(psst - over here...)

You know how it is with elephants, don't you.? Nearly everything is an elephant.

Actually, that's not strictly true, but you'd hardly know it from the amount of PR elephants get. Me, I'm not that impressed with pachyderms - you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. Okay, so I haven't actually seen one yet, but you're getting my drift here, aren't you?

No? Nevermind.

I'm not a woman to shirk my parental duties. When young Jonquilletta wants to know about the wonderrful world of cuddly critters, I give it to her straight:

"Kid," I say "out there in that golden, peaceful idyll we know as The Garden, there are more squishy,. wiggly, oozey, slimey, scuttly, slithery, scrabbley and downright scarey life-forms that you could beat off with a fifteen foot stick. I mean, it is absolutely hootching with the blessed things, all boogieing about on their assorted legs (or not, in some cases)"

"Sod that", she says, "What about the elephants?"

See what I Mean?

It's the same story with our photosythesising friends, alas. Take a look at all that glorious, colour co-ordinating greenery colonising your particular patch, and what do you see. That's right - elephants.

No, not elephants. Flowers. Flowering plants.

Now, I like flowering plants as much as the next horticulturalist. I'm on first name terms with a surprisingly large number of them considering their fondness for Latin. But as surely as ninety per cent of everything that walks, crawls, runs , jumps or slithers is a beetle *, Flowering Plants are only a fraction of the weird stuff going down in your garden.

Believe me, Planet Earth is a much stranger place than you know....

So if it isn't a Flowering Plant, then what-the-hell-else can it be?

"Mosses and Liverworts," I say, with a strange, slightly fanatical light coming to my eyes, " Seaweeds (although you won't find many of those in my garden) and Ferns.

"Oh," you say, with just a touch of a sneer, "A fern is just a fern," (.. whilst all the time thinking "what in the name of Geoff Hamilton, is a Liverwort??)

No no no no....... What you think is a Fern, is actually just half the plant!

These cunning beasts peform an incredibly weird trick called Alternation of Generations, which means that they exist in two separate forms, one of which repoduces asexually (eeeeooow! Not just Weird, but Pervy, too!) with spores, and is known, with a great leap of the imagination, as the Sporophyte Generation. This is the ferny-thing you see growing all over the place, and if you look underneath the leaves, you can see brown spotty bits, which is where the spores are released from. These are fairly large plants, and easily seen. You get no I-Spy points for seeing the Sporophyte Generation (bad luck!)

The other bit is called The Gametophyte Generation, and is a small, heart-shaped little plantlet which is very shy and retiring and nowhere near as easy to catch. Nevertheless, it is Weird enough to warrant a look, and it is for this reason that when The Mudshark Family take it upon themselves to investigate The Great Outdoors, I can often be found scrabbling around in the undergrowth, muttering to Monty that I'm..

".... looking for the Gametophyte Generation..."

(by and large, he is fairly understanding about this)

Sadly, with no great success, due to the shy and retiring nature of the GG.


Last Monday being the Spring Bank Holiday, we braved the snow, and set off for the traditional visit to the Garden Centre. Just before frostbite set in, I spied amongst the serried ranks of over-bred pansies and petunias, a fine example of Solomon's Seal, which I had hankered after to enhance the Kitchen Midden of The Towers for some time now, knowing, as I did, of it's reputation for being able to grow in almost total darkness and sogginess.

Returning triumphant with my prize, I decided to allow it the luxury of a night in the Neo-Romanesque Sun Porch as the hail beat down upon the roof in jolly, spring-like rhythms.

It was then that I noticed the small, heart-shaped plantlet growing amongst sundry other weeds in the pot. Yes! It was the Gametophyte Generation!

Sadly, conditions in the Kitchen Midden are not suitable for Fern Cultivation, but I am determined to take a picture of this minor miracle and present it for all the world to see. You shall see the Gametophtye Generation!! (Just as soon as Monty gets some film in his camera. My camera (a) doesn't do close ups and (b) is currently full of sheep)

In the meantime, why not scrabble about in the undergrowth a bit, and get on speaking terms with a liverwort or two? Oooooh, just the very thought of those moss-capsules exploding.......... You'll never want to grow Hybrid Teas again!