When we moved to this house over twenty years ago, I was most excited about the garden. Although I’d previously worked an allotment, I’d never had custody of shrubberies and trees. That first winter, we cleared a patch of ground for ten raised vegetable beds and another for fruit bushes, fenced-in to keep out the birds. Along with that and creating a pond and patio, we didn’t pay much attention to the grass.
As the grass grew higher, so did several wildflower species native to this land. Buttercups and daisies, as you’d expect, but also bedstraws, hawkbits, thistles, ragwort, goatsbeard, scabious, foxgloves, willowherbs, purple loosestrife, cranesbills, clovers, bird’s foot trefoil, cow parsley, black medick, self-heal and various types of vetch. We discovered more clumps of orchids than we were aware of and this year we’re thrilled that yellow rattle, an important ingredient of the wildflower meadow as it weakens surrounding grass, has taken root. Although I forget more than I remember, naming these plants makes them friends not enemies, and even the marauding dandelions don’t seem savage anymore.
Looking up from my desk, I see grass almost as tall as I am swaying in the breeze. Butterflies dance – albeit not as many as I’d like – between spots of white, yellow, orange and purple among the green. Beyond the hedge, people turn to look as they pass by. Knowing the British addiction to monoculture close-cropped lawns, I doubt it’s to admire. But we love our garden meadows – and so do the bees.
Meadows thrive on nutrient-starved soil, making roadside verges as well as the sites of the decommissioned coalmines around here the perfect habitat. I’m hoping it’s a similar case with former copper mines; otherwise my 99-word story won’t qualify for this week’s flash fiction challenge. I got the opening walking home from the dentist via an urban nature reserve.
“Does anyone recognise these flowers?”
Buzzing bees, chirping crickets and a strange tapping fill the pause. Cogs in young brains turning? A meadow pipit or a stonechat? No point asking these kids. The only bird they know is the robin on a Christmas card. The only flower a hot-house Valentine’s rose.
“They’re not flowers, they’re weeds!”
When he was their age this was slag. Industrial waste.
“Sir, sir, can we see the mineshafts?”
Soon, he’ll have them making daisy chains. Holding buttercups beneath each other’s chins. Will they hear the tapping sound? The ghosts of his forebears toiling underground.