Thursday, 7 May 2009

Flower of the week - cowslip

Cowslips (primula veris) on the dunes. Not in quite such profusion as last year, but you can see they grow quite thickly in places. Once upon a time, people must have made excellent cowslip wine around here, but I'm glad that we just enjoy them for their beauty now. Some of its old names are Fairy Bells, Paigle (which I've heard it called) and St Peter's Herb, as well as Palsywort because it could cure paralysis, it was thought. I can't find much reference to a Northumbrian name, but a Notes and Queries from 1898 says it was known as cow-stropple (throat). A charming habit was to make cowslip balls from the golden flowers, thus:
Down we make our cowslip-ball. Everyone knows the process; to nip off the tufts of flowerets just below the top of the stalk, and hang each cluster nicely balanced across a riband, till you have a long string like a garland; and then to press them closely together, and tie them tightly up. We went on very prosperously, considering; as people say of a young lady's drawing, or a Frenchman's English, or a woman's tragedy...To be sure we met with a few accidents. First, Lizzy spoiled nearly all her cowslips by snapping them off too short; so there was a fresh gathering; in the next place May overset my full basket, and sent the blossoms floating, like so many fairy favours, down the brook; then when we were going on pretty steadily, just as we had made a superb wreath and were thinking of tying it together, Lizzy, who held the riband, caught a glimpse of a gorgeous butterfly, all brown and red and purple, and skipping off to pursue the new object, let go her hold; so all our treasures were abroad again. At last, however, by dint of taking a branch of alder as a substitute for Lizzy, and hanging the basket in a pollard-ash, out of sight of May, the cowslip-ball was finished. What a concentration of fragrance and beauty it was! golden and sweet to satiety! righ to sight, and touch, and smell!
(Mary Russell Mitford, Our Village)
I think you can judge from the description that the grass was thickly carpeted with the golden blooms. I am trying to establish it in our garden, without much success until this year, when I found a seedling flowering in a pot that usually holds a hosta. It is very welcome there, and encourages me to persevere.


Scriptor Senex said...

It seems that once you can get one established it starts to seed itself and the clump just grows and expands. I tried for ages with no success but now - from one little seedling - I've got a great clump and a few scattered ones. Hope yours does the same.

GeraniumCat said...

You make me feel very hopeful about it! I've got one to plant out and I shall go ahead with it now.