April showers to May flowers

Rosebank House, Roslin, commanded views of the romantic scenery of Hawthornden and the valley of the Esk. It was demolished in 1950.
Rosebank House, Roslin, commanded views of the romantic scenery of Hawthornden and the valley of the Esk. It was demolished in 1950.

Winnie Stevenson from Roslin Heritage Society, continues the series of articles, which appeared in the Midlothian Journal in 1914.

Continuing on our way through the glen in Rosebank Grounds, the Lesser Celandine, though now past the glory of their first exuberance, still persist in one or two of the damper spots.

This may be claimed as Wordsworth’s favourite flower for he devotes to it no fewer than three complete poems and its blossom is carved on his white marble tomb.

“Others too of lofty mien

They have done as worldlings do

Taken praise that should be thine,

Little humble celandine.”

It is one of the firstlings of the year’s blossoms and though one of the buttercup family, is not to be taken for one of the meadow buttercups by any means. It is quite different in structure. The calyx or cup is very small and has other three sepals while the petals usually number eight or more and these shine like brightest gold, so rich and glossy above, while the underside is dull and of a greenish colour. The inference is at once that it depends partly at least on insects for scattering its pollen as it holds its head quite erect and it is only the upper surface that is apparent to them.

“The first gilt thing

That wears the trembling pearls of spring”

Early as it flowers it cannot depend entirely on insect visitors for propagation and consequently it has recourse to other devices. In the axils between the stem and its branches, little tubers like tiny potatoes are formed and these, when the plant withers down, are set free and give rise to young plants in the succeeding season.

The old tuberous roots, shaped somewhat like figs, continue year after year if not disturbed, and acting as food stores, enable the plant to flower thus early in the year. The family name Ranunculous is said to be derived from the Latin – Rana, a frog and may well be given to the Celandine which delights in those damp shady parts of the wood which are the common haunts of frogs. When it is usual to associate flowers with birds we may note that it is the swallow in this case which gives the celandine its name (Greek Chelidon, a swallow) because it is in blossom to welcome these birds on their arrival.

“Shade loving hyacinth! Thou comest again

And thy rich odours seem to swell the flow

Of the lark’s song, the red breast’s lovely strain,

And the stream’s tune – best sung where wild flowers blow,

And ever sweetest where the sweetest grow.”

By far the most effective picture in the glen is the mingled masses of hyacinths and garlic which clothe the banks on both sides after we pass the Rosebank Grounds. “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching.” The hyacinth is so well known that it requires no description unless we describe it in the words of Tennyson, “the heavens upbreaking through the earth.” They are at their best when growing in masses under trees, giving at a distance the idea of a blue carpet. The way in which the stalk carries the flower is worthy of notice. Each droops on a tiny stem from a one-sided row and in this way is well protected from the rain.

After the bees and butterflies have done their work and carried the pollen from one flower to another, the roundish seed vessel begins to enlarge and the flower stalk again resumes an erect position. When the seeds are fully ripened, the capsules become dry and stiff and gradually open at the top so that as they are swayed to and fro in the wind or knocked by passing animals, the seeds are projected to a distance from the parent plant, that they may have ground room to germinate and grow.

The question may well be asked, “How is it that the seeds germinate on the surface of the soil and yet the bulbs are ultimately an inch or two deep?” It is because the germ is gradually drawn into the ground by the rootlets it sends out. More and more rootlets are sent out, as the little bulb increases in size and the dragging down process goes on until the proper depth is reached, out of the way of the frost. The bulbs are, of course, stores of food to enable the plant to bloom early in the year before the thick foliage of the trees has shut out the sunshine. The full name of the flower is Hyacinthus Nonscriptus – Latin, the hyacinth unwritten upon – and to the name the following story hangs.

Apollo, the sun-god and Zephyrus, the west wind, both wished to take under their care a beautiful youth named Hyacinth. Hyacinth seemed to favour the patronage of Apollo and accordingly the jealous anger of Zephyrus was aroused. He found his opportunity one day while Apollo and Hyacinth were enjoying their favourite game of quoits, to turn Apollo’s quoit in its flight so that it struck Hyacinth on the head and mortally wounded him. Where Hyacinth’s blood was shed, Apollo caused flowers to bloom and the petals were marked with the words “Ai, Ai” (alas, alas). Our Hyacinth is not so marked and hence the name “nonscriptus.”

The wild hyacinth is a member of the squill family and is no relation of the garden hyacinth. The blue of the hyacinth is all the more conspicuous inasmuch as white and yellow are the prevailing colours of the spring months.

“Of humblest friends, bright creatures scorn not one.”

The broad leaved garlic, conspicuous in its gracefulness, elegance and delicacy, is equally conspicuous by its strong onion-like odour and so wide-spread are the beds of garlic throughout the glen that the odour seems all-prevailing at this season.

One autumn not long ago, the writer was asked to get some garlic bulbs for a friend in Fife, suffering from nerve trouble in the leg. Although the parcel was well wrapped up in paper and inside a brief-bag, the scent of garlic seemed to fill the railway carriage.

A stranger entered, and after a few sniffs, remarked that the carriage had evidently been running through Roslin Glen that spring, so closely associated in his mind were the glen and the odour of garlic.

Many a one has watched for the garlic blossoms appearing in the hope that the plants might be lily-of-the-valley, so much alike are the two in general appearance, but the disappointment was all the greater, and the garlic was treated only the more scornfully. The most interesting feature of the plant is the curious way the leaves twist in spiral form, and the following explanation has been given. If the full leaf had to withstand the force of the wind, it would be bent over and probably torn, whereas the leaves in spiral form meet the wind at various angles and the shock to the leaves is not nearly so severe.

The effect of the wind among masses of garlic leaves is very striking as it resembles a trembling and twisting rather than mere bending. In the leaf of the garlic we have as a rule two or three complete spirals.