Retiring May to lovely June

The riverside walk through Roslin Glen. Photo: The Bryce Collection
The riverside walk through Roslin Glen. Photo: The Bryce Collection

Winnie Stevenson (Roslin Heritage Society) continues her series of articles exploring Roslin Glen’s flora and fauna.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Even if Wordsworth had the tendency to exaggerate the influence of the teaching of Nature, his message to the world has served to open man’s eyes to the beauties and glories with which Nature lavishly surrounds us, and the far-reaching influence which a study of her works exercises over the heart and mind.

In the early days of June, the Glen is at its best. Overhead the trees, like the canopied roof of a grand cathedral display their brightest shades, and the beech, the elm, and the oak are rivals in the freshness and purity of their emerald green, all seeking our sympathetic regard.

The conspicuous white blossoms of the geans which were the attraction of May, now strew the right-of-way at various stages like confetti showered after the wedding. The Japanese, it is said, have a national holiday to feast their eyes on the beauty of the gean, and why not?

There is many a holiday spent to less purpose. June outrivals May in its profusion of colours. Nearly all the May flowers survive and June with its longer and brighter days “sets budding more, and still more, later flowers for the bees.”

There’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean

To be some happy creature’s palace.

A humble, inconspicuous little flower, common from end to end of the Glen and to be found now in nearly every wood is the Common Bugle, a member of the same family as the red and white deadnettles, sage, mint and thyme.

Though so common, it is not well known because it is readily overlooked, its general appearance being dull and sombre.

It is nevertheless well worth a second glance as the blending of its colours, bluish purple and green, in flower, bud and leaf, is a fine study. Indeed, so attractive does it become on closer acquaintance that it has been introduced to the herbaceous borders and the rock-work of one of the finest gardens in the country.

Like the hyacinth and other blue flowers, it shows a tendency to revert to white and the white blossomed specimens though rare, are to be met with in the Glen. Two or three small clumps have established themselves on the Hawthornden side of the water near the old ruined cottage where Robbie Howden, the poet gardener, made his home for many years.

Probably because it is less common, the white flowering variety appears more attractive. The name of the plant is said to be derived from the Latin term for a small glass pipe which was used in the adornment of the feminine headdress in early times and which the plant is said to resemble.

Another suggestion is that “bugle” is merely a corruption of the botanical name “Ajuga Reptans” – “ajuga” having been erroneously spelt “abuga” by some of the older writers. Ajuga is certainly associated with the Latin verb “Abigo” – to drive away – and various medicinal powers were ascribed to this plant.

The little Speedwell’s darling blue.

Like the reflection of the summer skies of Italy is the colour of the Speedwell, the Bird’s Eye, as the children call it. By some we have heard it confused with forget-me-not, but there is little cause for this.

The blues are quite distinct in shade, the flower of the Speedwell is darker and larger and the foliage of the two plants bears no resemblance. Though no more common than the Bugle, and no more conspicuous from the point of view of size, its prolific flowering and the brightness and sheen of its blue petals make it so attractive that it is as much favoured as the other is ignored.

Yet it is a difficult flower to cull, for the petals if at all nearly full blown tumble off at once. Possibly it is by reason of this “flighty disposition” that it has earned its name Speedwell.

But “Speed-well” was a common term of valediction in the feudal ages and for this reason the name is not so very inappropriate to the little flower.

Bird’s Eye as a name is more applicable to its brightness and brilliancy than to its actual colouring as very few birds – the jackdaw is one – have blue eyes. Veronica, the family name, is very likely derived from St Veronica, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, who was said to have wiped away the sweat drops from the forehead of our saviour, and consequently her handkerchief retained ever afterwards an imprint of His features.

Germander Speedwell, the most common species, is described by Tennyson as “a clear germander eye.”

Many of the flowers are peculiar in having only two stamens which project very prominently from the little tube, but as their most frequent visitors are the yellow striped Hover-flies which always seem to be shooting rather than flying through the air, the two stamens will be quite sufficient support for their little bodies and quite sufficient to coat the underside of their bodies with pollen and therefore a larger number of stamens would be in the way.

•This is the sixth in a series of articles, sourced by Winnie Stevenson (Roslin Heritage Society), which appeared in the Midlothian Journal in 1914.