A place where you might spy upon fairies and their flowers…
Flower Fairies of the Summer
Here in North Hessen, and in much of Germany, it’s possible to walk for miles and miles along farm lanes and the edges of fields, and in and out of woods both large and small. It’s the “edge” places, especially, that are full of wildflowers. These scenes feel to me, well, very English. Only because I’ve watched too much BBC over the years and because of some of the picture books for children that I loved, especially Flower Fairies of the Summer.
I won’t bore you with my excited observations of the biogeography of Europe and why it shouldn’t be surprising at all to find what I call “English” flowers or birds here in Germany. And of course there are proper German names for all these things, because they are also German (and French, and Polish, and Dutch, and Slovakian, and…). Still, it felt like a kind of literary homecoming to actually see for the first time some wildflowers that I’d only known from books.
This strange kind of homecoming began when I, fresh from North America, first saw the wild poppies here in Habichtswald. One of the earliest of the summer wildflowers and seen wherever there are wheat fields or hay meadows. I can’t think of any scene so reminiscent of what we New Worlders imagine “old” Europe and Britain to be and still is, at least in some ways. With the poppies and with all of these flowers, it’s as if I’d been told, as a child, stories over and over again about a famed relative until it didn’t really matter if they were real or invented. They were just pictures, frozen postures. And then one day you meet them in person. And they’re young and vibrant, timeless, and their names can be spoken out loud when you encounter them right here under a blue sky with towering clouds, a breeze blowing…it’s real.
I had kept my little book of Flower Fairies of the Summer for over 40 years after my mother had given it to me. It had moved with me countless times, somehow surviving the necessary purge of most of my books. It didn’t make the last cut, the move across the Atlantic. Certainly not because it was too bulky, but because I felt it was time to stop hoarding all these childhood memories and give up this thing of beauty and joy that another child might encounter it. I miss my mother when I think of that little book. I am grateful that she gave me things like this, these little diversions, interventions of whimsy.
Of course, thanks to the internet, nothing is lost forever. I’ve learned that the Flower Fairies series, first published in 1923, is alive and well, thanks to the heirs of #Cicely Mary Barker and internet marketing. Out of respect for copyright, I am not going to reproduce any of the paintings here. But you can click on the line of verse (Barker’s) under each of the photos below to get to the official website with the flower fairy portraits and the poems.
The thing to realize about fairies is this: it’s not that the people are so small but that the flowers are so large. If you give yourself the space and time to look at the blossoms of any weeds you find growing in ditches and the edges of fields, they really do appear huge and magical.
What do you see?”
The cool green woodland,
The fat velvet bee”
“The wheat’s turning yellow,
Ripening for sheaves;
I hear the little fellow
Who scares the bird-thieves”
“When dim and dewy twilight falls,
Then comes the time
When harebells chime
For fairy feasts and fairy balls.”
Names of the Flowers:
The Harebell is Campanula rotundifolia, a.k.a. “Glockenblumen”
The Commone Poppy is Papaver rhoeas, a.k.a. “Mohnblume” or “Klatschrose”
The Foxglove is Digitalis purpurea, a.k.a. “Fuchskraut” or “Rote Fingerhut”