Wildflowers On The South Downs

I’m not terribly fond of petrol mowers at the best of times but when they break-down repeatedly, I think them insufferable.   If only they would listen to reason and I could patiently explain how simple their duties really are.

Buttercups

At least a faulty mower induced forced-stop to mowing at The Old Forge gave me a compensation of buttercups;

Speedwell

and a patch of blue speedwell salved – a bit – my disgust at uppity machinery.

Flax South Downs

July 2014

As pretty as flowering lawns are however, for big colour impact on the Downs you must lift up thine eyes unto the hills.   In summer, fields are turned golden by ripening wheat; or the powder blue of flowering flax.

Poppies South Downs (2)

In July 2013, I was wowed by a remarkable field poppy display.

Poppies South Downs

Mesmerised, I took far more photos than I ever needed (or published – so here’s another two).  The sheer amount of flower hasn’t been repeated since; though poppies aren’t the only wild-flower to daub the skyline above the ‘Forge.

DSM_1984

In May, the field next to the ‘poppy field’ glows from a mile away.

Flower Meadow South Downs (2)

At a distance one might mistake it for rape but no, it’s buttercups again.

Flower Meadow South Downs (1)

Thousands of buttercups; with cowslips

Flower Meadow South Downs (4)

and some yellow rattle too.

Daisies South Downs (1)

From my new front door, a short walk leads to pasture

Daisies South Downs (2)

and small paddocks smothered by buttercups and daisies.

Daisies South Downs

And I instantly recall  a primary school hymn, ‘Daisies are our silver‘.

DSC_0026

About the time I was singing ‘Daisies are our silver’ – for the first time

Almost 50 years later, the first verse still comes easily and I sang it again, lustily like a Welsh miner.  (There was no-one about).

Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.

DSM_1798

As well as charming to a five-year old boy with a nascent gardening gene, the words proved prophetic too – given the chances of me ever owning a chest of treasure.

Flower Meadow South Downs (3)

Since I first visited fifteen years ago, these paddocks have been grazed by ponies and horses and, in one case, by the same pony – despite the toxicity of buttercups.  (My equine dietary expertise isn’t up to much and no doubt some horse owners will be dismayed at buttercup-rich, poisonous pasture.  I’ll just add that in East Sussex, in spring, it is a very common sight).

May South Downs

Higher up, a larger field is burnished too; mirroring distant blocks of rape.

Cowslips South Downs

Only here, the predominate species isn’t buttercup but cowslip; a colossal number of cowslips.  Which doesn’t match my usual view of them at all: an occasional hedgerow flower or a few individuals lining a country lane.

I hope that July 2016 will see a return to magnificent poppy-red splodges above the ‘Forge.*  But if not, that’s OK.  I know that one year they’ll be back; and will again force people to pull over, park and whip out their camera phones – as they did in 2013.  In the meantime, buttercups and cowslips have magically transformed the Downs to cloths of gold; far more gold than I should have or hold.

oooOOOooo

The Lyrics of ‘Daisies Are Our Silver’

I rarely meet anyone who knows the hymn I sang as a young boy, but for those of you who do, (but like me, can only remember the first verse) here are all the lyrics.  (I’m pleased speedwell gets a mention, if not cowslips).

Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.

Raindrops are our diamonds
And the morning dew;
While for shining sapphires
We’ve the speedwell blue.

These shall be our emeralds
Leaves so new and green;
Roses make the reddest
Rubies ever seen.

God, who gave these treasures
To your children small,
Teach us how to love them
And grow like them all.

Make us bright as silver:
Make us good as gold;
Warm as summer roses
Let our hearts unfold.

Gay as leaves in April,
Clear as drops of dew
God, who made the speedwell,
Keep us true to you.

The words to ‘Daisies are our silver‘ were written by Joyce Maxtone Graham, under the pseudonym, Jan Struther.  She also wrote the hymn, ‘Lord of all Hopefulness‘ (which surely you do remember?) and the novel, Mrs Miniver – one of the most beautifully written books I know.

*It didn’t.

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42 thoughts on “Wildflowers On The South Downs

  1. How beautiful, we get the occasional splash of poppy red when farmers have missed spraying part of a field and butter cups. I have never seen so many cowslips in one area, I guess those areas of the downs have never been sprayed with weed killer.

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    • Yes, I think you’re right – it’s all unimproved, non-sprayed pasture. When I first moved to this area the rich and diverse range of wildflowers was a delight, especially on the scarp face of the Downs where grass is really short and the flowers shine through. D

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  2. All I can say is WOW !!! What a multitude of wildflowers….Your photos are stunningly beautiful. and I loved your observation of local ponies proclivity for munching buttercups, despite their reputation for ruin….If you have such a mass of similar photos…do the world a favour and do a book…We’ll all thank you for it : )

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  3. Lovely! Here in North Carolina, our Dept of Transportation plants masses of wildflowers along the interstate as a beautification program (see http://www.ncdot.gov/doh/operations/dp_chief_eng/roadside/wildflowerbook/). It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that’s similar to your hills and fields, although on a smaller scale. Some useful info in their booklet: http://www.ncdot.gov/doh/operations/dp_chief_eng/roadside/wildflowerbook/download/NCDOT_Wildflower_Booklet.pdf

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  4. What a beautiful landscape—spacious and open enough that you can truly revel in those gorgeous wildflowers. Wonderful photos, Dave. You look ready for mischief in that portrait in the best way. I haven’t read Mrs. Miniver and will fix that ASAP. xS

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  5. Great photos. There’s always something about a field full of solid colour that cheers me up, even if around here it’s the solid yellow of rape!

    But a broken petrol mower is no excuse. Former neighbours once suffered a breakdown of their electric mower. Cables and blades don’t mix well! Sent their son out to cut the front lawn with a pair of kitchen scissors. Kept him occupied for a few days of the summer hols (and kept everyone talking for the rest of the summer, and since!). Didn’t want to borrow my mower as they were scared of petrol! So out with the shears! Give the lovingly named “The Boy” something to earn his pocket money. Or borrow some cows from Margaret.

    Oh, and “Welsh Miner”!? Few of those around now and in opencasts they swear rather than sing! Have you been watching “How Green Was My Valley” again?

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    • Hi John, when ‘The Boy’ was 8 or 9 he used to mow the lawns at a previous house with a non-powered push mower. He really enjoyed it (honest) and it kept him happily absorbed for an hour or so. Sadly, his enthusiasm for mowing has faded … but maybe offering him the choice between scissors or our current mower might be an incentive. Thanks for the tip. And don’t you have quite the memory? Remembering an obscure post on an obscure blog? You’re probably right though and my Welsh Miner is probably just some weird Roddy McDowall construct. D

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  6. I remember ‘Daisies Are Our Silver’ from early schooldays, too, and ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’ always. Jan Struther also wrote ‘When A Knight Won His Spurs’, another favourite hymn for children. It seems curious that she was an agnostic, and apparently not always an easy character, yet writes with such humanity and compassion both in her hymns and in ‘Mrs Miniver’ – for anyone who has only seen the film starring Greer Garson, I do recommend reading the book, which is (as you know) entirely different in many ways and an utter joy.
    Your photographs are truly beautiful. The South Downs are one of my favourite places and now I am hankering to see them again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a big fan of Greer Garson (Random Harvest is one of my favourite films) but yes, the Mrs Miniver film isn’t a patch on the book – though in places it’s still charming. I loved ‘When a Knight’ too as a kid. I mean what’s not to like? It was about knights, and shields and lances! D

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      • I wasn’t saying anything against Greer Garson. She was beautiful and talented, true Hollywood royalty at a time when star quality and mystique were more important than the latest Instagram shot (ah, me!) She is luminous in ‘Mrs Miniver’. I also loved her in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Laurence Olivier (1940), ‘The Valley of Decision’ opposite Gregory Peck (1945) – which never seems to get shown on free-to-view any more – and ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ with Robert Donat (1939). In the first and last, particularly, her warmth and humour really shone through.

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        • ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’ is another favourite. (I’m a big Robert Donat fan too). As you say all these wonderful old films seem to have disappeared or at least I don’t see them any more on terrestrial TV. When I was growing up they were Sunday afternoon staples – though I haven’t seen, I think, either that version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ nor ‘The Valley of Decision.’ You know your stuff! D

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          • Just a quick follow-up: I am sure you are spending all your time watering, watering and more watering just now, but in case you need a noon-time break, a long lunch, or want to hit ‘record’, ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is scheduled to be on BBC2 (‘other television channels are available’) on Wednesday, 27 July (12.10-2.05 pm). You need to be prepared for liberties with plotting, costumes, etc (this was 1940s Hollywood, after all), but it’s a delight in its own way and you can really enjoy seeing Greer Garson sparkle and spark as Lizzie Bennet!

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  7. Gorgeous!! I took lots of buttercup photos at the weekend too, but haven’t quite got to the posting stage yet. I’m just fascinated by so many simple plants that I had forgotten about whilst I’d been away. Always remembered buttercups as no more than two inches off the ground. And you’ll have to let us all know if the poppies eventuate this year; I’ll be on the train, quick as a flash!

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  8. Beautiful photographs, as ever, thanks David. Like you I remember that hymn from my primary school days…thanks for helping me reminisce to those golden days!

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  9. Swathes of buttercups and daisies here on the SE coast, too. I’m not sure if it’s because I just haven’t properly looked before but there do seem to be far more than ever this year. And loads and loads of beautiful, swaying oxeye daisies. It’s thrilling.

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    • Thanks Lyn. Jan Struther certainly had a knack for children’s hymns – jewels were always going to grab my attention and her ‘When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old’ had the same effect. D

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  10. Beautiful . Stunning, actually. We went for a walk along the coastal path last weekend, and the wildflowers were amazing, but my battery was dead so I don’t have proof. Oh, and thank you for the ear worm😠 I remember that hymn too…

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  11. Sussex is so beautiful; I’m glad I live here too even if the weather is rubbish at the moment. I also warbled that hymn as a child – the tune came back to me as soon as I saw your words. Great to see all the verses again.

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