Cars have returned to the city streets where I live but there’s still nature to be seen. Walking down the hill from my house, my eyes drift away from the cars, across the pavement and beyond the fence with its peeling green paint. Amongst the tall grasses there are self-sown sycamores, not yet big enough to be called trees, and a haze of yellow.
It’s a patch of lady’s bedstraw; a beautifully evocative name for a plant with the scent of new-mown hay. In days gone by it was dried and used to stuff mattresses. It wasn’t added to the mattresses just to provide a nice smell. The aromatic chemical, that is so pleasant to us, is also a deterrent to fleas and moths.
Which made me wonder, how much was needed to stuff a mattress? Lady’s bedstraw must have been a very common and abundant plant. Perhaps it’s another sign of how much our landscape has changed. The yellow haze of lady’s bedstraw, white and yellow discs of ox-eye daisies, the purple pincushions of scabious; where we see these colours, instead of a monochrome of green, we are glimpsing the past. These are the colours of meadows. Even the grass in a meadow isn’t just “grass” but quaking-grass, sweet vernal-grass and crested dog's-tail.