The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Stroll in Search of Flowers Near a Village in Wiltshire

by C. Agnes Rooper
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 463-466

Let us picture to ourselves a fine day in the early part of June, 1900, when spring has not quite taken its departure, nor summer fully arrived; when the meadows are still golden with buttercups, and the trees still clothed with the fresh green foliage of their awakening after their winter sleep; when the May blossom in the hedges is fading away, giving place to wreaths of wild roses and sweet honeysuckles; and when the birds are still singing their amorous songs in wood and copse; and let the scene of this fair mental picture be laid in a village in the lovely vale of the Avon in Wiltshire, with its rich pastures and fine timber and landscape of peace and prosperity. The village itself is a lingering relic of old rural England, with its winding street of detached thatched-roofed cottages, each standing in its own garden, well stocked with vegetables, and gay with many an old-fashioned flower, such as stocks, pinks and snapdragons.

In the midst stands the village inn, with its gable roof of heavy tiles, and its old sign on a red-brown board, conspicuous on the creamy yellow walls. A little further and the smart new school-house is visible--the one link with the "up-to-date"--where, according to the present generation of labourers, the youngsters are made far "too learned and cunning" for farm work; and what in consequence is to happen in the future with regard to that calling, they "are sure they dun'no"!

Close by the pretty creeper-covered rectory, with its sunny lawn and trim garden, is situated the village church, enclosed in its well-kept churchyard, the pride of which is a grand old yew of unknown years, where under the shade of its far-spreading branches "the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep." It is a church of the 15th century--a date common to most of the churches in this neighbourhood, either in town or village, when the vale of the Avon was the centre of a considerable woolen industry, and when the masters in the trade, having made their fortunes, built for themselves substantial and handsomely decorated houses, rich in finely carved oriel windows and quaint gargoyles; and, besides, limited liability companies not then existing wherein they could invest their superfluous savings, and instigated by a spirit of "other-worldliness," they devoted this money to the erection of costly places of worship to the glory of God and future benefit of their souls. This church has in its interior--in addition to the graceful arches and interesting tracery of the windows, which it shares in common with the neighbouring churches--a peculiar monument, viz., an incised outline in black of a skeleton, partly enveloped in a shroud, and beneath it these lines:--

As I was, so are yee;
As I am, soon you will bee.

But we have lingered long enough in the village, and it is time we should start on our stroll in pursuance of our subject to botanize and study nature generally. Our proposed course leads over a meadow just laid down for hay, redolent with the sweet scent of grass and numberless flowers, such as yellow buttercups, open-eyed ox-eye daisy, the cat's ears, two varieties of orchis, the mascula and the pyramid (in Somersetshire the popular name for the orchis is granfer-winkles), and many more well-known favourites.

A primitive stile has now to be surmounted (why do stiles in Wiltshire always lean towards you as if on purpose to make the getting over the double awkward and laborious?), and we find ourselves in another field, but this one is occupied by cows grouped in different artistic attitudes, reminders of Cooper's charming cattle pieces. They have eaten down the vegetation, so we must go to the hedges for our floral specimens. Nor are we disappointed, for, growing in lovely combined masses, we find the blue meadow geranium, the procumbent apium, tossing its pretty umbels of white flowers skywards; and as a crowning joy--for it is a rare plant in Britain--the spiked star of Bethlehem! In the meantime, our wandering steps have aroused the maternal fears of a pee-wit, who, to entice us away from too close a proximity to her nest, hovers over our heads uttering her shrill and plaintive cry. Her fears are needless: we are on other "thoughts intent" than those of interfering with her young ones, and we hasten on into a wood, where a scene presents itself, dear to any admirer of Nature's changing moods, of the wonderful effects of light and shade on tree and bush and uneven ground throwing up the varied tints of the young foliage, and the ruddy ones of last year's still lying "beneath their parent shade," altogether producing a kaleidoscope of colour. Above us, the wood pigeons are softly cooing to their mates, whilst the cuckoo's voice is heard not yet "out of tune," as it ought to be according to the old rhyme about the cuckoo. A propos to that, I venture to quote the old ditty, for the last two lines may not be known to all my readers:--

In April comes he will,
In May he sings all day,
In June he is out of tune,
In July he begins to fly,
In August go he must,
For a Cuckoo in September
No man can remember.

The wood proves to be full of treasures, the sweet butterfly orchis, herb paris, Solomon's seal, the cotton thistle, spindle tree, wood loosestrife, creeping jenny, the woodruff, common gromwell and wild garlick, are the most interesting, and we are not long in making a raid upon them. Emerging from the wood we find ourselves on the banks of a canal, where the placid water reflects a luxuriant growth of grasses, reeds, and flowers, only disturbed by the dips of swallows on their flight and the risings of small fish from their homes below. We are induced to rest awhile on this spot silently watching the erratic proceedings of several beautifully-coloured butterflies, moths, and dragon flies, which flit from flower to flower, either seeking food or depositing their eggs on some convenient stalk, before we continue our floral harvest, and when we do it is to notice on the floating leaves of the persicaria a number of curious little organisms looking like miniature shuttlecocks fixed through them. A member of our party who is understanding in such objects tell us they are eggs of a somewhat rare water bug (ranatra).

Our course along the canal gives us the comphrey in three distinct colours, the hound's tongue, the goat's beard, the greater skullcap, various kinds of rushes, and of the carex family, the yellow water flag, also called the fleur de luce, the lily of France, and the last blossoms of the pretty buckbean. But what gives us perhaps more delight is the graceful motion of the various grasses as their feather-like plumes are swayed to and fro by the summer breeze.

Our homeward steps are directed through a green lane with high hedges on each side, casting long and cooling shadows most grateful on this sunny day and inducing us to prolong our search for further additions to our store in our already well filled tin botany cases. Nor are we unrewarded, for we pick the bladder campion, the rose campion, the nipplewort, the equisetum, the beccabunga, and one or two more familiar flowers, whilst the hedges themselves are decked with blossoms of wild roses, the graceful wreaths of the two kinds of bryony and sprays of honeysuckle, and the leaves of the maples partly forming the hedges are covered with the coral-like galls of the maple gall. The path through a field, yellow with the dyer's wood, brings us home, where in the delightful shade of a noble plane tree we enjoy cups of afternoon tea, wish that the time for strawberries and cream had arrived and exhibit and talk over our various treasures.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July, 2010