Our neighbours gardens are bursting with bright flowers, sometimes forming unlikely harmonies: the purple smoke bush fronted by bright yellow evening primroses, or delicate crimson sweet peas next to blowsy orange dahlias. These glorious pallets of colour are a credit to the time and care that have gone into them.

In contrast, we’re still favouring the wild look. Thanks to a few strategic rainstorms between heatwaves, green is still our predominant colour. We are a garden of textures and tones, with only a few dots of colour from the hardiest types of independent blooms. The yellow-hot pokers have been stars, and so are those rampant volunteers, the orange marigolds.

Luckily, the results of this abandonment are not so obvious from a distance, so we’ve not had to deal with comments about harbouring an invasion force. This week though, my conscience was triggered when returning from a trip to collect our clicked groceries.

I didn’t notice them on the way out, because I was concentrating on reversing. We have a tricky gateway.

Driving in, I couldn’t avoid noticing the very tall and vigorous hog weed plant leaning, triffid-like, over the bonnet of the car, heavy with ripening seeds.

Tall as it is, luckily it’s not Giant Hogweed, which is a notifiable weed. Still, I was certain my neighbours wouldn’t be pleased to see it. Something would have to be done.

I’ve a fascination with the patterns of seed-heads. So, once I’d seen one seeding plant, my eye was in for spotting the others.

What is it I like? The symmetry.

Anyone who knows me well would be able to explain how paradoxical that answer is. I am hopeless at mathematics. Show me a number and my brain stalls. At school I failed to understand anything beyond the basic, practical levels.

I can still name a few geometric shapes: isosceles triangle, equilateral triangle, the parallelogram… Could I describe them? Please don’t test me.

Perhaps, if they’d been presented as nature notes I might have made an Archemedian exclamation. Give me maths with a story attached, and things like measuring volume make sense. Eurika!

Stories are patterns. The ones I love best are a puzzle to be unraveled. They can be seen quickly, and enjoyed in passing. Some can be studied, over and over again. Look closely and each time they will reveal a fresh pattern of meaning, of symbols, words or images. Perhaps this is the same principle as someone colouring mandalas in one of those mindfulness books.

To look at a dandelion seed-head before I use it to count time, is to lose time. So imagine my fascination with the salsify seed heads, three times the size of a dandelion. They’ve been popping up in this garden for years. These are the grandfather clocks of nature’s timekeepers. The stems can be up to five foot tall.

Then there are teasels, another of my unconventional garden residents. These have their seeding shape before the flowers are showing. They’re pretty spectacular from a distance, but look down at them and another pattern shows.

Patterns like these lead me to think I might manage to understand the equations behind polyhedrons, or maybe, even, The Golden Ratio. First, though, I’d better find my loppers, and cut down that hogweed, before it scatters its way into the gardens of all my neighbours.

49 thoughts on “Patterns

  1. We are words-people not numbers-people. But patterns are something we can all appreciate. I too love unravelling the pattern of a good story. Sometimes you don´t see the pattern until the end.

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  2. Oh how I LOVE overgrown things, perhaps because I grew up in the thick of a lot of Atlantic overgrowth, which has that really emeraldrine quality to it; dense and humid and breathing.
    I get the sentiment that you get if I’m being entirely swallowed by the solitude of verd nature, that “there must be secrets here still”. There’s a part of this sensorial world that I think we haven’t yet unlocked. I feel somewhat at peace with that, however. Adds to the charm.

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  3. We are pattern-seeking creatures, are we not, like most organisms — it’s an important survival instinct to determine if something is food, a threat, a mate, a shelter. But we’re also, like many organisms, pattern-makers, building nests, creating scent trails, producing songs, or grunts, or warnings, or encouragement.

    And that’s the basis of storytelling, with narratives the webs we weave, the edifices we construct, the migrations we make. Your post is itself a journey with beginning, middle and end: the hogweed towering over your car, the scent trail of musings and observations, the conclusion the intention to obliterate or at least control the hogweed that began this narrative. A brilliant example of a conjuring of reality from a spell.

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    • I must admit that the thought that everything is part of a bigger pattern seems reassuring to me. Thank you so much for that last line, which sums up my thoughts on how story works. What a compliment 😁

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  4. Thanks for looking close and showing us these beautiful images.
    My garden evolved organically, not a straight line in sight, I only shaped what was there. Every few month another corner lights up with colour. In a strange synchronicity, years after I finished my novel, Course of Mirrors, a new neighbour designed his little back garden with impeccable palatial geometry. So my garden and his have a wildly disparate pattern, just like the gardens I describe in the beginning of my novel. 🙂

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    • Your garden sounds delightful, Ashen. I do like looking at those perfectly designed and manicured gardens like you neighbours, but I know I’d never be able to achieve that. As you say, it’s good to have alternating patterns, in everything.

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  5. Lovely, thoughtful tour of the shapes and patterns of your garden Cath. I think we share a tendency to number-phobia though I’m impressed with your recall of geometric shapes. Is it the words that have stuck, I wonder?

    I am fond of what you might call uniform flower shapes. Daisies, Gazanias, dianthus and geums are currently starring in our own display. I like the sound of your wild one; it seems more you than a neatly ordered one. Plus the birds will thank you for all those seed heads.

    I love your mandala analogy. That’s an appealing perspective on reading. I too like a puzzle but, as with crosswords, I prefer them not to be too cryptic.

    Good luck with the hogweed lopping and respect for knowing the difference bewteen giant and none. Our own nemesis is ground elder. I’ve pretty much conceded the fight though the lockdown did give me more opportunities to fill the beds and hopefully leave less space for invasion.

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    • You know me so well, Ruth! Yes, it was the words I fell for, not the geometry! And, how right you are on the style of my gardening, even on a good year the garden is closer to wild than ordered, and I always justify it to critics by pointing out how much money we save on buying bird-food in the autumn.

      Your flowers sound glorious. Daisies are one of my favourites, too. I suspect it goes back to childhood hours spent picking and weaving daisies on the school playing field – so much better than lessons…

      Good luck with your ground-elder, we’ve a patch of that too. I like your solution. It sounds like my style of gardening. I hope you’ll have time to snip off the flower heads, now that lockdown is easing and you’re back in the bookshop.

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      • That’s how I feel about flowers too. I know the basics – grass is weed, roses are beautiful and has thorns, trees don’t die and grow every year 😉 But then I hear people talking about growing grass, and how when you do it’s no longer a weed, and how you have all sorts of rose categories and stuff, and how some trees are considered weed and you get me confused. No matter how many times I try memorizing all the names and shapes, I get lost and forget.

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    • I’m all for sitting back in some shade and enjoying the view from a distance, preferably while also admiring a cold beverage. Gardening is so much less disturbing that way. I’m surprised by how few gardeners understand this.

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  6. Cath, I so enjoyed this meditative piece. Our garden falls somewhere in the middle but tends towards the unkempt, natural style. I too, love seedheads and I want to find some salsify now – just for those glorious fluffy heads. As for maths, I’m like you. Give me words over numbers any day. My children, on the other hand, had a very different mathematical experience than I did. Mine was practical – perfunctory. They were shown the beauty of numbers, and indeed a very large part of that is pattern. I remember numerous conversations when they were younger in which they shared their wonder, rather in the way that I love a conversation about the wonder of language. I was rather envious of their awe and excitement but to this day it eludes me. Now to study my hogweeds and decide whether they are giants … 😉

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    • Thank you, Sandra. I do recommend the Salsify – though I’ve never developed a taste for the roots.
      I suspect the maths thing does depend on who introduced us, and how. I have this feeling I’ve missed out, but perhaps I’ve compensated with words.
      Good luck with the hogweeds.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Salsify ~ what a great word. Describes exactly the effect reading your blogs has on me ~and should have a new dictionary entry.
    I admire your short story form. A neat dramatic arc, within which the baddie (Maths) is usurped by the goodie (Nature) but the reader retains emotional connection with Maths whose only crime is to reveal the patterns within Nature. (By the way all those geometric figures you mention are beautifully present in your photos. Your overhead shot reminds me that other ways to see great patterns is by slicing vegetables and fruit in unusual directions, especially through the seeds. )
    Thanks for combining art and science Cath. The world needs more of it 😉

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    • Thank you, Mike, I do like the implication behind your definition for salsify, and I’m glad you appreciated my story shaping. In turn, I’m impressed by your story-equation.
      I must also thank you for making it possible for me to claim that I do, after all, have some instinctive grasp of geometry…


  8. Have similar conundrums with wild plants in the garden. I think we need bigger gardens! But how lovely to have room for teasels. I remember reading that washing your face in the water that collects in the leaf bracts would keep you looking young. I wondered if that was because of all the tiny flies in it – a sort of natural protein wash!

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    • I’ve not heard of washing in the water of the leaf bracts, but now you mention it, it does always look remarkably fresh and clear, even with fly-bodies in it.

      I recently read that teasels absorb that protein water, and are therefore partially carnivorous. Since which, I tend to half-think Triffid whenever I step out of the door and see them lurking on the edge of the patio.

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  9. Of course – although it is full of “nature” there is nothing “natural” about a garden. It is the quintessential piece of human control of nature. A garden is all about controlled selectivity: This is a weed. This is not a weed. This is native and I will treasure it. This is not native and I will nurture it.

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  10. Hee hee! This reminds me of our own yard, which is always an absolute wreck compared to any other yard on our street. Heck, our new neighbors have one of those robot lawnmowers that’s always going over the yard so that it’s ALWAYS trimmed, while we do ours every couple of weeks. We’ve been slowly pulling out all the bushes in the front yard because they were just rotting and dying, but we’ve yet to replace them. I used to blame it on the kids because they were tiny and I had no time to tend to it, buuuuut they’re not so tiny any more. We’re always the one yard with all the dandelions, and frankly, I’m okay with that because they’re pretty! Weeds can be pretty, too 🙂

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    • For wreck, I substitute wildlife haven. It doesn’t have much affect on the neighbours, but I’m easily convinced by it.

      Gardening is such a time-intensive occupation, I saw one of those little lawn-mowing robots a couple of years ago, and have had it on my list of fantasy must-haves ever since. Though then there’d be no dandelion flowers or daisies. I love counting the ways I can justify not gardening.

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      • LOL! Indeed! Bo has often talked about throwing all sorts of wildflower and grass seeds on the yard and labeling it a “habitat,” which I concur is very tempting. I mean, we’re already halfway there with the chipmunk metropolis tunneling in our yard to evade the dogs that neighbor on all sides of our house. 🙂

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