Friday, April 06, 2007

Oxlips and Cowslips

Oxlips, or Primula elatior, above, are beautiful spring flowers naturalised throughout Europe in damp woods and meadows. Its flowers are the most perfect butter yellow and appear as clusters of as many as 10 or 30 flowers on a single stem 10-30 cm tall. Oxlips are often confused with cowslips, Primula veris, below, which have a similar general appearance although the oxlip has larger, pale yellow flowers more like a primrose, and a corolla tube without folds. The ancient name for cowslips is "paigles." Both take a season or two to settle in, but once happy in their chosen spot, these little delights will naturalise prolifically.

The last word surely rests with Shakespeare, and his sublime A Midsummer Night's Dream:
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night."

These few lines were enough to set me designing a shady part of my garden good enough for Titania, with grateful thanks to Helen Yemm, the journalist whose column in the Saturday Telegraph forms such a key part of my weekend.

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