“Consider the lilies of the field.” Yes, why not? What wild flowers can be found in our parish compared with what might have been found forty or fifty years ago?
I can recall meadows so thick with buttercup that they looked like seas of gold and remember our churchyard in May as one white sheet of horse-daisies (ox-eye daisies). In the 1930s there was a hayfield by ‘The Crane’ with more yellow rattle in it than grass. Today no yellow rattle there nor anywhere else in Leigh.
The river banks in summer used to be flanked by purple loosestrife, yellow toadflax and willow herb. Some still remain but in the 1940s the Himalayan balsam made a big takeover and is now the most flamboyant occupier of the riverside. Amongst the unusual plants of the riverbank today is a specimen or two of mimulus or monkey flower. And at the shallows there is some flowering rush.
When the railway banks were well tended by annual mowing they were carpeted with masses of wild flowers; sweet violets ranging in colour from white to pink, lilac, purple and blue. Wild strawberries abounded and by the footpath crossing at Knotley Hall there was a variety in which the fruit was white, large an luscious. The ballast for the railway tracks came from Dungeness and there came with it the seeds of such showy flowers a viper’s bugloss and yellow horned poppy. The tracks are now sprayed with weed killer.
You can still find some red campion in the Straight Mile but the dyer’s greenweed which also abounded has all but disappeared.
I am pleased to find that the strange five-faced Moschatel still blooms on the banks of the Bid Brook.
I am always on the lookout for some old favourite to return or something new to appear. Last year it was the Spotted Orchid in an unexpected place. But I have had to wait until 1985 to find a genuine wild cowslip in Leigh.
by H V Wood (Parish Magazine article August 1985)