Whilst walking Yogi on her little 'sniffari' last week, as she stopped to send a ‘pee-mail’, I looked at the plants that were in the adjacent hedge. Each one of the plants there held a memory – how magical is that.  From the Honesty seed heads, or  ‘pennies’, that we used to pretend were ‘real money’ as kids, to the sweet cicely that Nan taught us to make tea with; the ‘sticky willy’ – or Cleavers - that we used to throw at each other as kids, the Herb Robert that now reminds me of my dad, Bob, (Nan always called him Robert), the foxgloves that we used to put on our fingers –  folklore has it that the plant is so named because the foxes would put the flowers over their feet to make them quiet and able to creep up on chickens. 

The young leaves of Jack in the Hedge were added to salads, young hawthorn leaves were put in a sandwich, the seed heads of Stitchwort could be popped with great satisfaction and I remember one walk to primary school taking a very long time as I insisted on trying to find the loudest ‘pop’.  Even the widest blades of grass were chosen specifically for their ability to be put between both thumbs and blown threw to make a Kazoo sort of whistle.  Then there is the hazel tree at the back of the hedge which ‘gifted’ me a fabulous walking stick a few years ago. 

Granddad used to say – “When is the best time to cut a walking stick?  When you see it” - and where I look for the little red female hazel flowers every February.   The brambles have provided the blackberries for a number of recipes from blackberry gin to blackberry and apple pie and are an annual reminder of blackberry forays with my Nan when I was a child. And even the milk thistle and dandelion leaves remind me of going out picking those ‘greens’ for my pet rabbit aged just 5 or 6 years old. 

Mike Pennington / House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) on red-hot poker (Kniphofia sp.), Baltasound
Mike Pennington / House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) on red-hot poker (Kniphofia sp.), Baltasound (Mike Pennington / House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) on red-hot poker (Kniphofia sp.), Baltasound)

Plants can be extremely evocative and hold all sorts of memories. I remember talking to Welsh athlete Colin Jackson who told me that when he was very young he would measure himself against the Red Hot Pokers in his garden.  In just a few weeks they would grow taller than he did - a memory that has never left him.  There can’t be many women (of a certain age) who can’t recall making ‘rose perfume’ from rose petals and water – and ending up with a stinking, brown sludge.  I wonder if Jo Malone had better luck as a child. 

Bill Bailey told me that he thought if children were able to recognise and name a plant they were more likely to be respectful toward it – the same for wildlife in general.  Sadly a recent survey showed that more children under the age of 10 were able to name a corporation logo (such as Nike) than a plant or tree. 

I felt quite moved and very privileged to recognise all those plants and to realise they have all made a difference to my life in some way. I am so grateful to nature for so many things – the lessons, the sanctuary, the playground, the joy, the beauty, the peace, and now, even my income.  And it’s never too late to learn. Buy a book – or use an app on your phone – and learn to identify the plants around you. See what memories you can stir.

As Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything so much better.”