October: Field Scabious
Illustration: Greg Stevenson
Words: Mathew Clayton
If you don’t know the name for a plant you don’t notice it, at least, that is the conclusion i reached after conducting my first ever plant survey a few weeks ago. I had read somewhere about Plantlife’s Wildflower Count, an annual study that tracks the most common wildflowers, and although I have never been the sort person that likes ticking things off lists, it seemed like a good excuse to spend the afternoon on the Downs. And i was also keen to learn something new: my knowledge of plants hasn’t increased much since i was child. I signed up online and was sent a booklet with photos and descriptions of one hundred flowers organised by colour.
My 83-year-old dad agreed to come along and so, on a glorious August day, we headed up the track at the back of my house. After about five minutes my dad bent down to examine a small lilac flower that was shaped a little like a dandelion. I could tell from the look on his face that it was familiar to him but he couldn’t remember its name. Then he lost his footing.
There was a moment when time stopped. He was still upright, but slowly toppling – the fall inevitable. I felt my stomach churn. We were half way up the Downs on a very steep slope. I caught his eye and instead of seeing panic i thought i could see the beginning of a smile. As he fell forward into the grass I watched as he deliberately tucked himself into the fall – executing a near perfect somersault. By the time he stopped rolling he was actually laughing.
As i helped him up he said ‘Scabious – that is what they are called. They were everywhere when i was growing up. Pretty little things’. And suddenly all around i could see them, the act of giving them a name had unexpectedly made them visible to me.
With autumn well underway most of the flowers have now gone from the village and the Downs but i spotted two of these beauties in the churchyard this morning. Field Scabious – an ugly name for a lovely little flower that from now on will always put a smile on my face.