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.
So 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.
With 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.
Daisy 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.
The 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.
The 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 flowers, like the earliest of the birds, has a welcome all to itself.
The 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.
The 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 colt's - foot to confuse it with - gives it, so to speak, a certain individuality.
By 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 away-from-home look.
It 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.
Nor 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.
It is 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 thereby.
The 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.