Treasures of the Wildness

Treasures of the Wildness

THE CALL OF THE WILDFLOWER. By Henry S. Salt (Allen and Unwin)

As the title might suggest, this is an unconventional guide to English wild flowers in their haunts, not meant for the scientific botanist, and not altogether for the learner who begins to plume himself on identifications of the less obvious genera, but rather appealing to observers who combine artistic sense of the mere beauty of plants with a fair knowledge of their differences. The author takes us with him in rambles over various fields, Sussex beaches, levels and downs, Yorkshire and Northumbrian moors, Surrey commons, Welsh crags and Derbyshire dales, with a fine enthusiasm for his subject and a gift of picturesque description. He does not seem to have made up his mind fully about the respective shares of devotion which are due to everyday loveliness in common things and to the curious and the rare awaiting the explorer. He can be ecstatic about the starry saxifrage or the stitchwort; but if he has any proportionate feelings for broad effects—wood hyacinths in sheets in the clearings, armies of foxgloves, corn-poppies reddening a hillside—he does himself justice in concealing it. His gift of the painter’s sense of form and colour saves him from losing the whole in the details; but in the case of less well-provided observers there is a risk that the eye may miss the larger vision if it suddenly become aware of a saussurea or a spiderwort at close range.

Of all pursuits, wild-flower hunting might be thought to favour a benign and equal temper. But it seems here to have let to rather odious comparisons between the author’s hobby and the ways of the ordinary flower-gardener—comparisons perfectly needless, and destructive to the best quality in the book. No garden worth the name is a collection of “captives” which ought to be set free from their servitude, as Mr. Salt protests. Degeneracy and death would be the certain end of ninety-nine hundredths of garden flowers if they were “liberated” from the gardener’s tyrannical hand. If there are still ignorant people who despise wild flowers as weeds, they are not gardeners at all, even if they own an acre of rockwork and miles of herbaceous border. The true gardener can recognize, when he comes on a drift of bird’s-eye primrose, or broom tufting the rocks, graces which his own labours can never approach. In this girding at gardens there is a touch of half-humorous truculence, visible also in comments on other matters, such as landlords and keepers, plant-collectors and certain works on botany, which may be a serviceable weapon in some sorts of controversy, but is oddly out of place here. The gardener, if he cared to retaliate, might ask what is to be called “wild” in England to-day. The whole face of the country shows the taming hand of man. What would happen to many classes of our flora if there were no hedge-sides, no dykes (which Mr. Salt celebrates so admirably), no cornfields, no mowing-grass, no wood-rides? It is not too much to say that in parts of Southern England, at least, that the bluebell and the primrose would almost disappear if the regular cycle of the cutting of underwood were to cease. And even in moorlands and mountains we have to allow for the shelter of innumerable stone walls, for the effects of the constant browsing of sheep, and the burning of heath and whins. And if we hand over to condign execration the “knight of the trowel” who uproots a precious rarity, is the flower-picker with his vasculum, who prevents the natural seeding and multiplication, to get off without a caution? But such contention is out of key with the true spirit of the book: we would rather follow the guide who shows us, merely happy in his task, the Deptford pink at Westerham, the mountain pansy in Teesdale, the globeflower in Cwm Idwal. For he can both see and describe; and the account of his discoveries should inspire even hardened gardeners to explore the treasures of the wilderness outside their sufficiently impregnable pale.

Times Literary Supplement, July 6, 1922, 439

Close Menu