"The dew yet lingers on the grass,
As down the long green lane you pass, Where o'er the hawthorn's snowy wreath
The woodbine's honied perfumes breathe And the wild roses' arching spray Flaunts to the breeze above your way.
"What palace proud - what city hall
Can match these verdant boughs that fall, Vaulting o'er banks of flowers that glow In lines of crimson, gold, and snow?"
WHAT roses bloomed when the rose was made the insignia of St. George and merrie England ? Saint George's Day is the 23rd of April, and the faintest blush of a wild rose cannot be perceived until summer is at hand. But now we may begin to look on their arched sprays for the clustered buds, which will succeed the hawthorn and sweet-scented May. The common Dog Rose (Rosa canina), with its pale-pink flowers, sweet-scented and delicate, is the most frequent of them all. I have noticed that the dog rose is called the "canker flower" of Shakespeare. The "canker" was the mossy excrescence - the "fairies pincushion" - which is frequently seen on the branches. In the 54th sonnet Shakespeare clears up the point:
"The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem For that sweet odour which doth in it live : The canker Moons have full as deep a dye As the perfumed tincture of the roses."
In the Midland shires it is still termed a "canker;" but the rose is the dog rose, as it was in the time of Caesar's invasion. The rose of the Roman general was probably the trailing White Dog Rose (Rosa arvensis), the "White Rose of the Yorkists, the long sprays of which extend several feet from the comparatively small bushes on which it grows. This rose was common in our woods, and it was so frequent in one of the Lancashire forests as to give it its name. "Rose-in-dale." The red " hips " of this rose are of a sweeter and richer flavour than those of the other wild roses, and are more frequently gathered for the making of that famous cough conserve which country housekeepers are so proud of. The petals of the dog rose and the Sweet-Briar Rose (Rosa rubiginosa) are more fancied for rose-water than the trailing dog rose. The sweet-briar is the eglantine of the poets, and it may be known by the fragrance of it3 foliage, the smallness of the flowers, which are also of a deeper tint than the more frequent hedgerow and wayside roses. There are altogether eighteen species of roses, hut their peculiarities, with the exception of the com-mon Burnet Rose (common on sea-shores and where the soil is sandy or chalky), they can hardly be described in a popular manual.
The Bladder Campion (Silene inflata), whose sturdy buds we noticed in the spring, is now in full bloom on the hedge-banks. Deeper in the shade and by the side ditches the yellow flowers of the Common Avens (Geum urbanum) start up from its long straggling stems. At first sight the flower is often taken for a buttercup, but a glance at its big root-leaves and branching stem will show that it is the Herb Bennett - the blessed herb, goldyflower, or star of the earth. Throughout the Southern and Midland counties it is one of the most common of wild flowers. It blooms all through the summer; the flowers are succeeded by spiny burs of a dark reddish tint. Its leaves are thought to be valuable as a febrifuge, and was once used as such; but the root is the treasure it holds for the country folk on account of its sweet clove-like odour. It was infused into wine and ale, or distilled in to "sweet waters." When dried and laid in drawers and chests, it imparts its sweet odour to linen. When the plant grows in damp places, or in the shade of a wood, its characteristic scent is not developed.
In our walks down the country lane we shall find now and then a mass of downy leaves, and in the early summer the dark claret-tinted raceme of flowers of the Hound's Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale). The colour of the flower is so remarkable amongst old English wild flowers as to distinguish it amongst all others, and its lanceolate leaves are said to tie the tongues of hounds; hence its name. When it intrudes into old pastures, cattle avoid it. It is not a very common plant.
Skirting the wayside foot-path we shall find the sulphur-tinted flowers of the Silverweed (Potentilia anserina), whose home is perhaps by the water-side; but it seems to love the dusty road and the company of mankind. If we search on the hedge-bank we shall find its companion, the creeping Cinquefoil (P. reptans), though it belongs to the heath and common land. It is distinguished by its five-fingered foliage.
There is scarcely a child in the rural districts but who knows the lilac-tinted purple-veined flower of the Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris). It grows by every road-side south of Lancaster. It baunt3 the sunny banks of the corn-fields and loves the sheltered nooks of the meadows. It establishes itself on waste places, and some of the finest specimens I ever saw grew on the now filled-up moat and on the mound of Northampton Castle. Children call the circular fruit "cheeses," and French children call them les petits fromageons. The colour of the flower is that of mauve, the French name of the plant. The uses of mallow are infinite: their emollient properties are well known; their leaves are used for embrocation, and the mucilaginous seeds form an excellent soothing poultice when boiled. The upright stems and larger loaves distinguish the common mallow from the Dwarf variety (M. rotundifolia), the stems of which droop, the flowers are more faded, the veins are more conspicuous, and the leaves rounder than its taller namesake. It blooms later, and hugs closer to the shelter of the wall, and it haunts the rubbish-heaps of the wayside.
In the hedgerows, when the mallows are in bloom on the banks beneath, we shall find the purple starlike flowers of the Bitter-sweet (Solanum dulcamara).
They are easily known by their orange-coloured stamens and their likeness to the flower of the common potato, to which plant it is nearly allied. The bitter-sweet has a straggling stem, and is sometimes found on the top of old walls. Its brilliant scarlet berries in the autumn are tempting to children, but they are poisonous. Its common name is derived from the peculiar flavour of the root. In some districts the bitter-sweet is known by the name of felon-wood.