Meadow Clocks

As midsummer tips into July, the flowers of May and June slip into seed making. While I love the lush abundance of early summer, I also love how these now faded blooms produce the most sculptural seed heads.


An oil painting of the goat's beard seed head, Small White and Ringlet butterflies and Soldier beetle

Oil on board


While recently gathering images for pinning on Pinterest, I realised how the Goat’s Beard clock has been a motif in my work. Like a huge dandelion head, about three inches across, you can find it along the ditches and meadows, their pale moon-like heads glowing amongst the soft grasses.


An oil painting of the wild flower Goat's Beard and a Meadow Brown butterfly
Oil on board

Collecting these seed heads is a tricky affair. I gather them on dry, still days, their seeds secured by firm hairspray (yes, I have received some odd looks…) and I perch them precariously in my car while then driving very carefully home to place them in my studio. The last couple of weeks have been very breezy in Norfolk and all my garden seed heads dismantled before I was able to collect them, so I had to once again set off to find some , and it took several attempts to capture just three intact heads!


Gathering( while being careful not to catch any insects in the spray)


A not quite intact seed head


n oil painting of Goa'ts Beard seedhead and Muslin moth
I often paint them with moths because of their moon-like appearance

I enjoy seeing this elegant ‘weed’ dotted amongst my flower borders. It is a biennial, and it took a few tries before plants became established. The ‘pappi’, or seeds, are intricate parachute structures, but are only viable for a short time. Though one would imagine that they would drift off and spread all over, in fact they don’t seem to float far and all the clumps that appear are very close by. The root, a long tapered affair, was once eaten as a vegetable, though I think it would have provided poor fare as they are like very thin parsnips.


A pencil and watercolour drawing of Goat's Beard wild flower seed head.
My sketchbook page of 'Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon'
Photograph of the Goat's Beard seed head in a cottage garden

A pale moon amongst the Cottgae garden flowers


It has the charming vernacular name of “Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon” as its flowers open with the morning sun and close by midday. It is mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, “The Signature of All Things”: “Alma learned to tell time by the opening and closing of flowers. At five o’clock in the morning, she noticed, the goatsbeard petals always unfolded. … At noon, the goatsbeard closed,” And Cicely Mary Barker, in her ‘Flower Fairies’ (1923), created the perfect botanical image, showing both its sunny blooms and the dimpled ‘priest’s crown’, or receptacle, and her sprite softly blowing the downy seed away.


Oil on board painting of Goat's Beard seedhead

oil on board


You can see the goat’s beard opening in this beautiful film by Neil Bromhall and, as you watch, I hope you make a wish.




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