Wild Orchid

In the shade of a pine tree and under the Kolkwitzia a rare beauty has bloomed. Single flowers have been spotted before in my garden, but this year there are six or seven of these strange plants.

White Helleborine

(Cephalanthera damasonium)


The German name is lovely: Weiße Waldvöglein

Weiß is white, and Waldvöglein is a little woodland bird.

This member of the orchid family prefers chalky limestone soil – exactly what we have here. It is very shy of the sun, and since it is autogamous, i.e. it self-pollinates, it does not depend on insects and is able to flower in very deep shade. In fact the ivory coloured flowers hardly ever really open enough to expose the yellow lip.


In Sarah Raven’s “Wild Flowers” she writes that its pale and somewhat ghostly appearance and upright stance is like “a strait-laced librarian… a spinster who turns herself out neatly in public”!


I have read that the plants take at least eight years to develop from seed, and it can take up to two or three years after that for a flower to form. Although not endangered in Germany, it is therefore a rare find. I’m very pleased that it has found a suitable place in my garden so that I can enjoy it!

Have you ever spotted any rarities in or near your garden?

Book Review: The Secrets of Wildflowers

“The Secrets of Wildflowers: A delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History”

by Jack Sanders


This was a Christmas gift and I’ve been losing myself in it on and off through the spring. The word “Feast” in the title is very appropriate – and “delightful” it is too!

Although the focus is on North American flowers, many are also prevalent in Germany and Europe, some even native. In the introduction the author states that his book covers both “natives and immigrants, friends or foes, because both kinds are here and both are interesting”. I like this attitude, as I find so many non-native plants growing wild, and think they are just as valuable as the native ones.


Divided into Spring, Summer, Late Summer and Fall, it is easy to find what is flowering now. Each flower has its own chapter, which gives some botanical information and tells you a little about the plant’s history, the common names given, uses (medicinal, culinary etc) and myths or traditions surrounding it. The chapters are broken up nicely into little chunks – very readable. The botanical details are also fed to the reader in a clear way, without getting too complicated and without being patronizing. I am learning so much and in such an enjoyable tone.

I was immediately impressed because it is the first source I have found that upholds my belief that Hepatica nobilis sometimes gives off a wonderful scent… I was beginning to think it was my imagination, but Sanders quotes the naturalist John Burroughs: “Group after group may be inspected, ranging through all shades of purple and blue, with some perfectly white, and no odor to be detected, when presently you will happen upon a little brood of them that have a most delicate and delicious fragrance.”


Occasionally a poem or quotes are included, even a recipe or two, and the little lesser known details and legends are so fascinating! Did you know, for example, that gypsies used to smoke Coltsfoot leaves (Tussilago) for pleasure? Or that spring violet leaves are extremely high in vitamin C? Or that a German scientist counted 93 species of insect that visited the dandelion flower?…

I shall be reading each chapter as the flower appears here, learning new and interesting facts and enjoying the feast daily. This book gets top marks for writing style AND content. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves wild flowers!


Tussilago farara


The Song of the Coltsfoot Fairy

The winds of March are keen and cold;

I fear them not, for I am bold.

I wait not for my leaves to grow;

They follow after: they are slow.

My yellow blooms are brave and bright;

I greet the Spring with all my might.

(by Cicely Mary Barker)

I only saw a couple of these beauties in March, barely open. The one above was March 2012, and the ones photographed below on April 1st 2013 were still quite small. They certainly need all their might this Spring!


The name (Huflattich in German) comes from their hoof-shaped leaves that appear later and grow to a tremendous size. They can be used in all sorts of herbal remedies, including cough sweets; the “tussilago” part of the name comes from the Latin for “suppressing a cough”. (Ever heard of “Coltsfoot Rock“?)

The next photo is not too clear as the forest floor was quite dim, but here you can see the flower head in more detail –  pollinating insects crawl over the tiny little male florets within the bloom which contain nectar and give off pollen, then they fly to the next flower and use the female outer ray petals for landing, where pollen is brushed over the stigmas. Normally the Coltsfoot is an important early source of nectar and pollen for bees, but I have only seen one bee this year so far. However, the outer petals close over the central florets in wet and cloudy weather, and the plant therefore also self-pollinates. Double safe!


Do you see this plant in your part of the world?

(And if anyone has some better photos of the flower head, I’d love to see them!)


Book Review: RHS Latin for Gardeners

RHS Latin for Gardeners2

If you love language and you love plants, then you’ll love this book. RHS Latin for Gardeners by Lorraine Harrison  explains all those tricky-to-pronounce botanical words attached to our dear plants, herbs and flowers.

The book itself – a hardback – has a lovely cover and is nicely bound… it looks pretty on your bookshelf! It is perfect as a reference book and for the odd dip into while drinking a cup of coffee. The main body of the book is an alphabetical list of botanical terms, each explained, with a pronunciation guide too. Here’s an example:

helix HEE-licks:

Spiral-shaped; applied to twining plants, as in Hedera helix

Now, I never knew “helix” meant that, but it makes sense….

I also never knew that the “novi-belgii” in Aster novi-belgii means “connected with New York”.

Or that the “bonariensis” in Verbena bonariensis means “from Buenos Aries”!

Or that “saccharata” in Pulmonaria saccharata means “sweet or sugared/as if dusted with sugar”.

And the list of discovery goes on!

I was pleasantly surprised how many I had guessed correctly, such as Cymbalaria muralis (“growing on walls”), and the information hidden within these words delivers excellent guidelines for planting… if a plant is from Buenos Aries it will like heat and sunshine, right?

A bonus is the pages in between the list… a few plants are profiled, with notes on how they got their name or certain associations and uses. And some famous plant hunters are also given a page or two, with examples of the plants they discovered on various continents.

This is the ideal gift for a keen gardener, and absolutely perfect for anyone fascinated by botanical plant names. It is already a favourite of mine, and the gardening season hasn’t even begun!

RHS Latin for Gardeners1

Wild Flower of the Year – 2013

Every year the German Loki Schmidt Foundation pronounces a wild flower “Blume des Jahres” – Flower of the Year, in order to draw attention to the fact that certain plants and their habitats are endangered. I was particularly pleased to hear last week that the Hepatica nobilis (Liverwort – Leberblümchen) has been declared Flower of the Year 2013.

I love this flower, and if you saw my post in the spring, you will surely understand why. It is the first wild flower to show its pretty colours in March, sometimes even February. Where we live the conditions are perfect; chalky, well-drained soil, and shady and damp, undisturbed woodland floors.

We are fortunate to have so many in our region, since they have died out in some states of Germany already, and are endangered in many others.

When the Hepatica is flowering, no other flowers are yet in bloom – not even the violets – so I have been confused by one thing; imagine snow-covered ground, leafless trees, barely a hint of spring in the warm breeze, the first blue flowers peeping through patches of melting snow, and ….. a light and sweet perfume wafting in drifts across the footpath. Heavenly! I have never found the scent documented, so unless it’s my imagination I have perhaps just been extremely lucky to smell them! They MUST smell slightly, as ants are attracted to the seeds.

Do YOU know this wild flower?