Flowers of Scotland Chapter III. The Garden and the Wilds
THE garden is a natural nursery; and the older it is, the larger its
share in the wild flowers of the surrounding country-side is likely
to be. Only by canopying the whole over and setting guards at the
gate could escapes be prevented, and the line between native and
cultivated kept sharp and distinct.
rise on the lightest breeze, and may be borne miles away before they
come to rest. And if by field-side, or the margin of the wood they find
conditions to suit them, they will spring. At the autumn thinning,
clumps are thrown over the wall, which take root on the other side and
spread away outward, surely if slowly.
Sometimes an aesthetic member of a family will plant a cutting of some
favourite flower in one of her woodland or stream-side haunts. And, long
after, the touch of a vanished hand is seen there by some curious
not many years since gentle hands scattered English wildlings over a
Scots park, and planted garden flowers in a Scots woodland. And there
they are now to witness if I lie. I could take anyone to the scene and
point them out. By the somewhat sad fortune which banishes daughters
from their homes when a property changes hands, the planters are no
longer there to watch their coming and going, as they did for many
there they are likely to remain. I thought at the time that greater care
might have been taken in the choosing: that double flowers and those of
strange hues might have been left out.
nature will be sure to put that right by and by. The plants will revert
to the simpler state : will yield up all their petals save one outer
rim; will agree on some single hue, probably that they wore before their
captivity: and so recover their lost likeness to their wild brethren.
And, in years to come, delighted wanderers over the grass, or within the
shades, will wonder why this corner is so much richer than the rest of
the scene of which it forms a part. •
Frequently I come upon a curious patch of confusion, where a few
cultivated plants are struggling and fairly well holding their own, amid
a promiscuous crowd of such pushing plebeians as groundsel, chickweed,
and purple dead nettle. A ridge, not more than a foot high, enclosing a
space, is all that tells of the site of some peasant’s cottage, pulled
down, not too soon, probably, for the wellbeing of its inmates.
one of my walks I saw a daffodil growing on the banks of a rill. The
leaves were long and green, the flowers large, yellow, and single. The
whole plant was so healthy and happy-looking that I thought I had never
seen a daffodil before. Plainly it was better satisfied with its fresh
surrounding, than if it had been in some dry and dusty enclosure. No
wonder, seeing that it is naturally a lover of such moist places.
scene was shut in from the world on every side by a tree-crested ridge.
Few came by in a day. The nearest cottage was a long field’s-breadth
away. I looked for some trace of recent planting. The turf was firm, as
though long undisturbed.
miles around there was no wild daffodil besides. I question if the
county, had it been searched from end to end,—I had been over most of
it,—would have yielded such another clump. In some strange way, the
flower had got there. The scene suggested an aesthetic origin.
yesterday I plucked a crimson sprig from a wild American currant, to
lighten up a little natural bouquet of brown wood moss and green
hawthorn leaf. The bush was growing vigorously and flowering freely in
the middle of a wood, a mile and a half from any town.
far this element goes to swell the sum of our wild flowers it were
extremely difficult to say. But it seems fairly certain that, were all
the escapes from gardens deducted, a less bulky volume would contain the
those who have watched the process—who have all but seen the flight of
the seeds over the garden wall; who have certainly been at the birth of
the strange seedlings, under the shadow of the wood, or on the moist
stream-side bank ; who have traced, season by season, the creeping of
the garden parings away from the wall—the possible additions from this
source will seem scarcely capable of exaggeration. And, on each
discovery, they will turn over the pages of their handbook with fresh
interest and curiosity.
have seen many such escapes, both swiftwinged and slow-footed, that are
likely to make good their hold and increase their distance from the
source, until the connection is broken. I could run over many more that
happened not so long ago. These are now as well able to look after
themselves as their neighbours, and are securely sandwiched »in print,
between two of the oldest inhabitants.
pace would be quickened, and many another surprise greet one by the way,
but that a garden flower in the wilds is no sooner detected than
uprooted, and transferred within some other enclosure. I have often
marked the showy fugitive, and next time I came by have missed it. A
check on the too rapid increase of quickly-spreading species is not
altogether a disadvantage, and a second check on the less ready
admission of aliens might be a further benefit. It seems a pity to
confuse, so as almost to lose sight of, our native lowland flora.
for this acquisitiveness there is no reason why “ none - so - pretty,”
which is at once the commonest garden plant, and one of the three
British alpines absent from Scotland, should not be familiar at the
roadside. Almost invariably it marks the site of abandoned cottages, and
blooms round the outside of old garden walls; and so far from being
discontented, it seems rather glad to get back to a wild state again.
find the neighbourhood of ancient fortresses often rich in their wild
Within the enclosure of Craigmillar Castle grows the French sorrel.
Thence it seems to have spread into the south of Scotland and the north
date of its coming was the sixteenth century. The vanished hand, in this
case, that of Mary Queen of Scots. Amid her amiable weaknesses, Mary
seems to have included a liking for plants, and may almost be traced
from place to place by the relics she has left behind. Archangelica
appeared in 1568, a year or two after the return from France, and may
with some probability also be credited to Mary.
Forfarshire den which I am in the habit of visiting, is noted among dens
for its depth of shade, and the wealth of the flowering and flowerless
plants. There true wildlings grow along with many a suspicious native.
Everyone knows that Solomon’s seal is much more difficult to get rid of
than to plant. On being carried or thrown out of the garden, it will run
its stolons under the outside soil in quite a get-rid-of-me-if-you-can
sort of way. At one time it must have been placed there with a view of
enriching the flora of the den.
it chances that on the top of the rock, a hundred feet or more above,
there stands a castle of more than ordinary interest, as contesting with
another the honour of being “ The bonnie house o’ Airlie.” The vanished
hand may have stretched from there. We cannot now deny the plant a place
among our Scottish wild flowers, without including many another of the
same den in our
defile of much more modest dimensions seems even richer than this,
inasmuch as the many rarities are gathered into a narrower space. It has
been called a paradise of flowers. I always suspect these paradises,
where the wildlings I had searched for, separately, over many miles, are
all huddled within a few yards, and mingled with other flowers not
growing elsewhere outside an enclosure. I find myself asking for a
in the year the rocks dipping steeply down to the cool water are covered
over with the great heart-shaped leaves, and brightened with the big
yellow flowers of Leopard’s bane. A faint sweet smell woos me aside to
the violets growing among the grasses of a bank. Though acquainted with
every yard of the country, I know no other bank on which the sweet
violet nods. Why should it be here ?
fifty yards away, on the very edge of the rocks o’ertopping the
Leopard’s bane, is another castle of sixteenth-century date, once in
possession of the Grahams, kinsmen of “Bonnie Dundee.” Not much more
than a stone’s - throw away, a quaint building marks the site of
may be that there were hands gentle enough for the work even in that
rude fortress, and that these things may have been planted much about
the same time that Mary was enriching the garden of Craigmillar Castle.
At all events, this place was inhabited, and either the gentle or the
simple must have placed them there.
one looks for rare things in the neighbourhood of castles, the rude
engagements of whose inhabitants left them neither time nor taste for
trifles, and whose women had often to unsex themselves; much more
confidently may he turn to the peaceful surroundings of monasteries, and
the placid lives of monks. So much is said against these persons, who,
if the truth were kown, were probably neither better nor worse than
modern divines, that it is pleasant to record something in their favour.
And naturalists have reason to be grateful to them for more than one
the north bank of the Tay, not far from the bridge, there are certain
banks and woods widely known for the luxuriance of their flowers. The
primroses are taller and more sweetly pale and scented than elsewhere,
and, contrary to their habit, grow so close together, as to preserve
through April and May an almost unbroken sheet of colour. The atmosphere
Hither the Dundee maidens appear, to gather, not one by one, but in
handfuls; and, furnished all too soon with what they come for, linger
about until the evening, and return with baskets which freshen the
streets and the jaded passers-by. p Above the pale and lowly primroses
rise, upon their stalks, the darker-coloured cowslips. Now, the cowslip
is not nearly so common in Scotland as in England; partly, perhaps, for
the want of dry permanent pasture.
cowslips, as we have, frequently find niches for themselves in the
curious corners of woods. Nor do the Scots cowslips look quite the same
as those found growing on the English meadows. The smaller paler flowers
of the latter give it a more truly wild look. Here the whole plant is
larger, and more like the garden variety. This may be partly accounted
for by its woodland haunts, where the struggle for existence is not so
keen as in the meadow; or, when growing in the open, may point to a more
might be too much to say that the cowslip is not native to Scotland.
But, wherever it grows in such abundance, in company with a profusion of
common flowers of the sweeter kinds, the hand of man has probably had
something to do with it. And the only hands, vanished all of them, that
could have so enriched these Balmerino banks, and so added to the charm
of the scene and the happiness of the lives to come after, belonged to
the monks of the adjacent monastery.
primroses and cowslips have grown so long together in sweet fellowship,
one may pretty confidently start on the pleasant hunt for oxlips. If
Oberon knows a bank whereon the oxlip grows, depend upon it, the cowslip
is in the meadow, and the primrose in the wood hard by. This form is
easily picked out, even at a distance, by the larger flower of the
primrose on the common stalk of the cowslip.
Hybrids between closely-related species, in plants as well as animals,
are doubtless commoner than we are aware of. All that is needful, in
many cases, is that the parent forms mingle freely on the same scene.
But this is not always so easy to detect, nor does it occur in the same
marked degree. Violets, albeit approaching as closely as primrose and
cowslip do, on the common margin of wood and meadow, modestly veil their
attachment. If oxlips are not more frequently observed in Scotland, it
is simply for the lack of cowslips.
rarer and more undoubted legacy of these Balmerino monks is “the lily of
the valley.” Unhappily, it is an example also of the tendency of
attractive plants, when they are sweet-scented as well, to disappear
behind the garden wall. There is reason to believe that its tenure of
Balmerino is already a thing of the past. The same fate must have
attended it elsewhere. Like “
none-so-pretty,” it remains and thrives when the last stone of the
cottage has fallen, and, by the aid of its underground stolons, spreads
marvellously amid the rubbish.
so rare in Scotland, that many lovers of wild flowers who have searched
the country well-nigh all over, never saw it growing wild. Here its
presence suggests the vanished hand.
Guide-books tell us that, common in England, it thins out toward these
boreal regions. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for a
wild flower, at once so lovely and shelter-loving, to select the shade
and rich depths of southern woodlands.
closer acquaintance with its true nature shows the preference to be
rather strange than otherwise. So far from being delicate, it is one of
the hardiest of wild flowers; so far from being a shy woodland plant, it
has no objection to stare the sun in the face.
lily of the valley can, on occasion, become the lily of the mountain.
Travellers to Norway find it growing in great abundance on bare rocks,
near the perpetual snow-line.
many another, it may have come too late to the edge of the channel, and
been debarred from crossing by the inflowing of the water. Afterward, it
may have been introduced into English woods, mainly through the gardens;
and much about the same time to the banks of the Tay. Nor are these the
only gifts we owe to the monks; nor the rarest flowers that grow, or
grew but yesterday, around the old monastery of Balmerino.
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