Thursday, 7 February 2013

I don't recommend a barbed response to flower picking


What do I write about in my first blog back in Australia? Well I'll ease myself in with a few thoughts on picking flowers.

I've written before about painting wild waratah flowers blue to deter would-be pickers. In that case it was to safeguard a natural population under some threat of serious decline. In botanic gardens we tend to take a tough line, arguing that if everyone took a snip or a bloom, there would soon be little left for other visitors to enjoy. (There are a few worthy exceptions to this rule where a tradition has sprung up to ornament a statue and we tend to look the other way.)

In home gardens one generally expects to invite flower picking rather than have it happen willy-nilly as passers-by pass by. Still, most of us don't mind someone taking a small flower from a massively flowering specimen as long as the overall visage remains intact.


Frangipanis are always tempting. Luckily they drop flowers daily and you can pick up one from the ground. Of course these tend to be blemished in some way and the prettiest are still high in the tree. I hold myself back in this case and only take the fallen flowers. It doesn't seem right to rip even one of these gorgeous flowers from its inflorescence and a blemish adds character right?


Plants like lavender and rosemary are made for touching and squeezing and occasionally snapping off a few leave - just helping out with a little tip-pruning you say as you do it. I'll take an occasional lavender spike because I know they produce lots of them and it hardly seems to matter.


I wouldn't collect this South African species because it's not particularly pretty, but it would a be a good thing if I did, and disposed of any fruits wisely. By taking flowers from the Asparagus Fern I may be stopping them from turning into fruit and then new little plants.


Similarly with this South African plant. I wouldn't collect the flowers of an Agapanthus, basically because I don't like it. But that's because I'm from Victoria where it's a pesky weed and because, well, I just don't like it. But again, good to collect this one before it fruits and spreads. Of course that would deprive others who might enjoy the blooms from enjoying them...

It's a complex business. Of course the rules and laws generally mean you shouldn't pick anything. And I wouldn't recommend breaking any rules or laws. Instead I'd recommend that if a flower somehow ends up in your hand, you have been kind to the plant and to its grower.

What I wouldn't recommend is worrying too much about losing a bloom or two in a public place, or doing anything silly to stop this.
According to Gwen Pascoe in her 2012 book on Victoria's nineteenth-century public botanic gardens, Long Views and Short Vistas, the caretaker of Horsham's Botanic Garden wrote in 1883 that fewer flowers were being stolen now that he has fastened fish hooks among the flowers with copper wire, but "thieves then came for free fish hooks".

Again according to Pascoe, vandalism in botanic gardens at that time was a big problem. The flowers weren't even going to a good home: in Castlemaine, flowers were "picked and thrown on the ground". Perhaps more acceptably, an interest in natural history led others to steal material for their pressed flower collections. Surely that's alright?

Images: my pictures were taken this morning on a walk through a waterside suburb in Sydney. The backdrop to the lavenders will give it away to locals.

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