The orchard is a half-way zone between the relatively weed-free garden and the almost-wild hill. A thistle is a weed on the other side of the fence but here on a bank at the end of the orchard it was a welcome wildflower. A party of goldfinches are regular visitors to the garden and goldfinches are partial to thistle seed. Any plant that encouraged these brightly coloured birds to stay chattering around the garden must surely be a good thing.
In spring the low rosettes of leaves were boldly spiny but easy to avoid. As spring merged into summer the thistles started to throw up tall, branching stems. Fiercely prickly, spherical flower buds weighed the branches down as they leaned out over the path towards the sun.
With thick, leather gloves and shears held at arms length I trimmed the plants back from the path. As the weather warmed, the thistles grew faster, reaching up to six foot tall. As soon as the flowers opened, the bees arrived. On one sunny day I counted six different kinds of bee. The thistles leant further out and the path took a detour.
Then came a day of wind and rain and the thistles collapsed. I’ve cut the thistles back now, clearing the flattened stems that were blocking the path through the orchard. It won’t be quite the goldfinch feast I’d imagined but at least there are still a few flowers for the bees.