I’ve said before that when we used to go on family holidays my parents always found room in the suitcases for a few books.

Specifically, there was always the Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds and the Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, and I must have spent hours identifying and listing the new species we found. (Perhaps it wasn’t just me who had this task – it may have been a more familial activity, or perhaps we even had a competition to see which sibling found the most – but my memory is only of my own lists.)

Old habits die hard. Even now, when I visit my mother, any discussion of birds or plants is likely to spur us to consult printed books bought half a century or more ago. Well, I’ll admit that I am likely to be surreptitiously clicking away at my smartphone to find the same information, but the results are not always any faster or any more accurate.

This early training must surely have laid the foundation of the habits of a lifetime. Often, before I write a blog post – or sometimes, as I am writing it – I end up off down the rabbit hole investigating whatever the subject is.


That’s why I was skimming philosophical treatises yesterday, and reading up on quarter days, the calendar change and the old new year last weekend. While researching for blog posts, I’ve learned a lot about bees, and a bit about other bugs; about bats, too, and squirrels; about architecture and literature, local traditions, transport and the postal service… and a great deal about plants and flowers, as they are the main feature of the photographs.

Over almost ten years and more than eleven hundred posts, I’ve learned lots of things, so I suppose I must consider it an educational blog, even if it’s me who’s the main beneficiary of the education.

Today I was going to post this photo, taken yesterday in the semi-wild church garden, where I think the idea is to create the illusion of a traditional flora:

oxlip flower

I assumed it was a cowslip, but when I thought about it, it occurred to me that it was a very different colour from the one in a photo I took a couple of years ago in a real wild parkland:

cowslip flowers close up

I remembered my mother mentioning a hybrid between a cowslip and a primrose and calling it an oxlip, so I thought I’d investigate a bit further. It turns out that the flower I photographed yesterday is almost certainly an oxlip, though I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a real one – Primula elatior – or a false one – Primula veris x vulgaris.

Apparently the true oxlip is a separate species, while the false oxlip is the natural hybrid my mother was referring to; the main distinguishing feature is whether the flowers hang down one side of the stalk or whether they grow in all directions. I don’t think this is very clear from the photo, and I’m not sure I’ll get the chance to go back and look while the plants are still in flower.

I don’t think the true oxlip is very common in the Midlands, so I suppose it’s more likely to be the hybrid, although I haven’t seen any cowslips in the area so I’m not sure how the primroses would be cross pollinating. Perhaps it’s just a cultivated hybrid intended to give the right traditional impression to a public who mostly don’t know any better.

It doesn’t really matter, of course, but I am a little more informed than I was when I sat down to write this blog post, which can’t be bad.

The poem is a re-post, but it features primroses and is perfect for early April:


March skies leaked
milky sunshine; now it lies
in primrose pools on the embankment.

From ivydark, zodiac
periwinkles blink, then stare
where caterpillar catkins dance
with bumble bees. Under the trees
a crocus campfire kindles.

Gold permeates the air: the blackbirds
have been drinking

And that ending is a good excuse for some more narcissus. Not pheasant’s eyes like yesterday’s, but with tiny orange trumpets for the blackbirds to drink from:

White orange-eyed narcissus

Looking back at the dandelion in the top photo, I realise that would work just as well.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

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

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