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[Illustration: VIOLETS.]

[Illustration: ALMOND AND APPLE BLOSSOM.]






THE COUNTRY-LIFE-READERS

BY ARTHUR O. COOKE

FLOWERS OF THE FARM




CONTENTS

I. Introduction
II. In the Coppice
III. Flowers on the Walls
IV. Three Handsome Weeds
V. Clover
VI. In "Ashmead"
VII. In the Hay-field
VIII. In the Hay-field (_continued_)
IX. In the Corn-field
X. In the Corn-field (_continued_)
XI. On the Chase
XII. In the Lanes




CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION


I think that some of you have been with me at Willow Farm before to-day.
When we were there we went into the farmer's fields in early spring, and
saw the men and horses at work with ploughs and harrows. A little later
on we saw some of the crops sown, such as barley and turnips. In summer
we were in the hay-and corn-fields, and later still we saw the ricks
being made.

To-day we are at Willow Farm again, and I want to show you some of the
flowers that grow there. I do not mean those which Mrs. Hammond, the
farmer's wife, grows in her garden, pretty as they are. We will look
rather at the wild flowers in the fields, the hedges, and by the
road-side in the lane. No one sows their seed nor takes care of them in
any way; yet they grow and blossom year after year, and nearly all of
them are beautiful.

Before we begin to look at them we must make sure that we quite
understand just what a flower is. Even those of you who live in large
towns and have perhaps never been in the country, see flowers of some
sort, I feel sure; you see them in shop windows and they are also often
sold in the streets. You have seen wallflowers and daffodils in the
spring, roses in the summer, violets in winter, as well as other kinds.
You do not need to be told that these are flowers.

What about the grass on lawns, and in such places as Battersea Park and
Hyde Park in London? "Oh," you say, "that is not a flower at all - that
is just grass." Yes, it is grass, but the grass has a flower as well as
a rose bush or a violet-plant. It is only because the grass is kept cut
short that you do not see its flower on a lawn. If grass is not cut, or
eaten by animals, it grows tall in spring; then in May or June you would
see the flowers on tall straight stems which stand among the blades of
grass. Many of these grass flowers are very beautiful and we will look
presently at some of them in one of the farmer's fields.

Perhaps some of you have gardens or grass plots at your own homes. If
you see some dandelions in the lawn, or groundsel among the flowers or
vegetables in the garden beds, you say, "Those weeds must be pulled up."
You call the Dandelion and the Groundsel weeds, but they have flowers
all the same; the Dandelion is perhaps one of the most lovely yellow
flowers that we have.

They are weeds certainly in your lawn or garden beds, for they ought not
to be there. Weeds are plants in the wrong place. By and by, in the
farmer's fields, we shall see many pretty flowers which he calls weeds.
We speak of the Nettle as a weed, and do not usually admire it; yet the
Nettle has a flower, as we shall see.

Then what do you think of a tree having a flower? That is perhaps a new
idea to you. Yet if you look at a Horse-chestnut tree in June you will
see at once the large spikes of beautiful white flowers with which it is
covered. Apple trees have a beautiful pink, or pink and white flower,
and the Almond tree bears a lovely pink flower. All other trees have
flowers too, but they are often small. The flowers of the Oak and the
Beech are small, but, though you may not notice them, they are on the
tree each spring.

Almost all plants, including large trees, have flowers - they are
flowering plants. Just a few plants have no flower; ferns have none, nor
have the mosses and lichens which grow on walls and rocks and on the
stems of trees. Fungi, too, such as the mushroom, have no flowers.
Nearly all other plants have flowers. It is by the flower or blossom
that a plant is reproduced. After the flower has faded comes the fruit
and seed; the seed falls into the ground or is sown, and from it springs
another plant. Without the flower there would be no seed.

You see that there are rather more flowers than you had thought. Still,
while we are strolling in the fields and lanes at Willow Farm, we shall
look most at what are generally called flowers; we shall look at
comparatively small plants in which the flower or blossom is easily
noticed because it is large, or bright-coloured, or sweet-scented. But
while we are admiring a Daisy or a Dandelion in the spring, we must not
forget that the great Oak-tree above it also has a flower of its own - we
must remember that the Oak-tree also is a flowering plant.




CHAPTER II

IN THE COPPICE


Outside the front door of Willow Farm is a broad curving gravel drive,
at the far end of which a white gate opens into the lane. On one side of
this drive is a narrow strip of ground planted with flowers and shrubs,
and close to the front door there is a patch of grass on which stands a
large old mulberry tree.

On the other side of the drive is a lawn. Beyond that are more flowers
and then the vegetable garden; further on still is a little wood or
coppice of nut bushes. On this March morning we shall find some wild
flowers in this little wood.

Between the vegetable garden and the wood is a low grassy bank. It is
bright to-day with yellow primroses. The Primrose always blossoms early
here, for the bank is sunny and is sheltered from cold winds.

[Illustration: PRIMROSE.]

I daresay most of you have seen a Primrose before to-day. Each pale
yellow blossom is made up of five petals, which are joined together
forming a tube or corolla. The petals are notched or indented on the
outer edge. At the centre of the blossom, where the petals meet, each
petal is marked with a spot of darker yellow. Each flower grows alone on
a long slender stem. At the top of the stem is a kind of green tube out
of which the yellow blossom appears. The Primrose blossoms have a scent;
not strong, but very sweet and pleasant.

The leaves are called "radical" or "root" leaves. They are so called
because each leaf _appears_ to grow direct from the root. But the leaves
really grow from a short stem at the top of the root - a stem so short
that it does not appear above the ground at all.

Among the bushes of the coppice itself we will notice the flowers which
first catch our eye - the pretty blossoms of the Wood Anemone. The whole
coppice is starred with the beautiful white flowers. We pick one and see
that it has six - six what? "Six petals," you say. No, these are not
petals, for the Anemone has none. They are sepals. The sepals of a plant
generally enclose the blossom before it is opened, and they are usually
green. In the Anemone the petals are absent; the sepals take their place
and are white instead of green. Their under side is often not pure
white, but is streaked with pale pink.

Several blossoms which we pick have six of these sepals. That is the
usual number, but sometimes there are only five, and sometimes more than
six.

The blossoms of the Anemone grow on longer and stronger stalks than
those of the Primrose, and on each stalk are three leaves. These leaves
grow round the stalk in a ring. Each leaf is "tri-partite" - in three
parts or divisions; the edges of these divided leaves are deeply
serrated. Besides the three leaves on each flower-stalk similar leaves
grow from underground stems which creep along not far below the surface
of the soil. Such creeping underground stems are usually called
"rhizomes."

At the further side of the coppice, where a hedge separates it from the
little meadow called Home Close, are Sweet Violets. We catch their
fragrant scent before we see them, for the tiny flowers are half hidden
among broad green leaves. Each blossom has five petals of a dark purple
colour; there are white Sweet Violets too, but none are growing in our
little wood to-day.

At the base of the blossom - the part where it joins the stem - one of the
petals has a little spur which points back towards the stem. The blossom
is therefore said to be spurred; we may presently see other plants with
spurred flowers.

There is another violet which grows wild in England - the Dog Violet. It
is larger than our Sweet Violets here, but it has no scent.

[Illustration: ANEMONE.]

While we have been examining the flowers on the ground, the nut bushes
above our heads are waiting to remind us of what we said just now - that
trees also have flowers. The flowers of the nut bush or hazel are easily
seen, for they appear before the leaves are open. What we see to-day are
often called catkins, but the name which country children give them is
lambs'-tails. It is a very good name, too, for they are more like the
tail of some tiny lamb than anything else.

These catkins are yellowish-white in colour, and soft and almost woolly
to the touch. They hang in clusters from the hazel twigs, and in the
strong March wind which blows to-day, they shake and flutter like the
tails of lambs at play. Some of them leave a dusty powder on our fingers
when we handle them; that is the pollen of the flower.

It is not where these yellow "catkins" are dancing on the twigs to-day
that the hazel nuts will appear in autumn. The nuts will grow on twigs
where there are very small red flowers - something like tiny
paint-brushes. These are the female flowers; they will be fertilized by
the yellow pollen of the catkins, and will produce the nuts.




CHAPTER III

FLOWERS ON THE WALLS


Behind the narrow strip of ground with flowers and shrubs on the other
side of the drive there is a low stone wall. A piece of the lawn on
which the mulberry tree stands has been cut away, and a flight of steps
leads down to a little gate into the foldyard.

This wall between the garden and the foldyard is very old and rough - not
like the smooth brick walls you see in towns. The stones are of
different shapes and sizes, the mortar has fallen out of it in many
places, and here and there are holes and crevices. Yet it is a very
beautiful old wall, for many things grow on it; mosses and grasses, and
other flowers too, are there.

On this May morning we not only see, but also smell, one of the flowers
which grow upon the wall - it is the beautiful sweet-scented Wallflower.
It grows here and there along the top of the wall, and a few plants of
it are even springing from the sides. Some of the plants are quite large
and their stems are tough. These have grown here for a long time. The
Wallflower is a perennial plant; unless it is killed or torn up by the
roots it will live and grow for many years. Others are quite young and
only a few inches high. These have grown from seeds dropped last autumn
by the older plants.

You very likely wonder how the Wallflower or any other plant can grow
upon the wall, for there is no earth to be seen - nothing but stones and
crumbling mortar. But if we pull up one of the smaller plants we shall
find earth clinging to its roots. Dry dusty earth has been blown upon
the wall by wind, and has lodged in chinks and holes. Dust and soil,
too, were mixed with the mortar when the wall was built; and dead leaves
falling on it and decaying have produced a little more - for decayed
leaves make earth or "soil." Wallflowers and other plants which grow on
walls and rocks find very little soil sufficient for their needs.

Most of the blossoms of the wallflowers upon this wall are of a golden
yellow colour and are very sweet. Some of the blossoms are, however, a
darker yellow than others, and here and there are petals which are quite
brown.

If we look at the garden behind us we shall see that Mrs. Hammond has
several beds of Wallflower this year; it is a flower of which she is
very fond. There are wallflowers of two different colours in her beds.
One kind has bright golden blossoms, rather deeper in colour than any of
those upon the wall; the other has flowers that are a rich dark brown.

[Illustration: WALLFLOWER.]

These plants are sturdier and more bushy than those upon the wall, and
there are more flowers on each plant. The flowers are finer, too, and
have a stronger scent. If Mrs. Hammond had wished she could have sown
seed to produce many different shades of brown and yellow Wallflowers.
She might also have had a purple Wallflower, and even a Wallflower of so
pale a yellow as to be almost white.

If you and I were clever gardeners and had plenty of time and patience,
we could get purple or nearly white wallflowers from these
yellow-flowered plants upon the wall. It would perhaps take us many
years, but we should succeed at last. This is how we should set about
it.

Suppose that we wished to have a Wallflower nearly white. We should look
carefully along the wall in spring, when the blossoms are out, until we
found the very palest yellow blossom we could see. We should mark that
plant, and when the flower was over and the seed was ripe, we should
collect the seed. Among the plants grown from this seed we should choose
again the plant that had the palest flowers, and should save the seed
from _that_. We might have to go on doing this for twenty years or more,
but in time we should have a Wallflower so pale as to be almost white.

_Quite_ white we should never get our Wallflower, for no _pure_ white
flower can be obtained from a yellow one. However pale our Wallflower
might be there would still always be just a tinge of yellow or cream
colour in it.

If, on the other hand, we wanted a purple or a very dark brown
Wallflower, we should save seed from those blossoms which were nearest
to the colour we wanted - dark brown or with a tinge of purple in them.
We should sow seed from the darkest blossoms again and again, and at
last we should get what we wished to have.

[Illustration: RED VALERIAN.]

[Illustration: STINGING NETTLE.]

[Illustration: WHITE DEAD NETTLE.]

Besides choosing seed from the lightest or darkest blossoms, we should
tend our plants very carefully and well, giving them plenty of good rich
soil. This would make them grow bushy and with many flowers, as we see
them in Mrs. Hammond's garden beds.

Many of our garden flowers have been produced in this way, by selecting
and improving wild flowers. Of course all flowers grow wild _somewhere_;
some in England, but many more in foreign countries, where the air is
warmer and the soil richer and better. The Pansy is a little English
wild flower with yellow, blue, and red petals. From this little flower
gardeners have produced large and beautiful pansies of many different
colours and shades of colours - white, yellow, blue, and brown. This has
been done by careful selection, just as we spoke of doing with the
wallflowers.

But if the large single-coloured pansies of which I have told you, or
Mrs. Hammond's dark brown wallflowers, were allowed to seed
themselves - that is, were allowed to drop and sow their own seed year
after year - do you know what would happen? They would gradually revert
or turn back to their original form and colour. The flowers would become
mixed in colour and less fine in size; at last they would be simple wild
flowers again.

[Illustration: PANSY.]

Now it is June, and the blossoms of the Wallflower have faded and
fallen. The old wall is, however, growing gay with another plant - the
Red Valerian. We must be careful to remember that it is the Red
Valerian, for there are other valerians. There is the Great Valerian
which does not grow on walls or rocks, but in damp and shady places; its
flowers are pale pink.

The blossoms of the Red Valerian on the wall are bright crimson, and
they grow in rows on small stems which spring from a stout stalk a foot
or two in height. Each blossom of five petals forms a little tube or
corolla. The base or foot of each little tube appears as a point on the
under side of the flower stem; the Red Valerian, like the Violet, is a
spurred flower.

The leaves are long and pointed, and they grow in pairs, on opposite
sides of the stalk. Sometimes the edges of the leaves are quite smooth;
sometimes they are serrated, or toothed, like the edge of a saw. If we
pulled a plant of Red Valerian from the wall we should find the roots
very long and branching; they need to be so, for the plant often grows
on rocks and other places where it is exposed to wind. If the roots had
not a firm hold the tall stems laden with blossoms might be blown down.

The Red Valerian flowers all through the summer. Its clusters of crimson
flowers are as great an ornament to the old wall as were the wallflowers
in May.

Now let us go down the steps into the foldyard; there is a wall on
either side of us as we descend. The wall which faces the north is
nearly always in shadow, and there are ferns growing but of it between
the stones. One of these is a beautiful Hartstongue fern, with large and
shining leaves. We said just now, however, that ferns have no flowers,
so we will turn to something that grows on the wall opposite.

This is the ivy-leaved Toadflax. It grows on walls and rocks, as the Red
Valerian does, but it is a very different plant in appearance. The stems
of the Red Valerian are tall and upright; those of the Toadflax are
slender and drooping. There is a large mass of it on the side of the
wall, and we find that the root is at the highest point of the whole
mass. The stems with the flowers and leaves hang down below the root; it
is a trailing plant.

There are, however, other roots clinging to the wall here and there
below the main root. The plant, like several others, is able to throw
out fresh roots from the joints of its stems, and these give it a firmer
hold.

The flowers are small, and their colour is a pale lilac-blue with a
bright yellow spot in the centre. These flowers too are spurred. The
leaves are smooth and thick - what is called fleshy. They are divided
into five lobes or divisions, and are not unlike an ivy-leaf in shape.
When we turn a leaf or two over we see that the under side of some is
dark purple.

[Illustration: IVY-LEAVED TOADFLAX.]

This little plant is usually said to prefer a damp situation, and to
blossom from May till October. This wall beside the steps is certainly
rather damp, for the moisture from the garden above soaks down to it. In
my own garden, however, the ivy-leaved Toadflax grows on some very dry
old walls, and I have found it in flower in the middle of December.

Neither the Toadflax nor the Red Valerian are really natives of England.
They were brought to our country many hundreds of years ago. They have
spread so much that they have now become wildflowers. In the same way
many others of our wild flowers were once unknown in England.

Now that we have come down the steps into the foldyard we see that it
lies a good deal below the house and garden. Built round the foldyard
are the stables for the cart-horses, the cowhouses, and the great barn.
Behind the stables is the rickyard. That, like the garden, is above the
foldyard; from it there are only two or three steps to the door of the
loft or "tallet" above the stables. It is there that we will go now.

The wall of the tallet is of stone and is very old; the roof is tiled.
There is a little hole cut in the bottom of the door, and you will see
one like it in the door of the granary. It is made so that old Tib and
the other cats can go in and catch mice. Growing between the stones of
the wall just by the tallet door is the plant I want to show you now.

It is the Stonecrop. Some of the stems grow upright, while others are
trailing. At the top of each upright stem is a cluster of bright yellow
flowers. Some of these are fully open, and we see that each blossom has
five pointed petals. The trailing stems have no flowers at all, they are
barren; but the leaves on the barren stems are much more numerous and
closer together than those on the upright flowering stems.

[Illustration: COMMON STONECROP.]

These leaves are very curious. They are not flat like the leaves of the
Red Valerian, the Toadflax, and most other flowers; they are very thick
and fleshy - something like a short round pointed stick. They grow close
against the stalk, not in pairs, but alternately, first a leaf on one
side of the stalk, then a leaf on the other. They are erect too; that
is, they point in the same direction as the stalk.

On the barren stems the leaves grow so closely that they quite cover the
stalk. They have a hot sharp taste, and the plant is sometimes called
"Wall-Pepper." The roots are very thin and can spread easily through
narrow chinks of the wall.

We will see one more plant of the walls before we look for flowers
elsewhere. Our next plant is not very common at Willow Farm; still I
know where to look for it. Built against one side of the big barn in the
foldyard is a little lean-to shed. Often there are calves in it; but
just now we are more interested in something that is on the roof.

Standing close to the wall of the shed is a cattle crib - a kind of big
square box or trough on legs, in which hay or chaff is put for the
cattle. The shed is not very high, and by standing on the crib we can
scramble on to the roof. Here is the plant we want to see.

It is the Houseleek, of which a clump is growing between the tiles.
Almost flat on the tiles is a dense mass of large green fleshy leaves.
These leaves are evergreen, they do not die and fall off in winter. From
this cluster of leaves rise straight thick stems nearly a foot high. The
stems are thickly covered with erect leaves which grow smaller towards
the top of the stem.

At the top of the stem is a cluster of very handsome rosy-red flowers.
Each blossom is star-shaped when fully open, and generally has twelve
petals.

[Illustration: HOUSE LEEK.]

If we could see the roots we should find them very thread-like or
fibrous, like those of other flowers we have been looking at to-day. I
do not think I can very well show you the roots, however; we should have
to pull up a plant, and that would not please Ben, the cowman, at all.
There is a belief in country places that it is bad luck to disturb the
Houseleek - that someone in the house on which it grows is sure to die
soon afterwards. Certainly the plant is not growing on a house
here - only on the calves' cot. Still, if any misfortune should happen to
the calves we might be blamed by Ben. Besides, it would be a pity to
disturb so handsome a plant, would it not?

We have spent some time in looking at these flowers on the walls and
roof because we think them very wonderful. We see how little soil they
can have in which to grow, and how, in dry weather, they can have very
little moisture either. Yet the leaves of several of them are thick and
fleshy, and the flowers of some are large and beautiful. What could be
more handsome than the blossoms of the Wallflower, the Red Valerian, and
the Houseleek?




CHAPTER IV

THREE HANDSOME WEEDS


At the end of the drive, near the front door, another white gate leads
to the "nag" stables, where Mr. Hammond keeps the two horses which he
rides and drives. Billy, the old brown pony, has a little stable of his
own close by, and further on are the granary and the poultry yard.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, "Ill weeds grow apace." It is
certainly a true one, for most of the plants which we call weeds grow
quickly and well wherever they are allowed to remain. We shall not have
far to look for the three weeds which I want to show you this morning.
The first of them is the Stinging Nettle. It grows round the wood-pile
in the middle of the poultry-yard, and there are great clumps of it
beside the hedge which divides the poultry-yard from the kitchen garden.

It is really a very handsome plant, though you may not have thought so
before. Look how tall and straight the stems are, and how evenly and
regularly the dark green pointed leaves grow from it. They grow in
pairs, on opposite sides of the stem, and are serrated. There is
something rather unusual about the stem of the Nettle which we will
notice at once. I have brought out a pair of thick leather gloves, so
that we can pick a stem without being stung.

You know what shape the trunks of trees are. Round? Yes; round or nearly
so. So are the stems of most plants; the stems of the Red Valerian are
round. The stem of the Nettle, however, is square, or if not perfectly
square, it has four distinct sides. Perhaps you had never noticed this
before, for the Nettle is certainly not a plant with which one cares to


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