The nature of things
THE Strawberry Thief is one of William Morris’s most famous designs, still available in repeat pattern fabrics and wallpapers, more than 130 years after he created it. The story goes that he was sitting in the courtyard at his Cotswolds home, Kelmscott Manor, when a thrush swooped down and pecked off a wild strawberry. The Socialist entrepreneur and design genius dashed indoors and created the timeless pattern of a berry-snatching bird.
Morris often drew upon our wild flora for inspiration and the native strawberry, Fragaria vesca, is found throughout the British Isles, although it’s especially attached to calcareous areas, such as the Cotswolds, Pennines and South Downs.
The sweet, but very small, oval fruits are enjoyed by numerous creatures during the summer fruiting season and are easily overlooked by the rest of us, as the low-growing plants are often lurking in grassy tussocks, hugging rocks or threaded through the scrub of felled woodland.
The term ‘strawberry’ is very old, dating back to Anglo-saxon times, the ‘straw’ part being understood either to refer to the scattered ‘pips’ that ornament the berry or perhaps noting the plant’s habit of increasing by strewing itself along the ground with its creeping runners.
Small ‘Alpine’ strawberries, popular with chefs and gardeners, are similarly tiny, flavourful selected variations on this wild form and worth using as flower- or vegetable-bed edgings or growing in pots. KBH