Arthur Owens Cooke.

Wildflowers of the Farm online

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There are many other grasses in the field; some of them are useful,
while others the farmer would call weeds. We must now look at other
flowers, and, as the grass is so tall, it will be better to choose tall
flowers which can easily be seen. We soon spy a Thistle among the grass
near the gate.

There are several kinds of Thistle in England - the Milk Thistle, the
Nodding Thistle, and some others. This is the common Field Thistle. It
is far too common to please Mr. Hammond or any other careful farmer. It
is true that it is only an annual; but, like the Dandelion, it has a
pappus attached to its seed. However hard Mr. Hammond tries to get rid
of thistles from his fields, fresh seeds are constantly blown into them
from thistles on the road-side banks, or in the fields of farmers not so
careful as himself. It is very disheartening to a good farmer to have
careless neighbours. When Mr. Hammond hears that a new tenant is coming
to a neighbouring farm, he always hopes that he will be a "clean"
farmer - that he will try to keep his fields free from weeds.

The stiff stem of the Thistle is often three or four feet tall, and
divides into smaller branches which bear a flower at the end. These
flowers are a little like those of the Red Clover; each blossom has many
small upright florets, purplish-red in colour. The leaves are not very
tempting to touch, but they are very interesting. They are divided into
several lobes or divisions, and each lobe ends in a sharp point. They
have no leaf stem to connect them with the stalk of the plant. What is
curious about them is that they do not grow from a small point on the
stalk. They are "decurrent," or running along the stalk; a broad strip
at the base of each leaf is attached to the stalk.

Docks too are far too numerous among the grass. They are very
troublesome weeds; they are perennials, and they also scatter a great
deal of seed. They have large clusters of small flowers without any true
petals. The leaves are very large and pointed, growing on long leaf
stems. The stems of the Dock are tough, and they blunt the mowers'
scythes and the knives of the mowing-machine.

Some people have a good word even for the Dock. They say that a Dock
leaf wrapped round the part stung by a nettle will lessen the pain;
others advise us to rub the part with Dock _seed._ I do not think myself
that either remedy has much effect; but the leaves of the Sorrel, which
is a relative of the Dock, _will_ lessen the pain of nettle stings. Mrs.
Hammond always uses Dock leaves to wrap round the pats of butter which
she sends to market.

Above us, in the hedge, are two of the sweetest flowers of the farm. The
pink Dog Rose is one. The petals of each blossom are five in
number - what a number of five-petalled flowers we have seen! The leaves
have five, or sometimes seven, serrated leaflets, one of which is always
at the end of the leaf stem. These leaflets are not always perfectly
straight; sometimes the pointed end turns a good deal to one side.

Of course we want to gather some of the flowers - who does not want to
gather Roses? We want some fully opened blossoms and many of the dainty
buds. But the straggling stems of the Rose soon teach us the truth of
the proverb: "No Rose without a Thorn." The stems are thickly covered
with thorns; these are not only sharp, but hooked as well, and we do not
get our bunch of roses without a scratch or two.

The other beauty of the hedge is the Honey-suckle - a lovely flower which
may also be a dangerous weed. The tight grasp of its strong twining stem
will soon seriously injure any young tree to which it clings. Here it is
doing little harm, and we need only think of the clusters of fragrant
flowers. Each cluster grows at the end of a stalk. Some are pale pink,
others golden yellow, while some are almost white. After the blossom
comes the bright red berry which contains the seed. The leaves grow in
pairs. Those low down on the stem have leaf stalks, but the upper ones
are sessile on the stem.

Taking care not to trample the grass, we have strolled down the
hedge-side till we have reached the other end of the field, where there
is a ditch. At once there is a fragrant scent in the air - a scent like
that of almonds. It is the Meadow Sweet which grows on the banks of
streams or damp ditches.

[Illustration: MEADOW SWEET.]

It is a beautiful plant, as well as a fragrant one. At the top of the
tall stems are large clusters of small five-petalled flowers,
creamy-white. The stem itself is handsome; it is often three or four
feet high, smooth, stout, and of a reddish colour. The large leaves grow
alternately on the stem; they are made up of several pairs of leaflets
with a single leaflet at the end. The upper surface of the leaves is
dark green, but the under side is generally covered with a soft white

The scent of Meadow Sweet is very pleasant in the field to-day, but I
think we should find it rather too strong if we took a bunch into the
house. Yet Queen Elizabeth is said to have loved Meadow Sweet strewn on
the floors of her apartments.



One morning early in July, while we are having breakfast at Willow Farm,
we ask Mr. Hammond if he thinks we shall find any flowers in his
wheat-field. The farmer laughs and says he hopes we shall not, but he is
very much afraid that we shall. As we are here on purpose to look for
flowers we are glad to find them anywhere. Mr. Hammond thinks more about
his crops than about flowers, and does not care to see a single blossom
in his corn, however pretty it may be.

We are soon at the field, and there is no mistake about the flowers
being there too. Close to the gate, where the wheat is not quite so
thick as elsewhere, there is a splendid patch of scarlet poppies. This
is perhaps the very brightest wild flower that we have.

Some plants, as we have seen, are annuals, others are perennials. An
annual only lives for one year. The plant springs up from the seed,
grows through the summer, and in the autumn or the winter dies. A
perennial lives for many years. The flowers fade and fall as those of
annuals do; even the leaves and stems may droop and die. The roots and
lower part of the stem do not die; they live in the ground through the
winter, and in the following year fresh stems appear. The White Clover
which we found in Ashmead is a perennial, the Crimson Clover is an

If you sowed a patch of your garden with Poppy seed you would have the
flowers growing there year after year. You might therefore say, "Surely
the Poppy is a perennial. I only sowed the seed one year, yet the
poppies appear again and again." That is because the plants sowed their
own seed. The flowers faded; then the seed-cases shed their seed upon
the ground. Next spring the seeds produced fresh plants. Most annual
wild flowers sow their own seed in this way, but we must not mistake
them for perennials because year after year they grow in the same place.

In your patch of garden you can easily prevent the poppies from growing
more than one year if you wish to do so. All that is necessary is to
pick off every flower before it fades. Then no seed will fall and you
will be rid of the poppies.

Mr. Hammond might do the same, you think, if he wishes to rid his field
of poppies. But you see there are many poppies growing among the wheat
all through the field. To get at each plant and cut off all the flowers
would trample down the wheat and do more harm than good. All that the
farmer can do is to have as many weeds as possible hoed up while the
wheat is young and short. Even then many more come up later in the

The seeds of the Poppy have no pappus like those of the Thistle and some
other plants; they are not blown far away by the wind, but fall close to
the plant. There are, however, an immense number of very tiny seeds in
each seed-case, as we see by opening the round cup-like case on a stem
from which the flower has fallen. This great number of seeds adds to the
difficulty of getting rid of poppies.

We, I am afraid, are hardly sorry that the poppies are among the corn
to-day. The glorious scarlet blossoms give a rich fiery tint to the
whole field.

On a Poppy plant close to the gate there are several blossoms. Some
of them are fully open, some of them are still only buds. You see a
difference between the open flowers and the buds at once. The open
flowers stand upright on the stalk; the buds hang down.

Here is a bud just opening. The green case, called the calyx, which
contains the scarlet petals, is already partly open; it is splitting in
half, and the flower will soon be out. Then the calyx will fall off.

Here is a blossom from which the calyx has just dropped. The four large
scarlet petals, two of which are slightly larger than the other two,
have lain inside all crumpled up - not neatly folded as is the case with
most flowers. Yet in a very short time after the calyx has dropped off,
the sap will flow into the petals and will smooth them out. They will be
as glossy, smooth, and shining as the other blossoms fully open on the

The brilliant Poppy is more beautiful than useful - to the farmer and the
bees at any rate. Most flowers contain nectar, but the Poppy has none at
all. If the bees come to it, it is for the dusty yellow pollen to make
into wax.

The seed pods of some flowers open when ripe, and the seeds fall out.
In others the pod or case does not open but rots away. The Poppy has a
different way of scattering its seed. There is a ring of tiny holes in
the seed case, and through these holes the seed is shaken out. The
leaves are long, but vary a good deal in size and shape. The stems are
covered with stiff and bristly hairs.


IN THE CORN-FIELD (_continued_)

Besides the poppies there is Charlock in the field; not much, Mr.
Hammond will be glad to know, for he has been trying for many years to
get rid of this plant altogether. Pretty as the yellow blossoms of the
Charlock are, it is one of the most troublesome weeds which the farmer
has to fight. It is only an annual certainly, and each seed-pod holds no
more than six or seven seeds. The seeds, however, are oily, and this
oiliness preserves them. If they are ploughed deep into the ground, they
may live there for several years, and will produce a plant when turned
up again by the plough or the scuffle.

Mr. Hammond tells me that some years ago this field was full of
Charlock, and in the early summer there would be more Charlock than
wheat to be seen. This is how he got rid of it. Every year he ploughed
the field and got it ready for the crop as early as possible. Then the
Charlock sprang up before the crop of corn or turnips was sown; thus it
could be rooted out. Still, as we see to-day, there is a little left,
though it is growing less each year.

Charlock is wild mustard. There is more seed than blossom here to-day,
for the flowering time for Charlock is in June. If we chew some seed
from a pod, we shall find it hot and biting to the tongue. In some parts
of England many farmers grow mustard as one of their crops.

Near Willow Farm some farmers grow mustard as a catch-crop. They sow it
in autumn, as soon as another crop has been taken off the field. In the
spring it is eaten by sheep, or else it is ploughed in. A catch-crop
ploughed in like this enriches the land. Moreover a number of weeds are
buried with the catch-crop before they have time to blossom and to shed
their seed.

The yellow blossom of the Charlock is pretty, and the Poppy is the
finest scarlet wild flower we have. There is a third flower among the
wheat to-day, the beautiful blue Corn Flower or Corn Bluebottle. It is
no more welcome to the farmer than the Poppy and the Charlock are. It is
a perennial, and therefore difficult to get rid of. Moreover when we
pull up a stem we find it quite hard work, it is so tough. These tough
stems blunt the sickles of the reapers and the knives of the reaping

[Illustration left: CREEPING FIELD THISTLE.]

[Illustration right: FIELD SCABIOUS.]

[Illustration left: EVERGREEN ALKANET.]

[Illustration center: CORNFLOWER.]

[Illustration right: SMALLER BINDWEED.]

[Illustration: CHARLOCK.]

To us it is only a very beautiful flower. The florets in the centre of
each blossom are dark purple, but the outer ones are of a brighter blue.
The leaves are long and narrow; those near the bottom of the stem are
rather broader than those higher up. The stems themselves are not round,
but angular. We can feel corners or angles as we hold one in our hand.
They are also covered with a kind of down.

There is another flower which we shall see better if we come to the
stubble field after the wheat is cut; but some of it is near the gate
to-day. This is the Smaller Bindweed. We see that it is a relation of
the Large Bindweed in the garden hedge. It has leaves and flowers of the
same shape, but the flowers are smaller, and are pink and white. Those
of the Large Bindweed are rarely anything but pure white.

This is another troublesome weed here. It does not climb, as the Large
Bindweed does, but creeps along the ground, twining round everything it
meets. In the potato field it is often even more troublesome than here.
Corn is _cut_, but potatoes are _dug_ out of the ground. The Small
Bindweed forms such a thick carpet over the field, and twines round the
potato stems so closely, that it is often very difficult to dig up the

Here is another little flower which I am glad to show you now, the
Scarlet Pimpernel. This and the Poppy are the only _scarlet_ wild
flowers we have. There are many _pink_, and also many _purple_ flowers,
but only these two are really _scarlet_.

The Pimpernel differs from the Poppy in almost everything except its
colour. The Poppy has a tall stout stem and its blossoms are very
large. The Pimpernel trails on the ground and has tiny flowers. The
blossoms of the Poppy have four petals, those of the Pimpernel have
five. These are a beautiful scarlet, but not _quite_ so bright a scarlet
as those of the Poppy.

The leaves grow in pairs, and the small bare stalks which carry a flower
at their ends spring from the stem beside the leaves. The leaves are
sessile on the stem. Turning a leaf over we find that on its under side
are black or dark purple spots.

[Illustration: PIMPERNEL.]

The blossoms of the Pimpernel close up when rain is near, and it is
often called the Poor Man's Weatherglass. Sometimes, but very rarely, a
plant is found which has pink, or even pure white blossoms. There is
also a blue Pimpernel. Another Pimpernel is the Bog Pimpernel; but we
shall not find it in this dry field of corn, as you may guess by the

One more flower we will look at, and then it will be time to leave our
corn-field and to search elsewhere. Growing on the hedgebank at the side
of the field is a pretty lilac-blue flower on a long bare stalk. It is
the Field Scabious.

The blossoms are in shape like a round ball very much flattened - like a
round pincushion. There are no large petals here, as with the Poppy, but
a great number of small florets. Those on the outer edge of the blossom
are larger than those inside. Each floret is a tiny tube or pipe.

The leaves are on separate stalks from those which bear the flowers, and
they grow in pairs. They are divided into several pairs of lobes, with a
single lobe at the end of each leaf. Some leaves grow from that part of
the stem which is underground, and these are larger than the others, and
are sometimes of a different shape. Both the leaves and the stem are



We have now seen a good many Flowers of the Farm; we have found them in
the coppice, on the garden wall, and in the fields. To-day we will go a
little further off, three miles away.

You say, "Surely that is a long way off for the farmer to have a field."
It is not exactly a field. The Chase is a great open common or moor,
which belongs to the village or parish where Willow Farm is. Nearly all
the people of the village have certain rights of pasturage on it; they
may let their horses and cattle and sheep graze there. Every now and
then Mr. Hammond sends some of his sheep to the Chase to feed there for
a few weeks. It is very high dry ground, and that is good for sheep.

The road runs through the middle of the great common without any hedge
or fence on either side. There are horses and sheep and cattle here on
this May morning; donkeys too. All the sheep are marked, and we soon see
some which belong to Willow Farm; they are stamped on the back in large
letters "W.H." for William Hammond. A farmer easily knows his own horses
and cows; sheep are less easy to recognise, and are usually marked.

[Illustration: GORSE.]

One of the flowers of the Chase we see at once. In whatever direction we
look across the common there is a perfect blaze of gold - the blossoms of
the prickly Gorse or Furze. Spring is the time to see its mass of golden
yellow blossoms best; but I do not think there is a week, or even a day,
in the whole year when some of the flowers are not out. Did you ever
hear the saying, "Kissing is out of season when the Gorse is out of
bloom." That is never!

The Gorse flowers are beautiful and their scent is sweet. As to
gathering them, however, there is a terrible difficulty. The flowers
grow among long sharp spikes which cover the stems closely; you would
almost as soon gather nettles! There are very few real leaves, and they
are small and not easily seen; but the thorns are beautiful to look at,
if not to touch - they are such a rich dark green.

Nor is Gorse a useless plant. If the prickly stems are bruised or mashed
a little they form a fodder which animals like. Indeed, a pony near us
seems to enjoy them as they are; he is tearing off and eating piece
after piece from a Gorse bush. His mouth must be less tender than ours!

Later in the summer we visit the Chase again to find some flowers that
were not out in May. On our way we pass a potato field in blossom - a
very pretty sight. These blossoms are a palish purple, but sometimes the
potato flowers are white.

The Hairbell is a flower which we shall now find on the Chase - a great
contrast to the stout and thorny bush of Gorse. The Hairbell's stem is
almost as slender as a thread, although it stands upright. Each blossom
is a dainty little blue bell of five petals. White blossoms are
sometimes found, but not often.

There are leaves as well as flowers on the stem. Growing from the lower
part of the stem, close to the ground, we may perhaps find some broader,
rounder leaves; perhaps not, however, for these lower leaves soon wither
and die away.

[Illustration: HAIRBELL.]

The Hairbell loves to grow where there is fresh pure air. Here on the
Chase we are high up; it has been a long steep climb from Willow Farm,
and we are more than five hundred feet above sea level. Far below us, a
few miles away, we see a broad river on which steamers and sailing-ships
are passing up and down. Away to the west is the sea, from which a
breeze is nearly always blowing across the Chase. No wonder that the
little Hairbell loves the spot.

We have found a yellow flower and a blue one on the Chase, and now we
have not far to look for something red. Here is a clump of Heath or
Ling, and not far off a patch of Heather too. We must be careful to
distinguish Heath from Heather; let us look at the Heath first.

On the Heath, as on the Hairbell, we find bell-shaped flowers; but the
blossoms of the Heath are very small, and grow from a tough woody stem.
They are a reddish-purple. On little side branches growing from the
stems are the very tiny leaves. The whole plant is low, bushy, and

[Illustration: HEATH AND HEATHER.]

The flowers of the Heather are rather larger, deep crimson in colour,
and grow in clusters. On the flower stems grow very small narrow leaves;
there are generally three of them together and they do not grow so
thickly as the leaves of Heath. Among these leaves are some that are
made up of several leaflets.

Gorse, Heather, and Heath are spreading plants, and, if they were
allowed to grow unchecked, they would soon smother and destroy the
turf. Every few years therefore the Chase is burnt. In winter or spring
both Gorse and Heath burn easily, the fire spreading fast from one patch
to another. The smoke of the burning Chase may then be seen from many
miles away.

When the fire has burnt out, the Chase looks very black and dismal. But
the roots and underground stems of both the Heather and the Gorse are
still alive. Fresh shoots will grow, and soon the Gorse will be golden
in the spring, the Heather purple in the summer, as they were before.



This is the last day that we can spend in looking for wild flowers at
Willow Farm. Perhaps some of you already knew something about flowers
before this visit. If so, you may have been disappointed that we have
not seen some favourite flower of your own. You may think we have
passed over many flowers which deserved to be noticed.

For that matter I think _every_ wild flower deserves to be noticed; but
we certainly should not have time for all. I showed you several plants
growing on the walls and roof, because it was interesting to see that
quite beautiful flowers, such as the Wallflower and the Houseleek, could
grow with very little soil. We looked rather closely at the Clovers and
at the Grasses in the hay-field, because these plants are important to
the farmer; they are part of his crops. Then, too, we noticed several
weeds which do him harm.

To-day I am going to take a kind of holiday. I shall show you three
flowers, not because they have much to do with the farmer, but because
they are great favourites of my own.

None of these are very common at Willow Farm, although I know where to
find each one. We will go first down the little stony lane which leads
from near the foldyard gate to the cottages where the shepherd and the
bailiff live. Here we shall find the Alkanet. It is a perennial, and it
blossoms here year after year. I only know one other place in the
village where it grows. Like some other flowers we have seen, it is not
really a native of England.

It has a very beautiful blue blossom, a little like the blossom of the
Forget-me-not which perhaps you know, but the flower of the Alkanet is
of a deeper, richer blue. Here again, as with so many other flowers we
have seen, the blossom is formed of the five lobes of a corolla. In the
centre of each blue blossom is a small white spot.

The blossoms grow in little clusters on a short stalk, and on this stalk
there is always one pair of small leaves. The leaves on the main stems
of the plant are larger; the lower leaves have stalks, but those on the
upper part of the stem are sessile. The leaves are hairy, and so are the
stems, which often grow two or three feet high.

We saw that the Poppy and the Pimpernel were the only two true _scarlet_
wild flowers of our fields. In the same way there is only one other
English wild flower which has such a _deep blue_ blossom as the Alkanet.
That is the Borage; and the Borage, like the Alkanet, is not really a
native of England. For a fine golden yellow flower I do not know
anything which can beat the Dandelion. If we have not seen _every_ wild
flower which grows at Willow Farm, we have at any rate seen three which
have the deepest and richest colours.

Now for my next favourite. This time we go to the shady lane leading
from Willow Farm to the church; that is the only place near here where
I have found the Lesser Periwinkle. There is also a Larger Periwinkle,
very similar to my favourite here, except in size.

[Illustration: LESSER PERIWINKLE.]

To find the Periwinkle in full flower we should have to come in spring,
but, though it is July now, we shall still find a blossom here and
there, I hope. Even in winter we might do so too.

The Lesser Periwinkle has a blue flower, but the blue is a pale lilac
blue. Here again the petals are really the five spreading lobes of the
corolla. There is something curious about these lobes. They are of a
peculiar irregular shape that is not easy to describe; they are not
exactly pointed, and they are not regular in shape. You could cut the
petal of a Buttercup into two equal parts; it would be almost impossible
to do this with the lobes of the Periwinkle blossom.

The leaves are dark green, glossy and pointed, and they grow in pairs.
Often, however, we find two pairs of leaves growing so closely together

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Online LibraryArthur Owens CookeWildflowers of the Farm → online text (page 3 of 4)