Last week I wrote about the pleasure I had obtained from the birds on our holiday in the North West Highlands of Scotland; but I also enjoyed the wild flowers. Their profusion took me back to the flower filled meadows of my childhood which I had all but forgotten.

On the mainland of Scotland you do not get the yellow ‘machair’ of the Western Isles – a mass of flowers, predominantly yellow that covers the short grass, but there is still a wide variety. Right by the shore there were patches of bog cotton with its wispy white heads. There was plenty of clover – the shorter, fragrant white that makes good honey, and the taller vibrant red. Everything seemed to be out at once. There was that heady scented, creamy flower, Meadowsweet which makes a good country wine, and which we called Queen of the Meadow, as well as the taller patches of the pink Rosebay Willowherb, which we used to call Wildfire. There were the less noticeable Shepherd’s Purse which I have not seen for many years, and the brown headed flower we used to call Soldier’s sticks, and you could play a game with them where you knocked the head off the other person’s flower. There was the golden yellow tansy with its rich spicy smell and which when you squeezed the flower head gave a satisfying pop.

When we drove down the Ardnamurchan peninsula I spotted a ‘stand’ of the dainty harebell, the Scots ‘bluebell’, which is of a delicate but very intense blue; and there were pink foxgloves on a bank literally thousands strong, so much so that you doubted your own eyes. There was also blue speedwell, and I discovered a patch of wild violets growing in a ditch.   And there were the lovely white water lilies  on the still ponds.   As the song says,

Like the  white lily floating on the peat hag’s dark waters,                                                        Is the face of my Mairi, my Mairi, my beloved…

There were ‘forbidden’ flowers too – the statuesque Giant Hogsweed which tends to grow near streams, and standing about 6 feet tall with its huge flat white flower as big as a dinner plate, is a magnificent sight, but now tends to be obliterated when seen as it is poisonous (we called it, incorrectly, ‘hemlock’).

I thought of my childhood, where I observed all these things and took them quite for granted – thought everybody’s world was filled with wild flowers and birdsong, and how we assume these delights will last forever and be enjoyed by future generations: whereas this is by no means certain.

Let us stay where the wild things are.

Photographs are courtesy of John M Armstrong and were taken on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

2 Responses to FLORA

  1. Elizabeth Roberts says:

    Anne’s descriptions remind me of this poem, which has become a favourite of mine and which, of course, always puts me in mind of the Armstrongs when I read it.

    Scotland Small?

    Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?
    Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliché corner
    To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’ where in September another
    Sitting there and resting and gazing around
    Sees not only the heather but blaeberries
    With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,
    Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves
    Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;
    And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep
    Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;
    And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked
    Within living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades
    Of yellow, green, and pink; sundew and butterwort
    Waiting with wide-open sticky leaves for their tiny winged prey;
    And nodding harebells vying in their colour
    With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them;
    And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour.
    ‘Nothing but heather!’ ̶ How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!

    Hugh MacDiarmid
    excerpt from ‘Dìreadh I’, from Complete Poems, Vol. II (Carcanet, 1994)
    Reproduced by kind permission of Carcanet Press.

  2. adhocannie says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth. It is an evocative piece – you can practically smell the sheep and feel the wind on your face.

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