THE loves of the flowers are as diverse as their forms and colours. Some love the moist bog, others the shady woodland. Some delight in the bracing air of the ocean, others in the quiet meadows. Many love the picturesque ruin, revel by the wayside wall, and rejoice in the small pieces of waste ground which are everywhere met with as we walk along, "Pleased To muse, and be saluted by the air Of meek repentance, wafting wallflower scents From out the crumbling ruins of fallen pride."
Very unkindly must be the site that will not afford a home for the earliest of our wild flowers, the little Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa pastoris). It peeps up beneath the wall, and shows its jagged leaves between the cracks of the pavement. Its little white flowers are succeeded by its numerous heart-shaped seed-cases, which, from their real or supposed resemblance to the old-fashioned leather purses, gave the plant its name. Formerly many virtues were ascribed to it, and its names were various. It was "the poor man's parmacetie," - the Saint James's Wort, - Caseweed of our ancestors. It will be found in bloom during the whole of the summer months in fields and gardens, as well as waste places.
It is on old walls or rocky protuberances that we must look for the little "Whitlow Grass (Draba verna). Its stem is not above two or three inches high, and grows out of a circle of slender leaves. As early as February it shows its small cross-shaped white flowers above the lowly moss. Old writers called it nail herb, and the juice, when mixed with milk, was thought to cure that painful swelling known as a whitlow.
Out of the crevices of the wall the purplish or lilac-tinted flowers of the Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Lina-ria cymbalaria) creep in profusion. The thick round-shaped leaves are tinted with purple on the under side.
If the wall is of limestone, the pretty ferns Ruta rnuraria, Maidenhair Spleenwort, and the Polypodies will be found close at hand.
Early in the year we may look for the yellow Sweet-scented Wallflower (Cheranthus cheiri). It nestles in many a crevice of the ruined abbey, and makes fragrant the breath of early spring. It is said to have its medicinal uses, and when spring green crops were unknown it was frequently given to cattle.
The common Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) blooms early from every piece of waste ground. Its yellow flowers, succeeded by tufts of feathery seeds, are well known. Its soft leaves have been used for poultices, and its root was once thought to cure the toothache and all manner of sores. We have now lost the trusting faith of our forefathers in "groundeswyle," except as a treat to our feathered songsters.
At the foot of the wall, and in many a waste nook of city and country, thick clusters of Knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare) may be found, with its reddish-white blossoms, growing out of chaffy bracts along its reddish stems and by the side of its small dark green leaves. Under the names of cumberfield, "hindering knotgrass," hogweed, swine's cress, it was known to our forefathers, who believed that it not only hindered the growth of plants, but of animals. Swine, however, are fond of the plant.
We may look for several varieties of the Mouse-ear Chickweed on the old walls, and sometimes on the dry hedge-bank. Its hairy pale green foliage, and white flowers in dense two-parted branches, distinguish the Broad-leaved Mouse-ear Chickweed (Ce-rastium vulgatum). Its seed-capsules are curiously curved as they ripen. The Narrow-leaved variety (C. viscosum) is a coarser plant with narrower leaves. Some other varieties may be found, but they are local.
The Rock Cresses, too, are numerous, and several varieties grow on particular spots. They are all distinguished by their white crons-shaped blossoms, toothed leaves, and narrow spreading pods. The British Rock Cress (Arabis stricta) is common only on carboniferous limestone. The Tower Cress (Arabis turrita) seems to love old universities, for it is found on the walls of several colleges. The Hairy Rock Cress (Arabis hirsuta), with its somewhat rough woody stem, round which the root-leaves form like a star, and the hairy stem-leaves embrace it closely, is more common. The white flowers are succeeded by the upright pods.
Many cottagers in Great Britain have, like Andrew Fairservice in "Rob Roy," " forced the early Nettles for their spring kail." There are three kinds. The Common Nettle (Urtica dioicd) is the one used for early greens,"nettle beer," nettle porridge, and other rural dainties. Its greyish-green flowers, ovate serrated leaves, and sharp sting, are well known. The Little Nettle (Urtica urens) is a much brighter-looking plant: the leaves have five nearly parallel ribs. The great Roman Nettle (Urtica pilulifera) may be distinguished by its clusters of green globose fruits, as large as blackberries. It is not so common as the two other varieties, but its sting is very virulent. The roots of all the species boiled with alum make a yellow dye.
Ere the flowers of the nettle have departed, the grey leaves of the sullen-looking Borage (Borago officinalis) rear themselves in out-of-the-way places. The rough foliage hides its azure flowers, whose white eyes are in direct contrast to the prominent purple stamens. Rough as the borage is, but few plants have been more popular. Its young shoots have been eaten with salad and pickled. Its leaves form still an ingredient in "claret-cup" and "cool tankard." Formerly every gardener cultivated it; now its glory is departed, a few plants only being kept near the apiary for the bees.
In many an out-of-the-way corner, as midsummer draws nigh, the Deadly Nightshade - the common Dwale (Atropa belladonna) - shows its dark, lurid, purple, bell-shaped blossoms, which precede the purplish-black berries, which are fixed in a purple cup. This must not be confounded with the bitter-sweet of our hedges, for it is infinitely more poisonous. It loves to lurk in an out-of-the-way corner of a ruined wall or dilapidated cottage. The egg-shaped leaves are large and of a dull green colour. The stem is from one to two feet high. The plant furnishes a useful medicine, but even medical men use it with great care.
A frequent companion of the belladonna is the Large Celandine (Chelidonium majus), the tetter-wort of our ancestors, its acrid juices being used as a caustic remedy for that old affliction. It grows some two feet high. The stem is hairy and brittle. The pinnated leaves are thin, lobed, and notched. The dull yellow flowers are somewhat small, and grow in long-stalked umbels; they are succeeded by long pods.
On shady rocks, damp walls, but somewhat partial in its likings, is the succulent Wall Pennywort (Cotyledon umbilicus). Its thick, round, fleshy leaf is depressed in the centre, where the foot-stalk joins it. In favourable spots its round flower-stem grows a foot high, but generally it is much shorter. The pale yellowish-green flowers cluster round the stem. It is common in all rocky mining districts, but is comparatively rare in the Midlands.
Amongst the earliest of spring flowers, but from its rarity placed last, is the Wild Tulip (Tulipa sylvestris). It is a small greenish-yellow flower, somewhat like a lily, and is found principally in old chalk-pits, where it propagates itself by means of a long fibre from the root, which produces a new bulb at some distance from the parent plant.