the origin of clouds

rosebay willow herb seeding

Among the plants that evoke the summers of my childhood are buttercups, buddleia and the rosebay willow herb. I’ve posted quite a lot about the willow herb in the last couple of years, probably because I don’t remember it in Spain and now I’m back in the UK, after over two decades without it, it seems to be everywhere.

It’s a cheerfully determined flower that grows in the most inhospitable of conditions.

rosebay willow herb and chain link fence

Last year one even settled in among the plants on my indoor window sill. I didn’t pay much attention to the flowers, but the seeds were unmistakeable.

willow herb seeds

In their natural environment, when conditions are good, the plants grow in great purple swathes across the English countryside. Even so, it seems that each flower spike retains its individuality and aspires to outgrow its neighbours.

rosebay willow herb

Yesterday I noticed that, although the blooms were over, the plants in the park were still determinedly stretching heavenwards and it occurred to me that they were just waiting for the breeze to come along and waft away the little white clouds they’d been spinning.

rosebay willow herb seeding.
To judge from this morning’s unbroken grey, the wind must have got up after I left the park and tossed all those willow herb clouds up into the sky.

I expect that next time I go for a walk there will be no cheerful flowers and no wisps of incipient cumuli. Each plant will have been scribbled out, ready for a new picture to take its place next year.

Tangled rosebay willow herb after seeding

That, of course, could have been the end of this blog post but, although I definitely take more photos than I write poems – I came back from yesterday’s brief walk with over 80 images to download – I still think of Don’t Confuse the Narrator as mainly a poetry blog, so I feel something is missing if I leave it there.

I could post Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop as it’s the only poem I can think of that features willowherb. But I’d rather post something of my own. So, although I’ve posted this before, I’ll include it here to explain why the buddleia is another flower that triggers memories for me.


Whispering secrets into an empty cocoa tin,
string, taut, measuring the distance between us;
I was squaw to your brave,
target for your cap-gunned cop and cowboy.

We caught butterflies on the buddleia –
peacocks, tortoiseshells, red admirals –
and netted minnows (I caught mostly weed)
down in the brown brook in the park.

Jumpers for wicket, you taught me
to hold the bat and strike out firm and strong.
Staunchly, I held back the tears:
the leather ball struck hard.

Tins and pistols rusted into silence long ago;
nets rotted, bamboo handles split.
The butterflies have flown away;
their colours paint my dreams.


Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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