In a corner of our garden, just where the conservatory joins the brick wall of the house, a mysterious plant has taken root. It has elongated, slightly furry leaves that lie flat close to the ground, and tall slender stems, about 12 inches high, producing multiple branching flower heads. Despite its elegant, aspirational appearance, it is probably a weed. But nothing else seems to want to grow in that corner, even the lawn, so we let the plant take over. It pops up every summer, in greater and greater profusion.
For many years, if I was in one of my better periods, I saw the garden only at dusk. I would look at the mysterious plant and think vaguely, “Those flowers will be interesting to see, when they finally come out.” But they never seemed to, or I never noticed, and they turned into fluffy spherical seed heads without revealing any more.
This year, my first proper summer, the mystery has been solved. I went out into the garden on a morning in June, and there were the flowers – bright orange and hairy, like multiple miniature dandelions. And, like dandelions, of course, they close up, neatly and efficiently, as the sun begins to set. As do the daisies that speckle the grass. And the big silky poppies Pete planted in the border for photographic purposes. And the small wild yellow poppies that have seeded themselves about the place. And the gazanias. Suddenly, going out in the daytime, I’m seeing all these discreet and bashful blooms splayed out shamelessly in the sun, being visited by pinstriped hoverflies and big fat bees.
Then, in July and August, at the high point of summer, I start seeing butterflies. I’m utterly entranced, trying to follow with my eyes their crazy, non-rigorous, scatterbrained flight, picking out their colours and details as they tantalise among the flowers.
I’ve come across moths, of course, during my crepuscular phases, half seen and mysterious movements in the dim half-light. But butterflies, supremely, are creatures of sunshine and the warmth of the day; I haven’t laid eyes on one for ten years.
They become my private symbol for this summer of renewal, for lightness and freedom after close and dark confinement, for the recovery of those thousands of pointless and trivial everyday choices which are none the less such a joy.