The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Queen of the Year.

By the late Dr. J. E. Taylor, F.L.S., F.G.S.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 464-470

[John Ellor Taylor (1837-1895) was F.L.S. (Fellow of the Linnean Society of London) and F.G.S. (Fellow of the Geological Society of London) Initials on Wikipedia His articles from Volume 1 of The Parents' Review were reprinted in Volume 13.]

The "leafy month of June" is upon us--the high-water mark of our English summer has reached us. The rich greenery of our lanes and woods is at its freshest and best. What hosts of small birds hide within the green thickets of our copses and hedges! What myriads of bright bird-eyes watch us thence! To us they are as invisible as spirits--to them we are gross and corporeal. What a contrast of our English winter is our rich English summer! Then the trees were leafless--they were the "bare ruined choirs where once the sweet birds sang." Now they are clothed upon with green mantles. Every leaf is mathematically adjusted on every branch, so that it can get its maximum amount of exposure to light and air--every varying leaf owes its different shape to the long-sustained ancestral efforts of each species of plant to get as much sunlight as possible.

The "voices of the woods," how rich and solemn they are. Nature's music is an oratoria, not an opera; although in every copse and meadow, and along every green lane, dramas and actual tragedies are being enacted. Love-making, marrying and giving in marriage, war and sudden death, attack and heroic defence, hatred and revenge--all these things are going on all round, but of them many people know nothing. Darwin's grandfather wrote on the "Loves of the Plants," but nobody except "Acheta" has discussed the loves of the insects. All that we experience within the area of human, that we crystallise in dramas and imitate in novels, is the common inheritance of all living things--perhaps plants included! For may not the total life of our world be a reflection of its Creator and Evolver, One, although, divisible?

In June, the "sweet birds" are singing in every green tree. The cuckoo, however, has changed his familiar note, for, as the Suffolk distich ungrammatically but forcibly puts it--

    In May he sing all day,
    In June he change his tune.

All our summer migrants have arrived, and are busy with domestic cares. Our non-migrants (the thrushes, blackbird, robin, wren, sparrow, &c.--those which remain with us all the year round) are perhaps hatching their second brood. They have taken advantage of their position as inhabitants of the soil by bringing off their first brood before the migrants arrived. In this manner their patriotism was rewarded.

When the nightingales abound (as, and where I write, a couple are singing in my garden, not many yards from me; it is a veritable competition--a musical challenge as clearly defiant as those of the two chanticleers not far away), we should not lose the opportunity of hearing the full, rich song, now at its best. What is more, its is best in the late morning, about ten or eleven o'clock--even better and fuller than at night. Its song will cease almost together at the end of June; although many people will imagine after that they are listening to the voice of the nightingale at night, when they are in reality hearing the very pretty song of the sedge-warbler.

So we leave the birds at their music although we think of the myriads of young fledglings now receiving their music lessons. The lanes are animate with bird motion, for the feathered tribes are flitting in and out and multiplying themselves thus, like the sham army at a theatre. The fact is the aforesaid fledglings require about fifty meals a day. The parent birds have too little time for singing and almost as little for foraging. One cannot wonder at the solemn silence which falls upon the bird world at night. The birds are then resting from their labours. But, be sure the ravenous fledglings will wake them early; and then, woe to the "early worm" (or rather, and more correctly, the late worm, which ought to have been in bed underground an hour before, and now pays the penalty of bad habits)!

But what shall I do with the flowers? Their name is legion. I want to stop in our country walks, and dwell on every opening flower--on its old-fashioned English name--and the rich folk-lore of the people which christened it, and clusters about it--on its shape, perfume, and colour--on its possible ancestry and descent, the geological vicissitudes of its family, its geographical relations in other lands and under other climes. But who is equal to these things? Nevertheless, there is not a single weed or wayside flower of which all this and much more inquiry could not be started.

How often we allow the children to amuse themselves and spend useless hours in solving the useless and silly conundrums which appear in some magazines and papers, when Nature gives us a conundrum in the shape of every leaf and the colour of every flower. Science is the only name for the study which endeavours to solve Nature's conundrums.

As I ramble along the lanes, and stroll through the woods, every morning some old floral friend appears. I have not seen it for a year; I am older by a year's life, if not wiser by a year's extra experience. To see a flower again after twelve months' absence--nay, even to look out for it if haply I may find it--is a real pleasure, and, at any rate, gives zest to, and even sanctifies, a country walk.

The lovely meadows, thronged with tall grasses, all in flower, which move to and fro like the waves of the sea (and for the same reason), when the fickle wind blows upon them, is thronged with floral competitors of other natural orders, such as the rich red floral spikes of the sorrel (Rumex acetosa); unpossessed of petals nevertheless, but having minute coloured floral bracts which do duty for them, as they serve the large and more attractive Poinsettia and Bougainvillea. These plants are numerous enough to give a red tinge to the meadows, just as the numerous upright buttercups (Ranunculus acris) give a yellow. No other species than this upright-stemmed one could compete with the upward bent growths of meadow grasses. Red and yellow are seasoned with white, for that noblest of British flowers, the ox-eye daisy, or "Marguerite" (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) is out and abundant. The world has come to recognise the beauty of this stately plant, the exquisite outlines of its leaves and bracts, and the composition of its noble head--not a flower, nevertheless, but a colony of small flowers or florets. The "Marguerite" is no more a flower than the bee-hive is an insect. The latter is a colony, a tribe of small flies; the former a settlement of minute flowers.

Among them all, at their bases, the lovely yellow meadow vetchling and orange and yellow bird's foot trefoil are growing thickly. In midland and northern meadows will be sometimes found such an abundance of the meadow geranium (Geranium pratense) as to give a plum-colour to their aspect. This is the largest and perhaps the most attractive of our English species of geraniums. Poppies are reddening the corn--almost the only British flowers in which black enters into the colouration of flowers; the fox-gloves ("fairies' bells," on which they ring unheard chimes) are growing by rich old hedgerows and stone walls, but not on chalk or limestone soils, for this plant is a rigid teetotaler to all substance calcareous. The meadow-sweet (Spirea ulmaria) is sure to be found in lush luxuriance in those parts of the meadows through which dykes or ditches run. Its perfume is that of the hawthorn or almond blossom, but stronger, and is due to the volatile prussic acid secreted by the flower. Like nearly all the flowers which give forth this well-known odour (except the Acacias), it belongs to the natural order rosaceoe. Hard by is abundance of the meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum), a member of the buttercup family, in which the showy, tasselly light stamens render it unnecessary for the flowers to form petals. The knotted fig-wort (Scrophularia nodosa) grows in damp places, and can be easily recognised by the resemblance of its reddish-yellow flower to its tropical cousins the calceolarias, as well as by the rank smell of its stem and leaves. The spotted orchis (Orchis maculata) abounds in not too shady woods, as well as in meadows. Note its black blotched leaves, and experiment upon the newly-opened pink flowers by thrusting inside one a sharpened blacklead pencil. When you withdraw the latter there are clinging to it two self-fastened, club-shaped pollen masses, just as would have attached themselves to a bee's head or a butterfly's proboscis if either of the latter had visited the blossoms. Nearly all the orchids, tropical as well as temperate, are distinguished by a similar mechanical contrivance. On limestone or chalky soils and in railway cuttings you are bound to find an abundance of the pretty bee orchis, which derives its name from the almost ludicrous resemblance to a humble bee when the flower is fully expanded. In marshy places you will probably find the green man orchis, and almost certainly the tway-blade (Listera ovata), both possessed of green flowers. This is the month of months for orchid-hunting, and a rare delight it is. The pyramidal orchis is everywhere in the fields and on grassy banks, whilst on chalky heaths you will come across the sweet-smelling fragrant orchis (Gymnadenia conopsea). The lovely blue labiate flowers of the dark-stemmed self-heal throng the fields and dense grass. The showy yellow ragwort (Senecio jacobea) abounds in the poorest pastures; the St. John's worts along damp hedge-banks (hold the leaves of these plants up to the light, and notice the numerous dots, all of them oil-glands, and then you will understand how the delicate aroma of tea leaves originates, for the tea plant belongs to the same order.) In the common species (Hypericum perforatum) the leaves are thronged with such dots, hence the specific name.

The hedges and hedge-rows are veritable "botanical gardens" in June. Here are allowed to linger the wild plants which cultivation has crushed out of existence in the arable lands, and partly so in the meadows. Up and down the green lanes you see the butterflies and other insects aerially perambulating and visiting the opened wild flowers.

The hedges are blossomed with wild roses, and, perhaps, in places, with the sweet briar. Are there in the whole world flowers to be compared with them? Around no other flowers, from Persia to England, are there any about which so many poetical and historical associations have clustered. The traveller's joy (Clematis vitalba), a shrubby climbing buttercup, upholsters the hawthorn hedges; the brambles festoon them with their graceful leaves and delicate but fugacious blossoms. It is in the hedgerows you will now find the peculiar green and unobtrusive flowers of the spindle tree (perhaps never dreaming of the lovely crimson and scarlet fruits they will produce in October). The honeysuckles perfume the atmosphere from the same vantage ground, especially in the evening, when the flowers lay themselves out to be visited by bryony (Tamus communis) and white bryony (Bryonia dioica), both belonging to tropical groups, are adopting the same hedge-climbing habits. The former belongs to the family of the yams, and the latter to that of the gourds. What do they here? They are as much out of place, among British plants, in our green lanes, as a family of Chinese would be in an English village!

Then there may possibly be met with the snowball blossoms of the guelder rose, and quite certainly the dogwood in flower. The bitter-sweet is also covering the hedges in places with its clusters of dark-green leaves and mauve and yellow flowers, so like those of the potato that you perceive at once it belongs to the same order. The great hedge bed straw (Galium mollugo) grows up amid the hawthorn; so does the yellow-flowered species (Galium verum); and the bright showy snapdragon-shaped dark and light-yellow spikes of the yellow linaria--the "butter and eggs" of country children. Almost everywhere in the same places you are bound to find the dense-blue flower-clusters of the tufted vetch--one of the pretties of our wild flowers.

Then, along the hedge banks, and by the green wayside, what hosts of welcome old floral friends greet us! The delicate white, star-like blossoms of the lesser stitchwort; on the drier and sunnier banks the wild thyme (notice, with a pocket lens, the scent-glands on the sepals of the calyx; they resemble precious stones set in a ring); the yarrow or millefoil, common mallow (on the under-surface of whose leaves is sure to be found a botanical parasite), the yellow creeping cinque-foil, hedge wound-wort (the "Striking Roger" of the Northern counties), bineweeds (convolvulus), nipple-wort, yellow agrimony, hedge parsley, great mullein, wood betony, enchanter's night-shade, and many a rare species besides.

In June, the ponds and dykes, which have an aquatic flora of their own, are crowded with flowering plants. In the water, and margining it, may be found the arrow head, so called from the shape of its upper leaves. Observe the difference between these and the submerged leaves. Indeed, all kinds of aquatic plants are remarkable for having their submerged leaves linear or thread-like, this being probably due to the fact that water contains a less supply of carbonic acid than the atmosphere, so the leaves dwarf and shrivel. The white flowers of the water crowfoot make the quiet surfaces of pools and tarns look as if they were strewn with snowflakes, so numerous are they. This common plant has also two sets of leaves, floating and submerged. The yellow flag (Iris)--emblem of the "golden lilies" of France--abounds along the margins of the marshes, keeping company with the drop-wort, marsh thistle, and the magnificent leaved water dock (Rumex hydrolapathum). The sedges alone are worth a study. You distinguish them from grasses by their triangular stems. July, however, is the principal month for aquatic and marsh plants, as the physical conditions under which they grow require a longer period of warmth then the soil.

The butterflies are now out in their thousands by day and the moths in their tens of thousands by night. On chalky soils the chalkhill blue butterfly is flitting about like fragment of the blue sky. The small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly is in the woods, hard by where the violets grow; the brown argus on dry banks and hill slopes where the storks-bill is abundant; the small blue is also dancing on the sunny slopes, when kidney vetches are common; meadow-brown butterflies are thronging the lust fields; the wood-white butterflies are fairly abundant in copses. These are June's addition to our butterfly fauna.

The moths have grown so numerous that to mention only the common kinds which fly into our lamp-lit rooms, or which can be studied "at sugar," would seem like an inventory. "Sugaring" is a delightful way of seeing and studying moths. You get a thick mixture of brown sugar and water, and flavour it with a little bay rum; rubbing the syrup on the trunks of an avenue of trees. After completing the task, you go with a bull's-eye dark lantern, and there the aerial revellers are, gathered round the feast to which their sensitive nerves of smell have directed them. In this way you are bound to find some or other of the following striking moths:--Buff-tip (looking remarkably like a broken bit of dried twig when lying asleep in the day-time); green carpet moth; common wave; wood tiger; barred kitten; grey dagger; puss moth; green forester; argent and sable; crimson and gold; eyed hawk moth; yellow shell; small elephant; tiger; hawk. Ghost moths are haunting with the meadows (each sex having a distinct colour); the gold swift is flying where the bracken fern abounds; the coronet moth flutters about the ash trees; the lobster moth near the beeches and oaks.

Of the increasing number of beetles and other orders of insects, space will not allow me to do more than say they are sharing in the flowing June tide of life; and that every entomological Nimrod out now will find more "sport" than he can carry away; and learn heaps of things without being required to "kill and eat."

Typed by happi, Apr 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020