I daresay that regular readers know that, as well as being quite keen on my garden, I have a more than passing interest in the Scottish Railway Preservation Society.
And in its operating arm, the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway. The railway is, of course, back in operation every weekend after its Winter break; and one of my volunteer duties, when I was a few years younger than I am now, was to inspect the line to make sure that it was safe for the passage of trains. This is a duty that is undertaken on foot and a very pleasant duty it can be when the sun is shining on the railway line as it climbs through Kinneil Woods, especially if one has time to look around as well as inspecting the sleepers, the track fastenings, the rails, the fencing and all the other details that need to be checked.
One of the particular pleasures at this time of year was to come across a clump of wild primroses, these beautiful yellow flowers that are not as common as they once were, agricultural herbicides having taken a heavy toll of these very pretty plants. And another particular pleasure was to find wood anemones, another wild plant that is not as common as it used to be in woodlands where, as its name reveals, it is usually found. Curiously, wood anemones are sometimes found on upland grassland and moorland, in areas which may once have been woodlands and where the wood anemones have survived the clearance of all the trees in the interests of sheep farming.
Anyone who would like to know a bit more about wild flowers will find an excellent choice of small reference books for under a tenner, any one of which will help identify wild flowers encountered by the walker. My favourite handy reference book is ‘The Lomond Guide to Wild Flowers,’ which tells me that the wood anemone has upright, unbranched stems which grow to a height of about 30 centimetres - say, a foot; that it blooms from March until May; and that the white flowers, which are sometimes tinged with purple, are between 20 and 40 millimetres across - about an inch to an inch-and-a-half in old money.
What the wildflower books don’t tell you is that the wood anemone provides fairies with a shelter against the rain and a place where they can sleep, for the flowers close up in wet weather and at night. Nor do they tell you that it is called ‘thunderbolt’ in parts of the English Midlands, where countryfolk believe that to pick the flowers will bring on a thunderstorm in which the picker will undoubtedly be struck by lightning; and that is a much more convincing reason for leaving the flowers alone than the threat of prosecution if you are caught picking them, the picking of all wild flowers being forbidden by law nowadays.
But you can buy species of anemones that have been bred for the garden; and the fact that wood anemones thrive not far from my home tells me that their garden derivatives will probably do well in my garden if I can provide them with the right growing conditions. The botanical name for the true wood anemone is Anemone nemerosa - and that word ‘nemerosa’ just means ‘of the woods’; and you’ll probably find rhizomes for the cultivated strain ‘Bowles’ Purple’ or for the lavender blue strain ‘Robinsoniana’ in your local garden centre. The rhizomes … which are thickened stems filled with all the nutrients needed to start the plant off … should be planted in partial shade, best of all under trees or among rough grass; so it’s a good plant for a corner of a large garden that doesn’t get much attention. But wait a wee bit yet before you buy the rhizomes, for Summer is the season for planting, with flowers appearing next Spring and for many years to come.
Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society