In a secluded spot above the masses gathered at Malham Cove, I take a breather from the picnics and selfies and find some space, some quiet, and a flower I’ve never seen before. 

Malham is known for its diverse offerings of flora and fauna, and I enthusiastically start framing this new discovery with my camera. I’ve read (or listened to) several books including Simon Armitage’s ‘Walking Home’ that reference the rare flowers to be found in Malham Dale. I can’t stop my imagination running wild, picturing myself sharing my “rare find” on BBC’s Springwatch and the One Show and the subsequent interviews with various nature publications (I’ve always been a dreamer!). I keep on clicking away. 

Excitedly googling on my return home, I discover it’s a Mountain Pansy. I’m not sure what to think though it feels a little underwhelming. But why? Is it the commonness and cultivated nature which the name evokes?  Or is a there a more malevolent undercurrent to the rationale of my subconscious prejudice towards the word?  

“The Pansy! A word used by friend and foe” – Paul Harfleet

From the school playground to the workplace, “pansy” is a word fired out without thought or care. 

As an insult, the word was first recorded in the late 15th Century. It’s French in origin, “pensée”  meaning ‘thought’ and was used to describe those in thought; those who think too much rather than being ‘men of action’. 

In the early twentieth century, this floral rebuke started to be more specifically directed towards homosexual men. It’s an insult still spat out today and if I’m honest (which I try to be) a word that I hadn’t really grappled with until recently.

It was the discovery of the incredible work by Paul Harfleet via the Self Isolating Bird Club on Facebook that really brought this home. I must have lost myself for nearly an hour exploring The Pansy Project. A project where the artist plants and photographs a pansy at locations where homophobic attacks were reported. Unearthing acts of prejudice and violence through the planting of a symbolic flower, is, breathtakingly brilliant. As a result, I don’t think I’ll see a pansy again (mountain or garden) without thinking of the tough times that too many LGBTQ people face daily.

More photos below, including a couple from Paul Harfleet’s awesome book which I bought after browsing his epic website…

Reading Time: 2 minutes