The list maker

Other people’s words about … wildflowers

It was the top of the morning, the very cream, and I skimmed it off and crouched in the cornfield, gulping it down … The field ended in a double ditch, and from it grew a mass of flowers in a profusion of colours and forms, such as is seen trimming the edges of medieval manuscripts. Black medick, I counted, buttercup, horsetail, ribwort plantain, hedge woundwort, must mallow and curled dock, the clustered seeds a rusty brown. Wild rose, dandelion, the red and white dead nettle, blackberry, smooth hawksbeard and purple-crowned knapweed. Interspersed with these were smaller, more delicate flowers: cut-leaved cranesbill, birdsfoot trefoil, slender speedwell, St John’s wort, heath bedstraw, tufted vetch and, weaving in and out of the rest, field bindweed, its flowers striped cups of sherbet-pink and white. The stem of the knapweed was covered in black fly, and a spider trap shaped like a dodecahedron had annexed a few pale purple flowers of vetch inside swathes of tight-woven web.

from ‘To the River
by Olivia Laing

I have quoted from Olivia Laing before, I know. Still, one day a week or so ago as I went for a bushwalk, I couldn’t help thinking again of To the River. In particular, my thoughts kept returning to the passage I’ve quoted above. We’ve had an extraordinarily wet, windy spring here in South Australia this year — a spring that’s left me craving our usual harsh, dry, crackling heat. But the ‘up’ side to the lower temperatures and higher rainfall has been the abundance of wildflowers.

That day, as I strolled along the path, it felt to me as though I was walking on a carpet of flowers. Whistlers burbled in the trees above me — I spied both golden whistlers and rufous whistlers — and wattlebirds clucked, and magpies warbled, and I am sure I heard the call of a curlew or a godwit, though I really don’t know whether that’s possible in the part of the world through which I was walking.

Meanwhile, the rug of flowers went on spreading out before me.


As I walked, I found myself doing exactly what Laing does in the passage above: counting the flowers. I saw each flower; I named it; I knew it. I made my list as Laing made hers, and though we live in different hemispheres, and our lists are very different, I suspect that the joy I felt in making my list was somewhat akin to hers.


If I was an artist or a calligrapher — if I was a mediaeval scribe — I would decorate the edges of this post with the flowers I saw that day, in reference to the illuminated manuscripts Laing mentions above. But I am none of those things, so my photos will have to suffice. (As usual, hover your cursor over the photos to see the name of each flower — or my attempt, at least, to identify and name each one. Part of the pleasure in list-making is the knowledge that some of the names on the list might be wrong. I learn as I go.)

Perhaps you might like to think of these photos as a kind of pictorial version of the list I made that day, or as evidence of the carpeted path I trod, or as a simple expression of my joy.

They’re all of those things to me.

One thought on “The list maker

  1. What a lovely walk you described – thank you. I’m glad you are getting some good rain for the plants. 🙂 I’m curious to see the wildflowers in your part of the world. Some similar, others very different, always interesting!

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