Monday, 5 September 2016

Flower of the Downs

That title almost sounds as though it could be an Irish folk song but it is far more prosaic than that.

I'm not a botanist and know regrettably few of the names of the flowers I see when walking the dog across the fields and commons and through the woods of the South Downs. Granted, there are a goodly number I do know: knapweed and ragwort, bluebell and aconite, cow parsley, daisy, clover, hawkbit, toadflax and quite a few others. I know the cowslip - which, I am pleased to say, has become quite a common flower nowadays after having been quite scarce only a few years ago.  I hope that same thing happens to the primrose which is still relatively uncommon having suffered from overpicking.

One plant I am always pleased to see, and it grows only in a few places on the downs, is the harebell. Such a delicate-looking flower, it is apparently pretty tough and grows mainly in wilder parts of the country. Also known as the bluebell of Scotland, cuckoo's shoe, witch bells or old man's bell - the 'old man' being the devil himself. Dreaming about harebells is said to symbolise true love. In County Antrim (Northern Ireland) it is a fairy plant, , the goblin's (or Puck's) thimble. Pick it at your peril.

There seems to be more honeysuckle around in the woods and hedgerows than I remember from my youth, and this summer I have even seen sweet peas growing in a local nature reserve, although I suspect they were escapees from a garden.

But for me, the flower of the Downs is the scabious, or, more correctly, field scabious.  It is also known as the gypsy rose, lady's pincushion and blue bonnets. Coincidentally, it was grandmother's favourite flower. I like it for it's unusual shape and colour. Scabious was used to treat scabies, and many other afflictions of the skin including sores caused by the bubonic plague.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Aren't they just beautiful BP? I noticed lots of honeysuckle in the hedges in Cornwall this year too. We are trying to establish a wild life/flower garden at the park but it's pretty hard going as we are fighting a battle with bindweed! I visited Sidmouth in the summer and discovered the Connought Gardens at the top of Jacobs Ladder - I had no idea they were there and as well as more formal planting they had the most beautiful wild flower area.