Flower Trail: April into July 2003

by Claire Leith

Flowers, wild ones mostly, are one of the loves of my life.  A flower is so exquisite, it makes a great tenderness surge up, and humbleness, too:  so fleeting a beauty, so sweet the reward to just gaze or gently touch a petal, and such feelings have an added intensity because so many of our little flowers are becoming scarce or have been eliminated.

Everywhere I go I keep a look out for the most humble weeds once common, the weeds of the ploughlands, scarlet pimpernel, groundsel, shepherds purse, shepherds needle, cudweed.  When I go back to the old Quinta da Parrela, Portugal, I can still enjoy many in spite of goats and a flock of brown sheep and no pesticides:  mulleins, larkspur, wild carrot, spurges, a great variety of thistles, a single-flowered toadflax, various daisies, beautiful types of grasses nodding in the sun, and seed pods.

As I was away for so long travelling the spring and summer flowers kept changing.  I missed the bluebells in Cornwall but found them later in North Wales.  In Widrington, Northumberland, I found a little wood with windflowers and wood sorrel (this place is now threatened with demolition by open-cast mining, a very cruel method by which our countryside is torn apart).  Here too, down a once ‘unadopted’ lane I found a beautiful patch of butter burr:  this is an odd flower which later sports great leaves, once collected to wrap the butter in.  Here houses are about to be built, so I wondered if these flowers would survive the bulldozers etc, and if they did, then be rooted out by our ‘tidy’ gardeners in the new estate.

Round Edinburgh I found the three-cornered leek (refers to its three-sided stem), this one different from our one, its flower heads daintier.  And on the Braid Hills we found a blaze of gorse, which in the West Country would be past its prime now.  In the Botanical Gardens we found the sweet cicely, which my grand daughter uses in salads.  I first met the northern cow parsley in huge abundance beside the River Tay, in Perth City.

One of the wild flowers I miss very much is the common sorrel (when sort of half hay and half cornfield flowers are planted as features in gardens today this feathery head is always missing).  Under the pines in my son’s garden in Suffolk the sheepsbit sorrel flourishes in little hazy patches of greeny-pink.  Still, it has not the juicy stem of its bigger relation, so delicious to chew on a hot day.

Travelling south again I found the May blossom in full reign in England and Wales and the chestnuts too, a specially fine pink May remembered near Bodnant.  On the Orme, I only managed a brief wander on the limestone slabs and had pleasure finding two squills (Cape Cornwall is where I first ‘met’ this enchanting small flower).  Here were rock roses and a colony of cowslips bravely flowering in a small patch of turf surrounded by gorse bushes.

From the train to Birmingham I still enjoyed the May bushes, and to Essex and Suffolk will go my final remembering, the beautiful wild roses (not a flower common in Cornwall) in the hedges and along by the Deben.