I have been doing a lot of gardening recently. Gardening is normally pretty high on the agenda but in June it reaches peak levels. I’m in the middle of replanting most of my 300 pots, and I’ve been doing some extra work this month at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, as we lay out and plant all the summer bedding and containers. It has been hot work, we have drunk gallons of water every day to survive, I have taken to wearing a headscarf soaked in water, the team has a glazed and punch-drunk look now and lunchtime banter has sunk to minimal levels.
Even after eight hours with my hands in soil, my head in plants and my backside in scorching sunshine, dying for a cool shower, I can still be stopped pretty much literally in the tracks of my homeward journey by a glimpse of red through a field gate. On several occasions recently I have taken speculative detours to see if I can get closer to the poppy fields which have appeared as if by magic in the Cotswolds countryside visible from the A424. This is when I am especially grateful that our country has such an extensive network of footpaths because a short walk around a heat-bludgeoned field can bring you face to face with the brightest of reds fluttering and shimmering among the wheat or barley.
That colour isn’t used as much in gardens as it could be, I think it alarms people. I use a lot of red in containers because I enjoy its invigorating effect but it can eclipse less assertive colours. In acres and acres of rolling countryside the bright red of the field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, outdoes everything else. Knapweed, chicory, scabious, bird’s foot trefoil, even orchids pale into insignificance. If there’s a poppy field in the scene, or just a single poppy, your eye is drawn to it. More subtle wildflowers can take heart, however as the poppy’s reign is brief, especially if we get a few showers of rain (ohh, please…).
Is it simply a good year for the poppy? It seems to be a good year for everything else, so far. Is it too much to hope for that farming methods are changing? Certainly the fields on my way home are not only splashed with red but also generously margined with white, pale blue and purple. Yesterday’s walk was full of lark burbling and the wheezy song of the yellowhammer, while butterflies animated displays of flowers which would rival most garden borders. I pray this is a trend in agriculture and not a blip. At any rate, hurray for farmers who don’t cultivate right up to the hedge line or blitz their crops with weedkillers!
Which flowers make you stop the car and get out?