Our meadows have been absolutely beautiful this summer. I have been putting together a video of our meadows over the course of the summer, right up to haymaking last weekend.
Spring is here at last, and what a welcome thing it is. It started when I was cooped up in a hospital room for two weeks, watching the crocuses on the balcony bloom in their tubs, and the first small tortoiseshell butterfly flutter past my window. But I could not go out and enjoy it.
Coming out of hospital, the first thing I noticed was the wind on my face. Cold, for sure, but very welcome, and something that had been sorely missed.
They seemed almost imperceptible at first, the signs of Spring at the woods. It was very subtle. One week, you could see through the understorey, through the woods to the fields beyond. Then a few days later, you couldn’t. Just a few buds bursting here and there and the woods were transformed once again.
The daffodils came out in great numbers, followed by the lesser celandine, primroses and cowslips. This last weekend the first bluebell buds appeared, the blossom was profuse on the blackthorn, and the first cherry blossom also came into flower. Snakeshead fritillary are also in flower, and the smell of wild garlic hits you before you see the emerging leaves.
Within a few days, tiny green leaves were all over the birch trees, like little jewels, backlit by the sun. Catkins cover the willow trees, leaf buds bursting, early bees feasting on the pollen. Comma, small tortoiseshell, brimstone and peacock butterflies are everywhere in the sheltered parts of the meadow. Chiffchaffs are calling. The first blackcap is in song.
Surprisingly, for most birds are still building their nests, we even have a robin feeding her young, the nest precariously perched in an empty log bag thrown onto the top shelf of our log store.
This is the feeling of spring. The wind on your face. Some warmth in the sun. Frantic bird activity, flowers on the woodland floor, and the delicate sight of new leaves and catkins. A feeling magnified by my release from captivity. A glorious feeling. A joyful time of year.
Blackthorn and other trees of the genus Prunus are usually the first trees to come into flower. Blackthorn blossom is so delicate and pretty, dusting the bushes and hedgerows with a light frosting that looks like sugar, or light snow. As well as looking beautiful, it is really important as a source of nectar for pollinating insects that are becoming more active at this time of year. It also promises a harvest of sloes later on in the year – wonderful for including in hedgerow jams and jellies and for making sloe gin and vodka.
It isn’t just blackthorn that we find in bloom at the woods. Our orchard also has blossom on the plum trees. Most pleasing of all is the blossom on our cherry trees. We planted some wild cherry in Betty’s Wood in 2011. Not many trees were included, just a few, to provide birds with wild cherries as food in autumn. These trees have now grown large enough that they have blossomed for the first time. This is really exciting for us – our little trees are now producing nectar for the bees and other pollinators, and later in the year will provide fruit for birds, small mammals and insects. It is a sign that the young woodland is developing into a resource for wildlife.
Finally, not strictly blossom but lovely to see nonetheless, last year we had just one cowslip in Betty’s Wood. I have now given up counting – there are at least 50 of them growing on the mounds by our ponds and in the grass nearby. They are visited by the bees, as are the ribwort plantain which are just coming into flower, and provide another good source of nectar and pollen for the hive.
Spring sneaks up on you. There are a lot of very small changes that make very little difference and then everything explodes into action. One day you can see through the woods, the next, there are so many leaves that you can’t. One day there is just a little bit of growth in the grass, the next there seem to be cowslips and snakes head fritillaries all around. One day you start to notice the leaves of lesser celandine and creeping buttercup, the next they are in flower.
Spring came alive this weekend. Great spotted woodpeckers were calling and drumming. We seem to have four chiffchaffs singing in the woods this year. The yellowhammer are in song. Buzzards are swooping over the clearings and meadows. The tall grass is shaking and waving as the field voles dispute their rights to use the runs under the thatch. Other butterflies are joining the brimstones on the wing – small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma. The bees are coming alive in their hives and nests, returning home with little pollen sacs stuffed full. The woods start to smell of wild garlic. The skylark is in song all day – the song gets into your head, so much that when you return home, it remains with you, like an echo.
The coming of spring seems like a miracle every year, for all that now understand its genesis in the travel and alignment of the Earth around the Sun. It is so very exciting.