THE tender green leaves and bright flowers of the spring and summer have given place to the dull and dusty-looking labiate tribe of Mints, Calamints, and Dead Nettles. "We all know the White Dead Nettle (Lamium album), with its square stem, of which schoolboys make squeaking pipes: it blossoms in the early summer, but still continues in bloom. A very common plant is the Hedge Woundwort (Sta-chys sylvatica) : it has whorls of six purple flowers round its stem, and its leaves are like the common stinging-nettle in shape, but downy. It was, and sometimes is even now, used as a styptic Near towns the common Black Horehound (Ballota nigra), with its dusty foliage and thick stem, is common enough, with its reddish flowers of a foetid odour. The White or Medicinal Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) has, on the contrary, an aromatic smell and a bitter flavour: its flowers are small and white, and are set in crowded whorls. It is much used when candied for coughs and asthma. The Catmint (Nepetacataria) is another common plant: its flowers are white, tinged and spotted with rose-colour. Boys seldom forget to tease cats with it, and the cats seem to be amazingly fond of the plant; but its strong smell does not render it a favourite with posy gatherers.
1. Yellow Toadflax. 2. Sea Holly. 3. Harebell. 4. Colchicum. 5. Goai's-beard. G. Purple Saxifrage.
One of the gayest of the autumn hedgerow plants is the "butter-and-eggs" of the country folk - the Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris): its tall stem, crowded with narrow slender leaves of a greyish-green hue, is surmounted by a loose terminal spike of handsome yellow flowers, each flower of which has a large orange spot. The juice of the toadflax is expressed, and when mixed with milk is sometimes used as a cosmetic, and at others to attract flies: it frequently occurs in the neighbourhood of old monasteries, and appears to have been cultivated by the old monks as a garden flower.
The Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a frequent companion of the toadflax if the ground is sufliciently moist. It is a common plant, often cultivated in cottage gardens for the sake of its aromatic feathery leaf, which is frequently used in cooking. Its flowers are small yellow buttons, of no great beauty. In Ireland the flavour of the tansy is much liked, and is used specially in the flavouring of the Cork luxury, drisheens, immortalized by Lady Morgan.
Another hedgerow flower, which has a rural reputation for medicinal virtues, is the Yellow Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria). It is a somewhat slender plant, about two feet high. Its pale yellow flowers grow round the stem. Each leaf is composed of several cut leaflets growing round the leaf-stalk. The plant is seldom found isolated, but grows in a clustered clump.
On banks by the wayside, where the sloe bushes grow, we may find the Spreading Bellflower (Campanula reptans). It is common in some parts of Warwickshire, and may be found in the South-eastern counties. Its rough stem, spreading habit, and larger and more open-mouthed bell, distinguish it from the common harebell, which frequently grows in the same neighbourhood.
Overhead, spreading amongst the bushes, we notice in places the long feathery seed-vessels of the Wild Clematis (Clematis vitalba), the "traveller's joy" of old Gerarde, who speaks in raptures of its "decking up the waies." Throughout the spring it has been creeping through the hedgerows and up the trees, showing its greenish-white clusters of flowers and dark green leaves. On the approach of July its peculiar hoary appearance manifests itself, and in country places is known as "old man's beard." Its rapid growth and its obvious advantage in covering arbours gave it the name of "virgin's bower." It may be distinguished until late in winter. It is very common near Olney, in Bedfordshire, and on chalky and limestone soils.
By the wayside we may find the Plantain, the Hop Trefoil, the Creeping Cinquefoil, the Lamb's-toe Trefoil, and other meadow plants. In the neighbourhood of villages the Common Mugwort and even Wormwood may be found growing on waste ground by the wayside, in company with the Milfoil and Yarrow. These, however, properly belong to other homes. The Nipplewort (Lapsana communis) may be said to have its home in the hedgerows, though it is frequently found in corn-fields: its small yellow-rayed flowers grow on branched stems of a peculiar soft texture. The leaves are large, of various shapes; the root-leaves are lyre-shaped. Its country names are swine's-cress and succory dock-cress, and its uses are those of salad herbs, but its bitter flavour is anything but pleasant.
"WHEN the autumn sun lights up the glorious ruin, and the berries begin to shine like jewels, we miss the flowers that gladdened the old walls and cast a ray of beauty into the waste places, and we have to look "Down to the grey moss on the mouldering wall."
The foliage is grey, too, of the common Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), with its ragged, dusty foliage and small yellow flowers, on every waste place and almost every wayside. It blooms, however, rather earlier than the fine-leaved variety (S. Sophia), which is much smaller, and is known under the name of flix or flaxweed. Its foliage is finely cut, and its pale yellow cruciferous flowers distinguish it. It was the reputed possessor of great virtues once, but its fame is now departed. The Broad-leaved Hedge Mustard (S. irio), the London Rocket, is remarkable for having sprung up in immense quantities immediately after the great Fire of London, but it is rarely found in the neighbourhood of the metropolis.
The Goosefoots (Chenopodium) are now plentiful everywhere. The green spikes of the Good King Henry, or Mercury Goosefoot (Chenopodium bonus Henricus), begin to rise out of the dull triangular leaves of this spinach-looking plant: indeed, it is frequently cooked and eaten as spinach in Lincolnshire. It is one of those plants that lurk round the site of old monasteries, where, probably, in the dearth of other vegetables, it was cultivated, and its insipidity not so much despised. There are some dozen varieties in addition, all bearing the same family likeness, the green leaves more or less lobed and toothed; the under side grey, the spikes of greyish-green;
Somewhat similar in colour, only much taller and more woody, and the leaves more cut, is the Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). The upper surface of the leaf is dark green, the under side white and cottony, which turns black as winter advances. The furrowed stem bears a raceme of dull-looking flowers, often purplish when young, but when old yellowish, with closely clipped rays. The plant furnishes a useful tonic, and was formerly worn as a charm against ague. It had the reputation of being a preventive of fatigue. The common Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has a similar appearance, but is seldom more than a foot high, and the flowers are larger and of a more decided yellow. The bitters furnished by wormwood are still highly esteemed. The use of wormwood in weaning infants is alluded to by Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet."
The green cups of the Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helio-scopia) are still common by the wayside, and its acrid milky juice is still, as of old, in high repute as a caustic application to remove warts.
The Autumnal Squill (Scilla autumnalis) shows its pinkish stars on the rocks late in autumn, and even later its leaves appear, contrasting their freshness with the mature colours around. The mosses begin to look bright as the seasons roll onward, and the fanlike fronds of the ferns stand out in their feathery beauty.