Many years ago, when I was a little girl, I had a giant walking doll. Looking on Google images now, I see that she was probably only two foot tall, so perhaps she wasn’t as giant as I remember. Of course, I was a lot smaller then.
I don’t remember whether the doll talked as well as walked, but that wouldn’t have mattered: I’m pretty sure all my dolls and stuffed animals talked to me. I certainly talked to them.
The doll had platinum blonde hair and big blue eyes that closed when she lay down. And I named her Marguerite because she had little daisies on her pink flounced dress.
I wonder now why my parents didn’t encourage me to be less pretentious. After all, my grandmother’s name was Violet Daisy, so there was no reason to choose a fancier foreign name. But little girls are dreamers and, as long as it isn’t frightening, they like the romance and mystery of the unfamiliar . Perhaps if they’d told me that “daisy” is derived from “day’s eye”, the familiar form would have have enough mystique for me. After all however impressive the cultivated varieties, the common English lawn daisy does have its own charm and secrets.
The pink-tipped buds open to reveal white petals set around a yellow centre. Except, that’s not actually true: the daisy is a composite flower – every white “petal” is actually a ray flower in its own right, and together these surround a group of yellow disc flowers.
The flowers – or perhaps I should say inflorescences or flowerheads – are heliotropic: they follow the course of the sun across the sky and close up tight when the sun disappears.
The daisy’s Latin name Bellis perennis means everlasting beauty, and there’s no doubt it’s persistent. It grows so close to the ground that it manages to duck under the blades of most lawn mowers and, although it usually stops flowering once summer is over, the blooms will come back year after year.
My mother used to say that summer had arrived when you could cover seven daisy flowers with one foot. I think that global warming has put paid to the traditional seasonal markers and almost all plants now seem to flower all year round. Even so, we do still notice changes as the year progresses.
I suppose the unseasonable early sunshine one year was what inspired the story of The Lonesome Daisy. Written by my alter ego David Aston, it’s about an old oak tree that has been growing on the edge of a field for many many years, his friends the squirrels who have their drey in a hole in his trunk, and a daisy that wakes up too early.
Out in the middle of the field, a young daisy plant was growing. As her roots drew in water and rich minerals from the dark soil, she, too, could feel the sap rising inside. It made her feel all of a flutter and she knew that spring was on the way.
The daisy stretched out her leaves and felt the warmth of sunshine on them.
She opened one eye – a bright white eye – delicate feather-like petals around a bright yellow centre made up of tiny yellow pompoms. She was right: the sun was shining. Spring had arrived!
But when the daisy looked around at the field, she was all alone.
The year before, she remembered she’d had lots and lots of other daisies to talk to. But now all around her, wherever she looked, there was nothing but green grass.
The squirrels act as go-betweens, sent by the wise oak tree to reassure the daisy. And eventually the seasons do move forward as they should.
The wind and rain are blustering against the window as I write this. I can only trust in the oak tree’s message to be patient and assume that summer will be along eventually.