Friday, June 8, 2007

That Which is Rare and Unusual

This is a photograph of the flower known as the 'Jack-in-the-Pulpit'. These flowers are beloved of folklorists and magicians alike. They have been a part of Northern European 'magical' gardens for centuries. Some people might consider them to be too bizarre to be truly beautiful. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit, however, is one of my favourite plants.

Actually, I like all the flowers that appear quite magically every Spring from barren ground. Most of them have names that conjure stories, such as 'Bleeding Heart', Dutchman's Breeches' or 'Solomon's Seal'. 'Bleeding Heart' and 'Solomon's Seals' grow near the Jack-in-the-Pulpits in the woodland garden I created a few years ago. I grew up in urban environments all over the world and the delight of being able to grow plants was virtually out of reach to some one who moved from continent to continent on a regular basis.

I found my first Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the wilds. It was a small plant growing near a large group, so I felt it would do no harm if I uprooted it to take it home to my own garden. I transplanted it and the next year, much to my joy, I found that it had taken root well and truly as a perennial.

Each year, I hold my breath in Spring, fearing that the Jack in the Pulpits will not reappear. So far, they failed to do so only once. One year, a plant developed an incredible cluster of red berries, almost like a cluster of tiny red grapes. Evidently it was a female plant, for berries never are produced by the males. That plant, alas, never reappeared after that. I suspect that, like the spider, the effort of creating a potential new generation was a death sentence for it. Unfortunately none of those seeds ever produced a new plant.

It is not the unique 'spathe' or flower of the plant alone that has given it a magical reputation. It is the fact that its leaf formation is three, a number that has special magical and religious significance in most cultures.

Jack-in-the-Pulpits are plants that flourish best in the shade. They do best in a 'wet year'. They sometimes can be difficult to find, if the area is dense with vegetation. I consider them to be very 'showy' in their own fashion, yet they show themselves only to those who have the determination to look for them.

In terms of people as well as plants, I am inevitably drawn to the rare and unusual personality, one who does not represent the 'mainstream' in any sense of the word. There is a fine old tradition of the 'British eccentric', but it never is an easy path to take. Those who choose or are fated to be individualists always must endure loneliness and a sense of being a visitor from another realm at times. The best they can hope to achieve is the admiration, respect and even the love of others, but they never quite feel at home.

No comments: