“Studying a fleet of cards, booklets, bookmarks, prints, and three-dimensional constructions of this poet’s obsession, it seems impossible to identify any chronology.  His language and imagery of vessels spans more than a quarter of a century.”[1]

The question is one of navigation.  Chronology is only a path.  In this work, we move from May to November back to May and from September to March.  It is a model of order.  As Karl Capek wrote in The Gardener’s Year, “There are a number of ways of laying out a garden.”

In this work, flowers and modern warships initiate an “attack on the expected.”[2]

Borage in May                                    p. 18

Borage, (Borago officinalis), also known as a starflower, is an annual herb originating in Syria, but naturalized throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Asia Minor, Europe, North Africa, and South America.

In 1946, the Flower-class corvettes Bellwort, Borage, and Oxlip were purchased from the Royal Navy and renamed Clione, Macha, and Maev.


Aubretia in November                      p. 20

Aubretia is a genus of about 12 species of flowering plants in the cabbage family Brassicaceae. The genus is named after Claude Aubriet, a French flower-painter. It originates from southern Europe east to central Asia but is now a common garden escape throughout Europe.

In May, Aubretia carried out an operation, which would help to lead the German Navy down the “Primrose” (as the operation was rather aptly called) path to destruction.


Woodruff in May                                p. 22

Galium odoratum is a perennial plant in the family Rubiaceae, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. An herbaceous plant, it grows to 30-50 cm (12-20 ins.) long, often lying flat on the ground or supported by other plants. Its vernacular names include woodruff, sweet woodruff, and wild baby’s breath; master of the woods would be a literal translation of the German Waldmeister.

WOODRUFF Corvette, ‘Flower’ class. Simons 28.2.1941. Sold 1947, = Southern Lupin.


Asphodel in March                            p. 22

Asphodelus is a genus of mainly perennial plants native to western, central and southern Europe, but now spread worldwide. Asphodels are popular garden plants, which grow in well-drained soils with abundant natural light.

The second lesson from Asphodel, as from escorts like Gladiolus and Polyanthus before her, was that warships, singly on the surface, had only a 50% change of survival against submarines.


Clarkia in October                             p. 23

A piquant and graceful little flower is the Clarkia, a friendly wayside flower of the spring and summer months.  No other native bloom can claim so strange a combination of varying shades of red, pink and purple colors; in some instances these bright hues predominate even in the foliage and seed vessels, consequently, as one writer humorously expresses it, “suggests a blushing disposition.”

I was taken out of my trawler and sent across the Atlantic to Bermuda to take over my third command—a corvette, H.M.S. Clarkia on loan to the USA. Clarkia was one of the first of the Flower Class corvettes to be launched and was, and still is, the oldest in commission.


Primula in September                         p. 41

Per (8; 3) has already constructed three classes: yellow primulas, primulas, and flowers. “Can one put a primula in the box of flowers (without changing the label)?—Yes, a primula is also a flower.

[1940] Primula (arrived at Harwich and placed in Category B reserve on 24 June; placed in Category C reserve on 28 February. Sold on 22 July 1946 into commercial service.


Loosestrife in April                              p. 41

A purple loosestrife flower spike shows sequential zonation. At the bottom, flowers have disappeared and the seed is settling. Flowers bloom in the middle. At the top, flower buds wait to open. Many other flowers occurring on spikes show a similar sequence.










Alisma in July                                      p. 46

Alisma is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alismataceae, members of which are commonly known as water-plantains. The genus consists of aquatic plants with leaves either floating or submerged, found in a variety of still water habitats around the world (nearly worldwide).

Many ugly-ducklings like HMS Alisma served the Royal, Royal Canadian and US navies in the long fight against the German U-boat.  Alisma in 1942, has the original short forecastle and forward mounted mast. Note the radar antenna hidden in its ‘lantern’.


Lotus in September                             p. 46

Nelumbo nucifera, known by a number of names including Indian Lotus, Sacred Lotus, Bean of India, or simply Lotus, is a plant in the monotypic family Nelumbonaceae. The Linnaean binomial Nelumbo nucifera (Gaertn.) is the currently recognized name for this species, which has been classified under the former names, Nelumbium speciosum (Willd.) and Nymphaea nelumbo, among others. Names other than Nelumbo nucifera (Gaertn.) are obsolete synonyms and should not be used in current works. Plant taxonomy systems agree that this flower is in the Nelumbo genus, but disagree as to which family Nelumbo is in, or whether it should be part of its own unique family and order tree.

After many emergency transmissions were received, the corvette Lotus turned west to search for survivors. Eighty-five were found. The survivors, who had expected an almost certain death on the icy ocean, felt an immense relief at the sight of the stem of a British Flower-class corvette.

*Preston and Raven, Flower Class Corvettes

[1] Stephen, Ian, “An Appreciation of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Fleet,” Wood Notes Wild: Essays on the Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay (Edinburgh: Polygon), 48.

[2] Ibid., 47.