Looking out from the coastal path at Harty Ferry near Faversham, it is all but impossible to see where the dappled gun metal grey of the clouds meets the shimmering pewter of the Thames estuary – fringed, at high tide, with dark brown wet seaweed.
The path runs along the Oare marshes, a birders’ paradise which was in full swing this weekend. I am not sure who or what had flown in but from the number of long lensed cameras on tripods and heavy duty binoculars in evidence, it must have been something pretty special. However, I am afraid that we were more interested in the blackberries – tightly furled buds, deep pink petals and small hard green berries waiting for the sun and rain to ripen them – and the Queen Anne’s Lace.
I was staying with my good gardening friend , Sarah Langton Lockton – she of the immaculate winter – and indeed summer – garden. Her herbaceous border turns me green with envy…
Sarah has just had a hip replacement so we were walking slowly and carefully – a pleasant alternative to my usual race-paced stride as it meant that we were paying much more attention the flowers along the path than we might otherwise have done. These were mainly a mixture of Queen Anne’s Lace and jolly yellow dandelions.
But it was the Queen Anne’s Lace that was really attracting our attention. On a first look the flower head is one large cushion of dainty white petals at the very centre of which is one tiny red flower – said to be a drop of Queen Anne’s blood shed when she pricked her finger as she stitched her lace.
But when you look closer you find that the cushion is made up of 20 or 30 stalks rising from the central base, each with its own tiny cushion of white flowers, all hugging each other so tightly that they look like a single unit.
And when I looked even more closely at the image, I am obviously not the only one who is keen on this pretty white flower. Look at all those tiny little black beetle-y guys obviously having a feast! You can also see the single blood red flower head down at the bottom right.
But full white glory is not all that Queen Anne is offering you. Before the flowers open they present as a mound of tiny dark pink buds tightly pressing together, balanced on the top of their long stem.
And then, when they are done with flowering they morph into these amazing seedheads….. All of those little individual stalks and cushions turn grey-ey green and curl in on themselves like a cat in front of the fire.
Who needs Chelsea Flower Show when Queen Anne is rampant along the coastal path!
For those who want to know more about her, she is part of the carrot family – Daucus Carota! She is found in ‘fields, meadows, waste areas, roadsides and disturbed habitats, is very hardy and thrives in a dry environment.’ Roots, flowers, leaves and seeds are all edible but….
‘Queen Anne’s lace leaves closely resemble the leaves of the poison hemlock, fool’s parsley and water hemlocks, all poisonous cousins of Queen Anne’s lace.’