The na­ture of things

Wild straw­ber­ries

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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

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