The wood anemone creeps up the hillsides. On that playground of theirs the breezes deal gently with their favourite, fanning it into healthy motion, without scattering its loose flower. There it may chance to meet a sister.
At much the same time, in much the same places as the anemone, appears the primrose; at least it shares the shadier half of the wind flower's domain.
More impatient of the wind, it may be called a shade flower. It loves the woods where the sunshine is broken into patches, and finds out all sorts of sheltered corners, or primrose niches. Sometimes it gets its roots into a crack of the rock overlooking a woodland pool, in which it can see itself.
It is by no means the first rose, as its name would seem to imply; nor is it a rose at all, any more than a jelly-fish is a fish. The only explanation I can offer of this second double name is that, whereas the earlier forms grow in out-of-the-way places, are scentless, and appear when out-of-door life has scarce as yet begun, the primrose is by the brookside, where the girls play; in the strip of wood, where the boys go a-nesting; and all on those bright days when the sun has taken the chill off the air and sufficiently dried the natural playgrounds.
Well do I remember finding my first thrush's nest, under the green rosette with its crown of yellow. The spotted breast of the sitter, the spotted blue eggs when she arose, the crossing shadows, and the prattle of the burn, form a picture which has not yet perceptibly faded.
This fixes the date of the flower, according to my favourite way of reckoning, at the nesting-time of the song thrush; or, to descend to plain prose, somewhere between March and May. Impatient thrushes build, and early primroses blow, sooner; and I have found both eggs and flowers later. But the nesting and the blossoming reach their height together; so that on the day one gathers the largest handful of flowers, he will startle most sitting birds among the bushes.
This is the first flower to attract attention: the first scented flower; and as every flower is a rose to the vulgar, so this is the primrose.
The primulas - of which our primrose is one - range from the deepest dells to the highest mountains. Strangely enough, none of the strictly mountain primulas appear in Scotland, the home of British alpines. Our colour is yellow - in the primrose of a very pale cast, indefinitely sweet, like the scent of the flower; deepening in hue in the cowslip. According to their wont, the yellows come in spring.
We have two lilacs later in the season. One is in the north, and the other in the south. Both are very local. So very slight is the hold of the southern species that it can scarcely be regarded as Scots. The other we shall meet again. Both are moorland, or sub-alpine. Lilac and purple are the mountain colours. Happy is the man who, in garden, rockery, or greenhouse, gathers the primulas of Europe round those of Scotland.
Commonest of a lovely family, the dog violet shares the windy and exposed half of the anemone's domain. I like to think of it on the bank, sloping down to ditch or stream, with the nest of the yellow-hammer hard by. There it so overtops the short, fresh grass, that every tiny speck of blue is seen. Hand in hand, like sisters born, it climbs the slope with the anemone, and goes just about as high.
It passes under the shadow far enough to join the primroses. There it grows larger, if more faintly hued flowers; and changes its name to the wood violet. The smaller, deeper blue bank violet is better. Whereas the shade-loving primrose sometimes wanders out into the open, the violet of the open enters the shades. Together with the anemone, primrose and violet make fairy glades worth searching out.
The three-coloured violet gets the credit of being parent to our garden pansies. A little later than the first appearance of the dog violets, - for it will save space elsewhere if I chat about some of the summer friends of these spring flowers, - heartsease scatters over the drier turf. On climbing the dykes into the grain field, it grows a long stem, at the expense of the blossom. There is some reason to suppose that the climbing has been the other way. Introduced with the grain, it may have crossed to the meadows, where it shortened its stalk, to the benefit of the flower.
Does heartsease climb the mountains, away beyond the utmost limit of the dog violet? Does it there drop white and blue - all its shades save one - and become the yellow mountain violet? If I am justified in linking the three-hued violet of the plain with the one-hued mountain violet, across the gap between where neither grows, then the heartsease may be a native after all: may have come down the slopes, and not over the dyke. The ascent, if such there was, must be pretty far back.
Still another violet haunts the marshes: not simply wet places, but genuine old bogs, which have never been reclaimed, and whose date must be primeval.
It recalls ankle-deep wading through mossy and peaty stretches, with frequent quickening of the motion, and jumps, lest the sinking should be inconveniently deep.
Never shall I forget one sunrise two thousand feet among the Perthshire hills, in a haunt of the marsh violet - the soaking mosses, the deep black pools which no summer heat could dry up; nor the plight I was in; nor the comments passed when, toward six in the morning, I appeared at my lodging by the Ardle side.
Blue in colour like the dog violet, it differs mainly in the roundness of the leaf - rounder even than that of the sweet violet.
A fancy sometimes helps one. I have never been able to disassociate the violets, so strangely perfect among the native wild flowers, from the tits, so strangely perfect among the native wild birds. Blue is the predominant colour in both; the number of species is the same; and the moist stretches which yield the marsh violet yield also the marsh tit.
Still in wet places, though not so old, nor wild, nor far away, appear two other moisture lovers, familiar to those who never heard of the marsh violet, and chiefly to all readers of The May Queen.
By the meadow trenches blow the faint sweet cuckoo flowers, And the wild marsh marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows grey.
Permanent pasture is not common in Scotland. Few dry meadows lighten at spring-time with the passionate blossoming of those in the South. Our green stretches are mainly the overflow of streams - marshes rather than meadows.
Raw enough at other times, and in winter often impassable, such scenes become charming when, in April, a bright sisterhood of flowers is let loose over them. Here and there, among the pinks are glowing yellows.
Then the spring buttercups come out among the daisies of the bank, yielding the most charming effects with the simplest touches. The first is that with the bulb at the roots, to make it independent of the niggardness of the season; and the pale sepals, bent back so quaintly against the stem.
The later fibrous-rooted buttercups follow; the taller of them to o'ertop the lengthening grasses, and glisten among the brown panicles with a second effect, not less simple or charming than that among the daisies.
While this lasts, Spring is abroad as if she had taken lovely shape, visibly scattering from her lap; and he who would find her will do well to go to such grassy banks, and look there. If the beauty is not passionate, it is altogether satisfying.