It’s been quite a treat to stare out of our kitchen window these last two days. We have three lilac trees, one purple, one mauve and one white, which put on a spectacular and perfumed performance for one week only in May. Two mornings ago, there was not a bud in sight. By the evening, tight little green buds had appeared. Yesterday they were bigger. Today they’ve revealed their colours. Tomorrow they’ll be out. Then we go on holiday ….. and miss the rest.
Here’s what these hot few days in early May have produced in the garden. A few early flowers: narcissi , primroses still survive – just.
Naked trees have suddenly unfurled tender young leaves. Blossom blossoms. Bluebells and dandelions and poinsettia have appeared. The first wisteria flowers shyly peek from behind their delicate leaves. Spring has sprung.
And here is some May time music: Thomas Morley’s ‘Now is the month of maying’, sung by the Beaumont Singers.
I’m now on Day Nine of The Great British Coughing Virus, and as you may be unlucky enough to know, it ain’t fun. I’ve done nothing worth writing about, and my creativity quotient is at an all-time-low. Instead, I thought I’d share with you the piece I wrote for my U3A Writing Group the other week, following the prompt ‘red’.
Spring: Red, yellow, white or green?
Spring is not red. Spring is white, as the late snowdrops poke their heads above the frosty soil. It’s yellow with primroses, daffodils and aconites: and later, laburnum and dandelions. It’s fresh citrus green, with young tender grass and unfurling leaves.
Summer is red. Summer is scarlet strawberries, velvet raspberries and glossy cherries. It’s poppies among fields of wheat. It’s glowing noses and peeling shoulders on a crowded beach. It’s roses and nasturtiums and salvia and geranium vying for space in the summer flower bed.
Autumn is red. In autumn, leaves drop from the trees, turning from green to yellow and then to russet red as they reach the ground. Crab apples glow on trees, and foragers like me gather them, and tumble them into a pan to simmer with sugar and spices to make a translucent ruby jelly for spreading on toast through the bleak winter months.
Winter is red. Bright berries poke out from beneath the sleek green leaves of the holly. Vermilion rose hips stand starkly on black branches, cheerfully transforming barren twigs and colouring the winter landscape. There’s little Robin Redbreast, perching on a scarlet pillar box, and all those gaudy Christmas decorations.
Spring is not red. Or at least I didn’t think so, not until last week. Here’s what I found on a walk across a Daleside farmland: a ewe, with two only-just-born lambs. Her babies were stained bright red with her blood, as she licked them clean. Spring that day was a Red Letter Day, celebrating new life.
I was out for a convalescent constitutional this afternoon: William had passed A Bug onto me last week, and I’ve been a little delicate. I hadn’t taken my camera with me, only my phone, so these images aren’t the finest. But I don’t care. They’re evidence that spring is on the way. I wish you could hear, as I could, the birds singing as they do only when they too know that short winter days have passed. Yes, spring is springing.
I know I’ve mentioned them already, but this year’s crop of snowdrops has been quite astonishing. Maybe they weren’t quite such a feature of our local landscape in France. Maybe when we last lived in England, because we were in town, we saw them only tucked into quiet corners of suburban gardens, or on occasional weekend sorties. Perhaps snowdrops round here are always this special. But for us, this year has been a real treat.
Snowdrops have been almost the first thing we see as we set foot outside the house. They’ve been in dense groves in nearby woodland. They’ve been on sheltered verges. At first slender, pointing their sheathed leaves upwards in search of light, now they’ve opened their petals into blowsy bells and flattened their leaves gently towards the ground beneath. This is the sure signal that they’re on the way out. Gardens are displaying the first of the early crocus, and even daffodils are opening in more sheltered spots. I think snowdrops prefer to be the centre of attention, prepared to share the woodland only with occasional patches of aconites. Now that spring is really on its way, and the birds are honing their voices in preparation for their courtship rituals, the snowdrops are preparing to allow their flowers and leaves to wither and die, as the bulbs enjoy their long and nourishing hibernation below ground.
Little tells me more forcefully than a walk through the woods at this time of year that we are back in England. Instead of crisp brown leaves underfoot, from the Autumn before and the Autumn before that, there are narrow damp paths through the rich carpet of undergrowth.
And that smell! As you walk, inevitably bruising the leaves that crowd onto your path, you’ll smell the pungent notes of garlic: because those leaves, topped off by a mass of star-shaped flowers, are wild garlic (or ransoms, ramps or bear’s garlic), and they’re unknown in the part of France where we lived. In among, competing for the sun which dapples in through the tree canopy, are bluebells. At the moment, they’re largely still in bud but give them a few days and they too will carpet the woodland floor in a shimmering violet-blue. And these are our English bluebells. They’re more graceful than the upright, paler Spanish bluebells that we sometimes saw in France.
The blogosphere is crammed with suggestions for making use of the garlic, among the earliest greenstuffs available after the winter months. Here‘s what David Lebovitz suggests.
Well, I rely on David to supply ideas for delicious grub, so off into the woods I went for garlic leaves. I was careful to pick only leaves, rather than yank up entire plants with their tiny bulbs, so that they would grow again next year, though a few bulbs crept into my harvest despite my efforts. I’d taken my haul in any case from the woodland edge, as the garlic plants made an escape bid into nearby fields.
And here’s the resulting pasta dish. Frankly, we were a little disappointed. It wasn’t the most interesting dish we’d ever eaten. But I could see the charm of these leaves to those who’d struggled through the winter months on a diet of beans, swede, and the odd bit of salted pork. Wild garlic has a bright, ‘green’ flavour, mildly garlicky of course, and I will try it again, maybe substituting it for spinach in a tart with walnuts and a sharp cheese for instance. I always enjoy an excuse to forage for food.