Saturday, 16 June 2012

Richard Jefferies and the flowers of the field

Greetings from a wet and windy West Wales.  The gales woke us in the night, but aren't as bad as predicted and it isn't raining . . . yet . . . but it will again this morning, that's for sure.

I am sat here watching the tops of the trees hurling themselves about, and I can hear the two boys, Alfie and Jarvis (otherwise known as - and generally called -  Wild Thing and Little Whale) having fun on the landing.  Hurtling up and down with heavy paws and stalking one another and then pouncing and having a scrap.  Sometimes this ends in a righteous squawk, as someone bites too hard, and then one will gallop off and it will start all over again.

Not at all like the serene hay meadow above at Haddon Hall, rich in Umbellifers and other wild flowers.  Which leads me to the subject of today's post.

Recently, I have been dipping into "Jefferies' Countryside" - nature essays by Richard Jefferies.  He was born in 1848 in Wiltshire, at Coate Farm on the Marlborough to Swindon road (now probably the A346).  An extract from the Introduction tells us: "The hamlet of Coate lies on the north slope of the Marlborough Downs.  Savernake Forest, which Jefferies loved so well, lies a few miles to the South. Wayland's Smith's cave and the Vale of the White Horse are eight miles to the East.  This open and memorable countryside has sarsen-stones and tumuli, a wide expanse of grass-land, oak, beech and ash, as well as fir, "bramble thickets and hazel copses, while its lanes are white with chalk."

The writings of Richard Jefferies were much-loved by poet Edward Thomas in his formative years, and I believe greatly influenced his own writing, and note-taking as he walked.  Thomas's book "South Country" could have been named from a heading in this particular book of Jefferies.

The countryside of Jefferies was surprisingly lacking in what we take for granted in today's countryside.  At the moment, masses of Foxgloves bedeck the hedgerows, purple-pink flowers heavy with bees.  Yet in his time, Jefferies writes:  "For instance, most of the cottage gardens have foxgloves in them, but I had not observed any wild, till one afternoon near some woods, I found a tall and beautiful foxglove,  richer in colour than the garden specimens, and with bells more thickly crowded, lifting its spike of purple above the low cropped hawthorn.  In districts where the soil is favourable to the foxglove it would not have been noticed, but here, alone and unexpected, it was welcomed."

Presently, he lists 60 wild flowers which grew along a stretch of road he called Nightingale Road:

"Yellow agrimony,  amphibious persicariaarum, avens,  bindweed,  bird's foot lotus,  bittersweet,  blackberry,  black and white bryony,  brooklime, burdock,  buttercups,  wild camomile,  wild carrot, celandine - the great and lesser -   cinquefoil,  cleavers,  corn buttercup,  corn mint,  corn sowthistle, and  spurrey,  cowslip,  cow-parsnip,  wild parsley,  daisy,  dandelion,  dead nettle, and white  dog  rose, and trailing  roseviolets - the sweet and the scentless,  figwort,  veronica,  ground ivy,  willowherb - the two sorts,  herb Robert,  honeysuckle,  lady's smock,  purple loosestrife,  mallow,  meadow orchis,  meadow-sweet,  yarrow,  moon daisy,  St John's wort,  pimpernel, water plaintain, poppy,  rattles,  scabious,  self-heal,  silverweed,  sow thistle,  stitchwort,  teazles,  tormentil,  vetches and  yellow vetch."

I have underlined those which grow hereabouts in Wales (although there are many more I could add to that list). 

More from this lovely book later.


  1. This sounds my kind of book, thanks for recommendation.
    I just love the foxglove pic, they remind me of bells. What terrible weather eh?

  2. I've known better Cait! Definitely a day to be inside in the dry - and I've been baking fresh bread and bread muffins, so now I'm warn inside and out!

  3. The storm is still raging here so your summer meadows and foxgloves are a relief from the relentless grey outside the window.

    I can imagine how much Edward Thomas loved the prose of Richard Jefferies. Two men with a keen eye for nature and great descriptive powers.

  4. We still have the storm too! What a great sounding book. I'm going to have a look for it now. I love your new header picture - gorgeous.

  5. I recognize rather more than half of the flowers in your list and suspect I might have seen others without giving them a name. How wonderful that so many of them are naturalized on both sides of the Atlantic.
    The poppies in your header are gorgeous--and I think darker in color than any of mine. I think I could become a collector of poppies!
    It sounds like Alfie and Jarvis have done their proper catly duty, ushering in the storm with wild thumps and howls.
    We could use rain here--although I'd as soon it didn't come in storms to flatten the garden.
    Nothing much better than baking bread when the weather is unpleasant.