The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 1 Introduction

Wild flowers around London

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The country round London has always been a good district for wild flowers; the varied soils, aspects, and levels all go to make it a propitious spot for botanising. Many places now covered with streets were a few generations ago a mass of wild flowers. The older herbalists- Gerard, Johnson, and their friends-used to search the neighbourhood of London for floral treasures, and incidentally in their works the names of these friends, such as Mr. James Clarke and Mr. Thomas Smith, "Apothecaries of London," and their "search for rare plants" are mentioned. Gerard was constantly on the watch, and records plants seen in the quaintest places, such as the water-radish, which he says grew "in the joints or chincks amongst mortar of a stone wall that bordereth upon the river Thames by the Savoy in London, which yee cannot finde but when the tide is much spent." Pennyroyal "was found on the common near London called Miles ende," "from whence poore women bring plentie to sell in London markets." The rare adders-tongue and great wild valerian grew in damp meadows, the fields abounded with all the more common wild flowers, and such choice things as the pretty little "ladies' tresses," grew on the common near Stepney, while butcher's broom, cow wheat, golden rod, butterfly orchis, lilies of the valley and royal fern, wortleberries and bilberries covered the heaths and woods of Hampstead and Highgate. Many another flower is recorded by Gerard, who must have had a keen and observant eye which could spot a rare water-plant in a ditch while attending an execution at Tyburn ! yet he meekly excuses his want of knowledge of where a particular hawkweed grew, saying, "I meane, God willing, better to observe heerafter, as oportunitie shall serve me." That power of observation is a gift to be fostered and encouraged, and were that achieved by education in Council Schools, a great success would have been scored, and probably it would be more fruitful in the child's after life than the scattered crumbs from countless subjects with which the brain is bewildered. The wild flowers could still be enticed within the County of London, and species, which used to make their homes within its area, might be induced at least to visit some corners of its parks. The more dingy the homes of children are, the more necessary it must be to bring what is simple, pure, and elevating to their minds, and modern systems of teaching are realising this. If public gardens can be brought to lend their aid in the actual training, as well as being a playground, they will serve a twofold purpose. An old writer quaintly puts this influence of plant life. "Flowers through their beautie, varietie of colour and exquisite forme, do bring to a liberall and gentle manly mind, the remembrance of honestie, comelinesse, and all kindes of vertues. For it would be an unseemly and filthie thing, as a certain wise man saith, for him that doth looke upon and handle faire and beautifull things, and who frequenteth and is conversant in faire and beautifull places, to have his mind not faire but filthie and deformed."