is a dandelion a weed?".

Last night I set out to give some thoughts to which plant could be our feature this weekend. So with the pundit sophologists stuck in a groove and given their incessant predictions of 'hung parliaments', I considered extolling Pulmonaria officinalis. Lungwort: "most efficacious for all afflictions of the bronchials". If the accumulated congregation of experts are to be believed, Westminster's great and the good are going to need all the their lung power for the horse trading that might follow. Lungwort, a plant whose leaf is spattered in equal measure with red and blue blotches; it even has, given the unseasonably cold weather, a purple tinge around it's outer edges. I supposed it might be suitably prophetic. Suitably neutral for a property managed by a neutral civil service.

Friday morning dawns to a new political climate. I come into the garden and the colour hues are predominantly yellow: daffodils, spurges and the elecampane inulas....not unusual for early spring. What is unusual, there's a single milk thistle (Silibum marianum) displaying a purple tasseled head. John Gerard in the late 1500s suggests that a ' decoction of it in a posset-drink is vulgarly used as a gentle vomit'. Fortunately the red climbing roses have yet to bud, fortunate, as Dioscorides in AD90 advises ' - is of excellent use in consumptive cases, especially in the spitting of blood'. Our only reds being the Elephant's Lugs and some Bleeding Hearts. For a balancing 'blue', all that I can find are some of the first Knapweeds just opening. Culpeper in 1562 suggested that: 'an infusion in wine be good for those that are broken in falls, blows or otherwise'. The 'otherwise' probably doesn't cover lost deposits. So, probably not best practice to feature any of the these candidates. Which still leaves me with my problem.

So I turn to that other 'faux pas' of the cocktail party, and resort to religion. In the circumstances, it's safer, even if even here there's another trip hazard, with a possible ' double entendre'.