Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Wild Flowers of Scotland
Chapter V. The Flowers of Summer

FROM spring to summer lies between the fading broom and the blossoming hawthorn — through a gateway overhung by lilac and laburnum. .

Neither lilac nor laburnum is native, by right of long hold of the soil, although both are so closely woven in with our earliest recollections of the season, that it is hard—to me impossible—to picture it without them. If not found in our lists of wild flowers, it only shows how very fine are the lines that are drawn, and how strangely they are made to curve in and out. Both grow so freely beyond the garden walls, and wander so far into the depths of the surrounding country, that they seem to have as good a claim as many another form of no older date, and which most of us never saw.

The fenceless path through the field, by which the children, now in their sunny-weather pinnies, go to the farm for milk, is overhung all the way. Never was there a brighter arch. Each alternate tree is a laburnum, some' of whose drooping racemes come just far enough down for little hands to reach. What a handful of flowers to get all at once! Broom stretches from trunk to trunk, forming a second lower yellow line.

No pathway in the country is pleasanter to me than that. I have gone up a thousand times, morning and evening, just at this season.- And yet the farmer, who shares the charm in larger measure than others as he drives up and down in his gig, has of late been shaking his head.

“Unwelcome intruders into his domain,” he calls what was there while he was yet in his cradle; and, shutting his eyes to escape the glow, lest it might touch him, he breathes out threaten-ings and slaughter.

“They keep the sun from his grain.”

He always looks in the morning or afternoon, when the shadow is half across to the next hedge.

“They rob the land along the edge of the field.”

As if everyone did not know that he manures largely with old boots. Plainly, he has no belief in such close proximity between utility and beauty.

One day, when the blossom is off and there is nothing left to weaken his purpose, he will carry out his threat. Some are fearfully looking forward, while others say that his bark is worse than his bite. After that, he will have many a year to drive up a bare road. Serves him right! Possibly, he will not care, but that is all .the more his loss.

The the farm has its summer arch. The cream of the bourtree meets the white of the rowan. Blossoms and scents mingle overhead.

The hawthorn ought to flower on the first of May, for which reason it has got the name of the month. But that is in England, where everything is earlier.

“Oh, that was past before we came away.”

Such is the tantalising comment of our visitors from the south; while all is yet fresh to us, and, in the innocence of our hearts, we are pointing to the opening buds.

Our village maidens are yet simple in their ways and thoughts, with just a lingering touch of rustic superstition. They rise before dawn on that magic morning, the same to-day as it was six centuries ago.

The busy lark, messager of day,
Saluetli in hire song the morwe gray;
And fyry Phoebus ryseth up so bright,
That all the orient laugheth of the light.

In quest of dew they go forth, between hedgerows which are green as yet, to shady nooks if they be wise. And should they gather but as much as will wet their cheeks, the freshness of May will be there every morning of the year. Surely the purity of some of these complexions is worth preserving.

With us there is no maypole or queen, or pageant of any kind, although the children have a game in which they dance round in a ring, to some refrain, which sounds like a corruption of “Merry May Day.” Since dew for the cheek can lie on the green blade, there is not the same need of blossom for the pole. Mayhap we have no pole because we have no blossom, and turn to the dew as all we can get.

Be that as it may, our hedges delay breaking into white till about the twentieth of the fresh month; after which, for many weeks, especially when rain-washed, they are delightfully pure and fragrant, all over our country-sides. So that we would willingly part with many a flower before “The May.”

The glory of summer is the hedge. The glory of the hedge is the wild plants, which straggle, at their own sweet will, and know not when to stay. In such wanderers, especially of the flowering kinds, Scotland is not very rich. Many of these are lovers of chalk, of which we have none; and the rest seem to prefer milder quarters.

No “travellers joy,” fitly so called, such as lends a wealth of beauty to the waysides of the southern counties of England, is ours. One bush grows against a gable hard by, covering it in the summer-time from side to side, and sending straggling twigs away above the chimneys. And it is hard to convince those who see it for the first time, that such things are really wild.

No bryony breaks out of all bounds, running on either side away from its roots, and over the tops of the hedges. Nor does the convolvulus hang its great white bells over the green.

And yet our hedges are not without their charm, part of which may lie in their very reserve. They seem to make up in their sweetness for want of luxuriance. At least we don’t

seem to want them to be other than they are. We have got to like them. Perhaps the only hard-wooded climber we have is the woodbine; and this is a host in itself.

The interval between the fading of the white— here we call it simply “ blossom,” as if there were none other to compare with it—and the reddening of the fruit is all filled up. The pretty dog-roses, tinted pink and white,

like a country cheek returning from its May morning dew bath, never lose their charm, however many seasons old we are. Clumps of sweet briar are seldom so far apart as to leave any portion of the lane unscented.

And there are vetches—yellow, blue, and pink— which come along with the roses; and, last after them, on to the season of the haws. These can climb as high as ever did “traveller’s joy”; and wander as far as bryony; and moreover have a lightness, denied to the wooded stems of either, and a grace beyond the great convolvulus bells. I have seen them, clear of everything, poised as if on their own wings, hovering over the hedges like so many strange butterflies.

Nor can we forget such living flowers of country lanes as the linnets, who are as inseparable from the thought of dog-roses as the yellow-hammer from that of broom. I have seen the yellow-hammer with the broom shade slightly faded, and the linnet with the rose slightly paled, the one among the yellow, the other among the crimson vetches.

Just as the spring shade is yellow, so the characteristic summer hues are white and blue—white like the sunlight or the lit edges of the cumulus cloud; blue, like the patches of the sky. Not that there are no other shades. Have I not been writing of pink dog-roses ? Only, when one thinks of summer after it is past, these two separate themselves out from the rest.

Two summer blues come running ahead of the rest. The speedwell may, or may not, be a pledge of good fortune. That other name of veronica is at once prettier, and more significant. It means the true image. And all who look down upon them must feel that they reflect the sky with wondrous trueness. Among them there are differing shades of purity, and in some the heaven must see itself as in a fairy glass.

There is a pretty story attached to the name, which gives to the reflection another reference. But in this case I shall overlook the legendary, and abide by what is obvious and natural.

The veronicas are among the most widely spread of our summer flowers. They grow everywhere, can adapt themselves to any environment, accept light and shadow with equal thanks. They are weeds of the field and garden, root themselves between the joints of our doorstep or the thatch of our roof.

The common species is by the hot and dusty roadside. The blue rock speedwell grows far above all lower defilements, and nearer to the sky it reflects. There it is fanned by the breezes eternally playing round the mountain-tops.

Another just lifts its head above the hedge-shaded ditches and slower streams, where it is distinguishable from the white-flowered watercress only by the blue. A professional cress-gatherer— whose well-nigh soleless boots are always wet— tells me that when in leaf alone, they are gathered together by the unskilled and sold for salad.

Most deserving of the name of veronica is the germander speedwell. There the blue is delightfully sky-like in its purity. Happily, it is not rare. By roadsides with a little bank sloping up to the hedge, it grows among the springing grasses. There it gladdens the wayfarer through the fresh months of May and June, and even into hot July. I do not envy one who passes by without looking.

It refuses to be touched. When pulled, it rains down its blue flower—where all the petals are in one—to hide away among the grass. Therein it shows its good taste. It will not be taken where it cannot reflect the sky.

Forgetting the traditions of the race, one creeps in among the shades. It gets the name of mountain speedwell, though mainly found in moist woods. The whole plant is bigger. The leaf, which in the open grew close against the stem, now takes on a little stalk. Since it cannot see through the close leafage, the flower forgets the colour of the sky. The hue is pale.

The other blue is the “forget-me-not,” It, too, is one of the most widely spread of our wild flowers. It, too, is everywhere,—in the gardens and fields as a weed; by the roadsides and in the woods as a wild flower; on the mountain-tops as one of our very rarest alpines. It is the very chameleon of flowers, passing through many shades in the process of unfolding. In the open flower the blue is darker than that of the veronica—more like the sky as reflected in the pool, or the blue of the wind-chased sea.

There are varieties in shade here also. The deepest and purest is that of the water forget-me-not. It grows in all sorts of moist places, nowhere more perfectly than by the grassy margin of the stream. There it can see its likeness in the pool— can dip under the flowing current for its morning bath.

Round this plant a legend has grown, with much of human pathos in it. As a play of the imagination on the natural surroundings, it is worth repeating. ,

A minstrel of Mayence lost his heart, and, since the poor may not marry, would go forth in search of fortune. His courage was high, if his spirit was sad; and as he bade farewell to his lady-love, he whispered her to hope for the best. Successful beyond his hopes, see him once more amid the familiar scenes to claim her for his own.

The eve before the wedding was spent in gentle dalliance by the lake-side. On an islet bank, sweet blue flowers looked coyly out from among the fresh grass. The lady sighed. In such an hour the faintest wish is law. And straightway he struck out from the shore. Strength failed him. The parting was like to come hard upon the meeting. He struggled near enough to cast the flowers at her feet. “Vergiss mein nicht,” he cried, and sank.

These flowers of the air, the summer butterflies, like flowers of the land, are white and blue: white in the sunlit open country, blue near the blue sea.

Since last I watched the children on the way to the farm for milk, time has moved on a few weeks with the consequent changes. The pinnies have been through several washings, and the sprig upon them, so fresh looking on that early summer day, is faded. Hands, face, and in some cases feet also, show signs of exposure. The fair are fern-tickled, as they call it, from the likeness of the blotches to the spore-cases on the back of the fern; the dark are brown as mulattos.

The lane, too, has changed, and at first sight does not seem quite so attractive; at least not nearly so gay. The brambles are flowering instead of the broom, and the alternate lime trees instead of the laburnum. The white-throats are busy and silent behind the big white flowers, and the greenfinch is trilling in the cool shade of the soft leaves. And what a delightful scent of lime blossom and hum of bees ! How still and warm the air; how almost noiseless the woods, and shadowless the fields! Is not this the very height of summer?

Mountain ash and elder-flowers have passed into berries. An arch of honeysuckle rises over the latticing at the farm doorway. Endless roses are growing at their own sweet will, and fast lapsing back into wildness. One among the rest is yellow, the like of which I have seen with single, rows of petals, by Scots lane-sides, in the quiet country. But whether only “ escapes ” which had run wild, I have been unable to determine.

Then there is the lowing of kine, and the cool sound of churning butter. The dame returns with an apron full of eggs, gathered from no stale henhouses, with their wire-netting runs; but from barn, and stable, and byre, wherever erratic hens which spend the day in the stackyard and roost on the stalls, chose to sit. The Scots grey, missing for three weeks or more, pushes her way through the hedge with a brood of thirteen chickens.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus