By Rebecca Robinson
Spring has always been one of my favourite seasons. After a long, cold winter, the earth gently awakens with the return of the sun, warming and softening the frozen earth beneath our feet. Soon, too, the smell of freshly-cut grass – zesty and clean – will fill the air.
When I spot my first snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), sometime between January and March, I know that warmer days are on the way. Catching sight of these bell-shaped white flowers always fills my heart with hope. Many others throughout time must have felt the same way, too, as the lesser-known name for the humble snowdrop is ‘the flower of hope’ – and after the frosty dark days of winter, a snowdrop is undoubtedly a sign of the return to lighter, brighter, and sunnier days.
To me, snowdrops – with their gently nodding-heads – always look as if they are waving goodbye to winter.
Then, shortly after the appearance of the snowdrop comes a brighter bloom. What could be more spring-like than the daffodil? The botanical name for this bold yellow bloom is Narcissus, and its frilly crown and trumpet is a distinctive sight during February and March. These are the flowers that never fail to lift our spirits. These are the flowers that my husband gave me just the other day – a gift to brighten my day. These, too, are the flowers of poets. They so inspired William Wordsworth that he wrote his best-known poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ all about these vibrant spring blooms, more commonly known as daffodil. In this poem, he describes how, when out walking with his sister, he had seen ‘A host, of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, / Fluttering and dancing in the breeze, / Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.’
There is so much to inspire us in the natural world, and it is not hard to be awe-struck by the bursting-into-life wildness of springtime.
In our local woodlands, lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is stirring. A member of the buttercup family, its heart-shaped golden-orange petals provide pops of colour amongst the tree trunks. Sweet violets, too, with their pastel purple, lime-coloured veins and pop of plum, lend a friendly-face to the forest, much like their close relative, the pansy. If we look to our woods and hedgerows, we may also spy primrose (Primula vulgaris) with its pale buttery-yellow blossoms, and slow-growing wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), sometimes called thimbleweed, with its deep, musky smell and delicate white and yellow flowers.
Always a sign of ancient woodland, too, is wild garlic (Allium ursinum). We so often smell it before seeing it, with its fresh, mild, garlicky scent filling the air. But when we do see it, it is a spellbinding sight as its glossy green leaves and starbursts of silvery flowers lie scattered like star-fields across our woodlands, marshlands and fens. In early May, too, our woods fill with the distinctive sight of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).
Sometimes called cuckoo’s boots, lady’s nightcap, witches’ thimbles, or fairy flowers, we see its ethereal beauty reflected in these delightful folkloric names that seem to have been plucked straight from the pages of a fairy-tale.
Pussy willow catkins are another charmingly named springtime sight. Tall stemmed and furry-grey, they are as soft as any fluffy kitten. Nature is all around us, filled with wild stories and wonder – and right now, the wild is waking up.
Our trees, too, will soon become bright with bud and bloom. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), sometimes called the witch wiggin tree, once showered with stunning scarlet berries in the autumn, now comes alive with masses of milky-coloured flowers. The May Tree – more commonly called the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) will soon flood with flat-topped flowers, flecked with pink and the colour of sugared almonds. But perhaps one of the most famous and most beloved trees of springtime is the wild cherry blossom. A member of the prunus family, its sudden and fleeting froth of softest pink and white blossom stop us in our tracks, reminding us all to enjoy each season while it lasts, however brief and ephemeral it may be.