Flowers of Scotland Chapter I. The Flowers of Spring
THE daisy never dies. The eye of the winter as of
the summer day, it is bellis perennis,
in a double sense: a thing of beauty, throughout the year, and
throughout the years.
early do some plants flower, that they seem to belong as much to the
past as 'to the coming season. Among such is the furze or whin. On any
open winter day it may be traced, by its cocoanut scent, to where it
lights up the leeside of turf dyke, or wood strip with its dark yellow
blossoms. But for the bareness of the willow, which has not yet hung out
a single catkin, the stillness of the woods, broken only by the drowsy
noises of the gold-crests in the fir-trees, and the midday shadows
falling down the coloured sunlight of the fallow field, one might be
lulled, for a time, into forgetfulness of the season.
little shelter except the sand-dunes, the whin is known to flower as
early as November. Thenceforward it continues to make the desolate
places of the land rejoice, until the golfers come out on the links, and
the linties begin to build inside.
and whin have no other message than the mildness of the air: it may be
before or after Christmas. Neither takes any part in Nature’s calendar,
so that one can tell what time of year it is.
earliest flower with a definite beginning, whose appearance one knows
when to look for, is the colt’s-foot. It is not much of a flower in
appearance: not unlike a rather indifferent dandelion, and of the same
order. It is also a plant of somewhat evil omen, showing poverty or
neglect. But it' is without a rival when, with its 'bright rays and disc
of still warmer hue, it touches up the faded grasses; and where there is
no choice, one is not disposed to be critical.
spring note of the missel-thrush would miss its welcome if it came a
little later, when the air was already thrilling with richer melodies.
By the way, the singing came before the budding. The birds, and not the
flowers, are the true heralds of spring. Ere the date of the
colt’s-foot, say in early March, the mavis has eclipsed his bigger
cousin, and the blackbird has trolled out his first mellow note.
Nevertheless, this somewhat squalid forerunner of the flowTers,
like the earliest of the birds, has a welcome all to itself.
colt’s-foot is yellow. The first crocus to touch the dark soil of the
garden is yellow. The beauty with which the daffodil takes the winds of
March is yellow. Whatever plant has more hues than one, likes to show
the yellow first.
Yellow is said to be the primitive colour: that which broke out over the
prevailing green of the ancient earth, and began the long and
increasingly close fellowship between bright insect and bright plant.
Spring is an early season. Before those who have eyes to see, each year
repeats the story of the earth. Yellow is the complexion of spring,
stealing over the prevailing green of our moist winters. The languid bee
crawls from straw hive or hole in the turf dyke, and, shaking out his
cramped wings, makes, with uncertain aim, begotten of lessened use and
vitality, for the yellow spot.
lesser celandine is also yellow when it is young and fresh, though it
soon bleaches into white. Its star-like appearance is borrowed from the
many-pointed rays — eight, or nine. This feature marks it out among the
flowers, were there any so soon besides the colts - foot to confuse it
with—gives it, so to speak, a certain individuality.
the high roads, which, happily at the time, are not quite so dusty as
they afterward become, it grows in a stunted form, and wears an
belongs to the burn-sides, where it brightens the broken passage of the
angler from current to current and from pool to pool. Its associations
are with running water and early trouting. Only those who have seen the
dark green leaves against the reddish brown bank, and the yellow star
against the dark green leaves, or both leaf and star standing out
against the neutral-tinted stream, can tell all the celandine is. Only
those, too, who know it as one of many pleasant impressions.
is it the only flower which one has learned to like, less for itself
than because of scene and surrounding. One who has been abroad, rod in
hand, can never afterward separate the spring celandine from the flushed
stream, such as we have at that season, the long shadows, the pink and
black spots of the newly-landed trout, and all the fresh emotions
attending the first cast and catch after a winter’s fast.
known as Wordsworth’s flower. Had he been an enthusiastic angler we
could have understood the choice, because, for reasons just stated, all
the members of the fraternity are disposed to appraise it beyond its
merits. But being only an unattached _ admirer in search of beauty, the
preference is more puzzling. He expressed his admiration in a sonnet
which I would rather not quote. The Ayrshire poet moralised over the
daisy, and Tennyson had the taste to follow so good an example. The
Westmoreland poet must needs moralise over something else. I question
whether the reputation, either of flower or poet, is very much bettered
place of the fading celandine is filled by the anemone. Beginning with a
pink bud, it opens into a white flower. It has a tendency to grow in
patches, netted by underground stolons. The delicately cut foliage is in
itself a delight. It is called nemorosa because it is found in woods,
and anemone because it is found in windy places. Thus we get the
singular combination “ anemone nemorosa,” which seems rather a
contradiction in terms. The wood is still. The woodland storm no more
troubles the sheltered glades where the anemones dwell, than the lash of
waves reaches the depths of ocean. Far overhead the wind bends the
topmost branches, and sings a spiritualised version of the ruder song of
the sea. Those who find it growing in the wilds may call it anemone, and
those who come upon the self-same plant in the woods may call it
nemorosa; and both will then be satisfied.
wood anemone creeps up the hillsides. On that playground of theirs the
breezes deal gently with their favourite, fanning it into healthy
motion, without scattering its loose flower. There it may chance to meet
blue mountain anemone takes wood or open with equal thanks. No other
anemones grow wild in Scotland. The summer pasque flower keeps to the
chalk downs, of which we have none.
much the same time, in much the same places as the anemone, appears the
primrose; at least it shares the shadier half of the wind flowers
impatient of the wind, it may be called a shade flower. It loves the
woods where the sunshine is broken into patches, and finds out all sorts
of sheltered corners, or primrose niches. Sometimes it gets its roots
into a crack of the rock overlooking a woodland pool, in which it can
by no means the first rose, as its name would seem to imply; nor is it a
rose at all, any more than a jelly-fish is a fish. The only explanation
I can offer of this second double name is that, whereas the earlier
forms grow in out-of-the-way places, are scentless, and appear when
out-of-door life has scarce as yet begun, the primrose is by the
brookside, where the girls play; in the strip of wood, where the boys go
a-nesting; and all on those bright days when the sun has taken the chill
off the air and sufficiently dried the natural playgrounds.
do I remember finding my first thrush’s nest, under the green rosette
with its crown of yellow. The spotted breast of the sitter, the spotted
blue eggs when she arose, the crossing shadows, and the prattle of the
burn, form a picture which has not yet perceptibly faded.
fixes the date of the flower, according to my favourite way of
reckoning, at the nestingtime of the song thrush; or, to descend to
plain prose, somewhere between March and May. Impatient thrushes build,
and early primroses blow, sooner; and I have found both eggs and flowers
later. But the nesting and the blossoming reach their height together;
so that on the day one gathers the largest handful of flowers, he will
startle most sitting birds among the bushes.
is the first flower to attract attention: the first scented flower; and
as every flower is a rose to the vulgar, so this is the primrose.
primulas—of which our primrose is one— range from the deepest dells to
the highest mountains. Strangely enough, none of the strictly mountain
primulas appear in Scotland, the home of British alpines. Our colour is
yellow—in the primrose of a very pale cast, indefinitely sweet, like the
scent of the flower; deepening in hue in the cowslip. According to their
wont, the yellows come in spring.
have two lilacs later in the season. One is in the north, and the other
in the south. Both are very local. So very slight is the hold of the
southern species that it can scarcely be regarded as Scots. The other we
shall meet again. Both are moorland, or sub-alpine. Lilac and purple are
the mountain colours. Happy is the man who, in garden, rockery, or
greenhouse, gathers the primulas of Europe round those of Scotland.
Commonest of a lovely family, the dog violet shares the windy and
exposed half of the anemone’s domain. I like to think of it on the bank,
sloping down to ditch or stream, with the nest of the yellow-hammer hard
by. There it so overtops the short, fresh grass, that every tiny speck
of blue is seen. Hand in hand, like sisters born, it climbs the slope
with the anemone, and goes just about as high.
passes under the shadow far enough to join the primroses. There it grows
larger, if more faintly hued flowers; and changes its name to the wood
violet. The smaller, deeper blue bank violet is better. Whereas the
shade-loving primrose sometimes wanders out into the open, the violet of
the open enters the shades. Together with the anemone, primrose and
violet make fairy glades worth searching out.
three-coloured violet gets the credit of being parent to our garden
pansies. A little later than the first appearance of the dog
violets,—for it will save space elsewhere if I chat about some of the
summer friends of these spring flowers,—heartsease scatters over the
drier turf. On climbing the dykes into the grain field, it grows a long
stem, at the expense of the blossom. There is some reason to suppose
that the climbing has been the other way. Introduced with the grain, it
may have crossed to the meadows, where it shortened its stalk, to the
benefit of the flower.
heartsease climb the mountains, away beyond the utmost limit of the dog
violet ? Does it there drop white and blue—all its shades save one—and
become the yellow mountain violet ? If I am justified in linking the
three-hued violet of the plain with the one-hued mountain violet, across
the gap between where neither grows, then the heartsease may be a native
after all: may have come down the slopes, and not over the dyke. The
ascent, if such there was, must be pretty far back.
another violet haunts the marshes: not simply wet places, but genuine
old bogs, which have never been reclaimed, and whose date must be
recalls ankle-deep wading through mossy and peaty stretches, with
frequent quickening of the motion, and jumps, lest the sinking should be
shall I forget one sunrise two thousand feet among the Perthshire hills,
in a haunt of the marsh violet—the soaking mosses, the deep black pools
which no summer heat could dry up; nor the plight I was in; nor the
comments passed when, toward six in the morning, I appeared at my
lodging by the Ardle side.
in colour like the dog violet, it differs mainly in the roundness of the
leaf—rounder even than that of the sweet violet.
fancy sometimes helps one. I have never been able to disassociate the
violets, so strangely perfect among the. native wild flowers, from the
tits, so strangely perfect among the native wild birds. Blue is the
predominant colour in both ; the number of species is the same ; and the
moist stretches which yield the marsh violet yield also the marsh tit.
in wet places, though not so old, nor wild, nor far away, appear two
other moisture lovers, familiar to those who never heard of the marsh
violet, and chiefly to all readers of The May Queen.
By the meadow trenches
blow the faint sweet cuckoo flowers,
And the wild marsh
marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows grey.
Permanent pasture is not common in Scotland. Few dry meadows lighten at
spring-time with the passionate blossoming of those in the South. Our
green stretches are mainly the overflow of streams —marshes rather than
enough at other times, and in winter often impassable, such scenes
become charming when, in April, a bright sisterhood of flowers is let
loose over them. Here and there, among the pinks are glowing yellows.
the spring buttercups come out among the daisies of the bank, yielding
the most charming effects with the simplest touches. The first is that
with the bulb at the roots, to make it independent of
the niggardness of the season; and the pale
sepals, bent back so quaintly against the stem.
later fibrous-rooted buttercups follow; the taller of them to o’ertop
the lengthening grasses, and glisten among the brown panicles with a
second effect, not less simple or charming than that among the daisies.
this lasts, Spring is abroad as if she had taken lovely shape, visibly
scattering from her lap ; and he who would find her will do well to go
to such grassy banks, and look there. If the beauty is not passionate,
it is altogether satisfying.
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