23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.
I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.
Admittedly, it can be hazardous: from early May, visibility on windy country roads is even further reduced, and it is impossible to see what is coming when emerging from road junctions. I had a close call last year when an extra metre of verge height hid an approaching car until it was within striking distance of my bonnet. But now I am aware, and extra careful. If it gives me an excuse to drive even more slowly through the countryside in the spring months, I won’t complain. The sight is something I want imprinted on my retinas forever.
In my garden, while nettles thrive, flowering cow parsley has been disappointing in the last two years. Last year I was alarmed; this year I waited anxiously but a little more resigned. I was relieved to find it has recovered somewhat since last year, though it still isn’t what it used to be. I was ready to blame my goats for eating it all (it does taste good, I admit), but they have been eating it since they were little, and the last time I had a bumper cow parsley crop (featured in these photos) they were already two years old.
I am not sure the goats are entirely to blame – cow parsley wasn’t at its best anywhere last year – but it is possible the effect of their munching is cumulative, and that their consumption has increased. Part of the reason this year’s flowers are more abundant, my theory goes, is that plant growth was so delayed by the cold weather that everything shot up from late April, and the munching couldn’t keep up with the growth.
I love my mischievous goats, and if the condition of having them is that I have less cow parsley, I suppose I have to accept the compromise. After all, I would hardly trade in my goats to get my cow parsley back, and I can enjoy the cow parsley to the full everywhere else in the countryside. Still, the acceptance comes with a struggle, and I suspect there will always be a part of me that mourns its loss.
Now, however, the radio feature has inadvertently given me a spark of hope. If it’s true that cow parsley is a ‘thug’… who knows? Perhaps in time it may turn out that the goats are doing other wild flowers in my garden a favour.