The garden is just beginning to burgeon with a multitude of perennials and so I’m spoilt for choice when deciding on a plant for April. Wild garlic? Tulips? In the light of my belief – and experience – that gardening is not all about hard slog, that nature knows best, that no plant will thrive in the wrong place, and that everything in the garden must have a resonance or a use – preferably both- I have plumped for the humble forget-me-not.
They grow like weeds in our garden, popping up in the veg patch, in the borders at the base of rose bushes and in the gravel near the kitchen door. I have never planted them and remove plenty to avoid them taking over but who am I to turn down a free plant, particularly when they have such poignant folklore attached to them?
They are symbols of fidelity when separated from a partner – no chance of that any more with the husband working from home- Forget-me-nots also symbolize protection and luck. It’s believed that they have the power to protect humans against witches, which is always handy around these parts. King Henry IV used this flower symbol as his lucky charm during his exile in 1398, and ever afterward. As for their name, the narrative reads that a knight in armour died trying to pick the flowers from a riverbank for a lover, only to be swept away in front of her, his words ‘forget me not’ carried by the breeze. As any safety manager will tell you, doing anything in a full suit of armour requires a risk assessment in triplet. Clearly said knight was a bit too spontaneous. Another story suggests that the forget -me-not was the last to be picked at the games when the flowers were named, and its plaintive cry gave the flower its name. Bit needy if you ask me and somewhat reminiscent of Alistair Cooke when we were picking teams for rounders at school. (I heard he took to the gym at university and ended up rowing rather successfully).
More recently this simple flower has been the symbol of International Missing Children’s Day and of the Alzheimer’s Society. And as both my mother and my mother-in-law – neither with us in person – had Spring birthdays, it’s the perfect flower for our April garden. I like its association, the delicate colour of the flowers, just right for this time of year although I crave bolder jewel colours later in the season. I love the way it looks so natural next to the cowslips near the compost heap at the bottom of the garden and I love its short, pointed leaves reminiscent of mouse ears. (The genus name Myosotis comes from the Greek word mus and otos – mouse ear). These delicate blooms more than earn their place in any cottage garden but they are toxic to humans – so don’t be tempted to prettify a salad with them. Butterflies and bees in the eco-garden will love them however.