BBC Wildlife Magazine
Writer and TV presenter Sarah Raven shares her love for grass-of-Parnassus
In our series about people with a passion for a species, we ask writer and TV presenter Sarah why she adores grass-of-Parnassus.
Why is grass-of-Parnassus so special to you?
This pale, green-veined, white f lower grows in the damp marshes and rough grazing where I grew up – on the very rainy west coast of Scotland. It always comes as something of a surprise and looks weirdly out of place amongst all the acid-loving sedges, deer grass and rushes that surround it – more Greek than Scottish, more southern than northern, more delicate than the rough country where it makes its home. That disconnection, between what it is and where it is, is like a burst of light and beauty just where you wouldn’t quite expect it. It has been my favourite wildf lower since I was eight years old.
How did you fall in love with wildflowers?
My father was a great wildf lower man. He often used to take me botanising with him, wherever we happened to be… in Scotland, Greece, Italy, Ireland or East Anglia. And so, from early on, I got a wild and deep experience of the thing that he was most attentive to – the connection between particular f lowers and the habitats and environments in which they grow. We would head off every weekend, and for longer in the school holidays, to bluebell woods in spring, the Burren in Ireland in May half-term, and the machair of the Outer Hebrides during summer.
My father often used to take me botanising with him, wherever we were… Italy or East Anglia.
Where’s your favourite place to lose yourself in nature?
The high pastures in the Cretan mountains. They run as a spine down the centre of that beautiful island, and have a diversity of wildf lowers that amazes anyone who comes to see them, however young or potentially bored they might be. From anemones to tulips and orchids, daphnes to narcissus, euphorbias to poppies, iris to ranunculus… it’s all there. It’s like walking into a dream.
Which ‘dream’ wildflower is top of your wish list?
I would love to find a grove of wild dahlias in Mexico. I’m mad keen on garden dahlias, and the longer I grow them, the more I’m drawn to the single varieties. They are simply beautiful and are abuzz with butterf lies and bees.
Do you grow any native plants in your garden?
We grow lots of native species here. There’s viola ‘heartsease’ and Narcissus pseudonarcissus in spring, swathes of poppies, cornf lowers, marigolds and other cornfield weeds in summer, wild hawthorn and spindle for their berries for the birds in autumn, and then native hellebores, H. foetidus and H. niger, for winter into spring.
What have been your wildlife gardening successes?
Wildf lower gardening is tricky in this part of East Sussex, on our heavy, rich clay soil. But we do now have yellow rattle established down the drive, and some other interesting wildf lowers, including a few precious pyramidal orchids creeping in. The deer love to graze on these orchids, so we protect the clumps in a cage once they come into f lower, or the whole lot would be stripped overnight. SARAH RAVEN’S new book A Year Full of Flowers: Gardening for all seasons (Bloomsbury, £25) is out now. Her new podcast, Grow, Cook, Eat, Arrange, is also available now.