Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 11 March 2014 by Tim Ingram
Kingcups & Adonis
Kingcups & Adonis
By now you will realise that my diary ranges rather further than a simple record of the garden. It is interesting how the mind migrates imperceptibly from accumulating knowledge and detail to poetry. The AGS Bulletin opened with a poem by Dorothy Wellesley and at the end of this entry I have a quotation by way of two great gardeners which shows how a garden holds these two sometimes conflicting things together. Recent times, at least for me, make poetry more apposite again.
Poetry is the result of contemplation, and a garden has some of the same reason but is a combination of intelligence (or you hope so anyway) plus a good deal of hard work. Intelligence presumably is a mix of personal experience and appreciation of the experience of others. It is hard not to wish that you could meet Geoffrey Chaucer as he wrote a 'Ballade of Good Counsel', which begins with 'Flee from the crowd and dwell with truthfulness'. The environmental pioneer John Muir (who interestingly was a Scot - they do get around) was a mountaineer and explorer, a founder of the Sierra Club, and appreciated alpine flowers along with much else. Writing about Calochortus albus in his book 'My First Summer in the Sierra' he says that ''It puts the roughest mountaineer on his good behaviour". What a beautiful line and pure poetry, and a good line to take into the modern age just as it was when he wrote it over a century ago.
These are simply personal musings that a diary brings to mind but can you imagine a more beautiful and lovely poem than this entitled 'Kingcups' by Sacheverall Sitwell (even his name seems rather poetic!). It seems that intelligence does crop up from time to time. (I first mentioned this on the SRGC Forum which I would like to properly acknowledge).
When poetry walked the live, spring wood,
Hid, ghostlike, in the leaves' green hood
She came to a slant fence of sun,
Whose golden timbers, one by one,
Trod into a marsh's toils
And here she stayed her flowery spoils;
But pitying the marshes' plight
She shook her lap and wide and bright
Great kingcups to that waste she threw
Where nothing lived and nothing grew.
Now where poetry passed, there stays
The light of suns, the fire of days;
And these cups for kings to hold
Make summer with their wide-eyed gold.
We have no Kingcups in the garden but do have the next best thing - Adonis vernalis. This is just emerging and before long will appear as the picture below.
Graham Stuart Thomas in his classic book 'Perennial Garden Plants or the Modern Florilegium' just allows Adonis into his descriptions, even though it does fit more comfortably with smaller alpine perennials. He borrows quotes throughout the book from other gardeners, so this one from Bertram Anderson does fit well here:
"Slugs love its fat round flower-buds... and they often lose their hearts as early in the day as the heroine of a penny novelette."
(When we opened our garden this Sunday the weather was perfect and 90 people came all a little to close together. Our neighbours complained of cars parked outside their houses and we struggled to keep up. We placated the neighbours with a potful of narcissus. One visitor took pity on us and helped with the washing up. The garden is our livelyhood so this is hard - Kingcups and Adonis certainly do bring to mind Chaucer and some sense of poetry).