Saturday 1 January 2011: New Year bouquet
I walked into the nearly-deserted town (no buses!) to get a few things from the nearly-bare supermarket and on the way back picked a few stems from two plants. One is ivy with its purplish-green berries which are so nutritious for birds such as thrushes and blackbirds in the coldest months. For us the berries are mildly toxic but, in a vinegary infusion, were used to bathe the sores of victims of the Great Plague.
The flowers are winter heliotrope, Petasites fragrans, which, bizarrely, blooms in the dead of winter. The reason is that it is a native of North Africa, introduced into Britain some 200 years ago on account of its vanilla-scented flowers (it's also said they smell like marzipan - they do!) In these climes their fragrance attracts few insects at this time of year but bee-keepers would plant winter heliotrope beside their hives for the sake of early-foraging bees.
As with so many well-intentioned garden introductions, the plant has escaped its original confines and is often found colonizing roadsides or other places where its tenacity is not popular. Personally I find its modest flowers a welcome sight, especially on the first day of January.
(The cat jug is an old favourite, bought in Edinburgh many years ago.)