April 2018: Nature Watch

March 26 2018

Well, March was exciting wasn’t it! The Beast from the East... Storm Emma... 10cm of snow!

Well, March was exciting wasn’t it! The Beast from the East... Storm Emma... 10cm of snow! It was good to have a reason to wrangle the toboggan from the loft but I hope that by now the storm clouds have cleared. It is time for the plants to be painting  our world colourful again. Two flowers in particular seem to me to be the life and soul of spring-time. By the end of May they will be over, a fading green background to summer, but in spring you can’t beat a glorious pool of bluebells, unless it is with a perfect bank of primroses. 

The wild bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is the deep, deep blue of the first light of a clear April day. A bluebell can begin its growth within the bulb however cold the weather and therefore it steals a march on other spring flowers such as cow parsley and dandelions that require warmth to set them growing. With global warming, mild spring weather is now coming around two weeks earlier than 50 years ago so the bluebells’ natural advantage is being worn away: this may represent a threat to their survival. Britain has about 50% of the world’s population of wild bluebell, a responsibility we should take very seriously for this is a seriously beautiful bloom, both in close up and en masse. The bluebell of our gardens is Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica) or, commonly, a hybrid between the two. It is also a lovely flower, the blue of a rain-washed sky, but the other is lovelier. Locally, you will find wild bluebells in Badock’s Wood: choose a calm, warm afternoon to appreciate their soft fragrance which is similar to that of the hyacinth – though not everybody is able to detect it.

Primroses take their English name from the Latin for “first rose” and although they are not in the same family they do bear a certain resemblance to a wild rose.  They were the favourite flower of Disraeli and on Primrose Day, April 19th - the date of his death – bunches were placed on his statue at Westminster Abbey and on his grave, to remember him and his work (which was carried on by the Primrose League). It is hard to find fault with the simple perfection of primroses - and why would you try? They are the palest yellow with a deeper egg-yolky centre though, again, hybrids with garden Polyanthus have led to colour variations. They bloom in neatly gathered bunches, almost as though they have been arranged by a florist in a tied posy. They cluster together on banks and in hedge bottoms, although they will also mingle with the bluebells on a wider slope too. 

If you find a bank of surprisingly blue bluebells with pale peeping primroses in a public open space or even on a garden boundary it may mark the remains of a truly ancient hedgerow, a natural ghost of the land before Bristol.  the urban dweller can have the better view!