Blackwater, Norfolk Pollinated flowers means more plants next year – and more thistles means more bees

After explaining to a visitor the lengths to which I go to encourage marsh and spear thistles on my fen, I was amused to hear her describe the troubles she takes to keep them from her garden. I know they’re prickly customers, but why do people dislike them?

What I cherish most is the sheer architectural grandeur of the summer plant. Each fully open flowerhead has a kind of declarative beauty – a blend of spine-fringed awkwardness and inner sensuous velvet. No wonder nations have hitched their wagons to the thistle’s star-like bloom. Even in autumn, when they are desiccated and devoid of seed floss, and possibly enwrapped in old spider’s web, they retain an aura of dignity.

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