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Chasing Spring

Bluebells woods
Bluebell woods at Aqualate Mere National Nature Reserve in Shropshire, April 2018. A site managed by Natural England.

Even without the constancy of a garden close to me at the moment, I am keenly aware of all the different growths that occur throughout the year. My senses are heightened from currently living on a canal boat, being closer to nature, and I feel this is all the more from having acutely experienced winter this year.

A beautiful spring day on the canal
On the canal. Finally Spring has arrived.

My obsession starts with snowdrops, as soon as I glimpse a stray flowering one in a graveyard or somewhere I suddenly crave to see drifts of them and set about seeking such scenes. I am not a galanthophile at all, my favourite is still Galanthus nivalis - common European one, and then maybe about four or five other curious ones (S. Arnott - fragrant, Hippolyta - a double, the curious crinkly one - Diggory and Trump the perfectly patterned almost ace of spades one). What I am always after is a good coloniser, and nothing satisfies me more than seeing flowers like these defy and disobey the laws of human control, not sticking to the defined fenced areas that they were designated to, always cheeky ones hopping the fence or out of the bed into the path. This is true of all the great spring colonisers - crocuses, cyclamen, scillas, wood anemones, lesser celandine, daffodils, primroses, cowslips, violas, wood sorrel, bluebells, etc.

A mass of snowdrops found along a country road
Snowdrops along a country road.

In Wales especially down the M5 I saw primroses spill over banks and daffodils run amok, naturalising in fallow fields, brightening under the still bare branches and dark undergrowth of trees. And always those odd clumps of cultivated flowers (namely daffodils and snowdrops) that appear randomly on a roadside with seemingly no human establishments around. One of the best colony of snowdrops that I have seen is at Wisley Common, who knows who started them there and why, remnants of an old estate perhaps, or a local trying their hand at some woodland gardening. But every year, there is a tantalising glimpse of them from the A3.

Daffodils on the roadside.

The strange leafless Tussilago farfara with its naked stems easily mistaken for a dandelion comes out earlier especially on disturbed ground, and I have never understood why some people have vehemence for dandelions, they are integral to the fabric of the British Isles, they are our native flora and apparently 40 microspecies are endemic here. I prefer to let them win me over with their cheeriness in grassed banks and fields, that and daisies.

Tussilago farfara growing on a pile of rubble
Tussilago farfara growing on a pile of rubble. The leaves coming out after it has flowered.

I admire the tiny flowers that start to break out on Prunus spinosa like silent miniature fireworks and then with mixed early flowering cherries they start to lighten up the scene of the motorways. The delicate green leaves of hawthorn that first appear in the hedgerow or a mid-layer to woods.

Hedgerow floristry - Prunus spinosa, Cornus sanguinea, Artemisia vulgaris seedhead, Salix caprea catkins and first leaves of hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Hedgerow floristry, appreciating spring up close - Prunus spinosa, Cornus sanguinea, Tilia cordata, Artemisia vulgaris seedhead, Salix caprea catkins, and the first leaves of hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. Photo courtesy of Graeme Walker.

The gorse that arches itself into the canal, wind bent in the South-east near the Beachy Head cliffs, and flowers its heads off later in the Highlands bathing the air in a sweet coconut scent. The first sight of ransoms - Allium ursinum one of the early forage plants to stir excitement in the taste buds. Then it’s the trees - the willow catkins, the subtle early flowerers quietly doing their thing and finally the emergence of their leaves. The list grows longer by the day even as I write this.

Gorse flowering abundantly in the Highlands
Gorse in the Highlands.

I am counting and looking out for every signs of growth in winter, anything that gives hope and break the monotony of winter and the weather, reminding me that there’s life. Even catching the scent of Lonicera purpurisii in the air planted in a supermarket car park is a boon. Then it gets to a stage where it is impossible to keep account of all that is growing and the acceptance that it is a deluded and absurd task, succumbing to the flow of life that happens beyond my control. But before then there is always the chase, the almost feverish chase, the foolish guise of catching everything before it passes over.


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