A COMBINATION of wet and sunny weather made this a wonderful year for one of the Paisley area’s most exotic plant families.
For the last few weeks magnificent masses of orchids have carpeted woods, meadows, hillsides, quarries and wastelands around the town.
Their bright blue, purple, black, brown and white blossoms resemble and are named after ladies’ slippers, flies, frogs, spiders, lizards, monkeys, ghosts, bees, bugs, birds nests,’ soldiers and men.
My own favourite is the beautiful butterfly orchid whose 18-inch spikes of vanilla-scented white, green and yellow long-lipped, oval flowers impart an otherworld aura of glamour and mystery to damp meadows and uncultivated land.
Just a few miles from Paisley town centre a colony of more than 200 butterfly orchids graces a floral paradise embellished by colourful clusters of yellow loosestrifes, purple vetches, gold-and-white ox-eye daisies and crimson campions.
It’s a Renfrewshire replica of the flower-festooned Elysian Fields. These were the Happy Lands of classical Greek poets and the heavenly home of the blessed dead.
The unbroken link between ancient and modern worlds intensifies with the awareness that dead men’s bleached bones lie entombed below the surface of the orchidaceous meadow.
These remains are of coal-miners who perished when an underground shaft was flooded with filthy water from a neighbouring gallery.
Despite heroic rescue attempts, the victims’ bodies were never recovered. They’re still buried at the solemn site 150 years later.
At night, a myriad of white, ghostly orchids canopying the men’s subterranean sepulchres illuminate the sombre scene. Phantom-like swarms of nocturnal moths probe their flowers for nectar.
It’s consolation for their descendents that no mortal hand needs to lay wreaths on the colliers’ graves.
This is because every summer the Great Earth Mother plants her own garlands of grief upon their burial chambers.
Contemplating a dark valley whitened with human skulls and skeletons, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, is asked by the Heavenly Messenger: “Can these dry bones live?”
The Divine Presence replies: “Yes, they can. New life will be breathed into them and their spirit will live forever.”
It’s a sacred message enshrined centuries later by white orchids flowering over miners’ graves in a corner of rural Renfrewshire where flowers grow from bones, and life triumphs over death.