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.
Seeds 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 passer-by.
It is 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 seasons.
And 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.
But 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 well-being of its inmates.
In 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.
The 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 fleld's-breadth away. I looked for some trace of recent planting. The turf was firm, as though long undisturbed.
For 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.
Only 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.
How 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 natives.
To 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.
I have seen many such escapes, both swift-winged 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.
The 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.
But 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.
I find the neighbourhood of ancient fortresses often rich in their wild flowers.
Within the enclosure of Craigmillar Castle grows the French sorrel. Thence it seems to have spread into the south of Scotland and the north of England.