The na­ture of things

Peri­win­kle

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

PERI­WIN­KLES, Vinca mi­nor, are mak­ing them­selves known now, span­gling the ground with their small, blue-vi­o­let stars. Look closer: the blunt-ended petals fre­quently have a slightly lean­ing stance, sug­gest­ing ro­ta­tional move­ment, like the sails on an old-fash­ioned wind­mill—a re­sult of the way the flow­ers open like an un­furl­ing um­brella.

Like snow­drops, lesser peri­win­kles es­caped from gar­dens at some point in the dis­tant past so that wild colonies have es­tab­lished them­selves here and there across the coun­try­side, of­ten dec­o­rat­ing hedge­banks and copses. A small-leaved, sprawl­ing ev­er­green that spreads it­self by drop­ping roots into the earth at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals from its ground­hug­ging, wiry stems, it gained a rep­u­ta­tion for im­mor­tal­ity. In me­dieval Eng­land, peo­ple about to be ex­e­cuted there­fore some­times wore it as a crown or gar­land.

De­spite toxic prop­er­ties, it was also pre­scribed medic­i­nally and ‘to staunch bleed­ing at the nose in Chris­tians if made into a gar­land and hung about the neck’.

The greater peri­win­kle, Vinca ma­jor, bears larger flow­ers, but, in both kinds, there are nu­mer­ous vari­a­tions in flower colour, from white to shades of blue, dark ma­roon and deep­est pur­ple, as well as var­ie­ga­tions in the leaves (bot­tom left).

The vi­brant pink Mada­gas­car peri­win­kle, Catha­ran­thus roseus, which makes a small up­right shrub, is one that won’t es­cape into the coun­try­side this far north, how­ever, re­quir­ing trop­i­cal or sub­trop­i­cal tem­per­a­tures for its out­door sur­vival. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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