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Flower Lore

Bessie Wallace


WHEN I was a little girl, I remember bringing in a bunch of marigolds from the garden. My father said, 'Well, dear, you have brought something to my memory. When I was a little boy I remember my mother saying 'Son, go out in the garden and bring in a few marigolds, to go on the top of the broth'. Now the old folks had a very particular reason for doing this. Very often the broth was made with a piece of fat meat, and the 'eyes' of fat floated on the top the marigolds being bitter in taste, the petals were plucked off and sprinkled on the top of the basin, so that the fat shouldn't upset the digestion.'

Now let us come into the garden.

Here is a Bay-tree. In olden days there wasn't a garden without one, because where a bay grew, the house never caught fire. Most of the houses were thatched then, but the bay-leaf tree kept them safe and sound.

Here is the little rosemary bush-rosemary for remembrance. Didn't the Holy Mother spread out the little washed garments of the Baby Jesus to dry on a rosemary?- and our Grandmothers did the same, the baby-clothes and all fine bits of linen and lace were always dried on it.

Growing on the hedge there, are gilly-flowers and musk, and here right in the centre of the hedge is a scow, or as now we learn to call it an elder-tree. In most of the gardens anywhere in the country you will see the elder growing; go into the backgardens in the town, too, and if there is an old wall, you are likely to see one rooted in it. No-one In old days would be without a scow no evil spirits would come where it grew and only good piskies visited the garden, and if on a Midsummer Eve you climbed up into its branches you would see the King of the Fairies go by.

In my garden of an evening I sometimes watch little knots of tiny flies buzzing about, and they always seem to be very happy. I asked an old friend of mine what they were and she said, "They are the piskies, dear. Don't touch them or go through them you don't know how they will take it! Then I asked someone else who said, 'They are the spirits of the departed.' Anyhow, they seem to enjoy themselves.

Traditions and folklore make us dream or perhaps we are carried off in thought by the piskies-I wonder!

Not flowers alone were planted in the garden, but seeds of love were sown there too. When our grandparents were young it was a custom in the evening for sweethearts to walk round the different flower-beds, and the flowers with theirnames would help them to express their love one for another. There was Love-in-the-Mist and Love Entangle, Maid Love and Boy's Love, also Look-up-and-kiss-me and Forget-me-not, sometimes alas with Love-lies bleeding.

Here is a little rhyme we used to say to Boy's Love: "Boy's Love, girl's delight, To kiss by day and hug by night."

First published in Old Cornwall Vol 4 1939