A Month of Marching Contrasts

A host of shining daffodils
Daffodils come crowding in as March bursts in

March is a strange month – one foot in winter and one foot in spring.

Sudden snow covers the garden
A sudden coat of snow

If the sun shines you can really feel the warmth. Turning to face the sun, you can feel the rays caressing your cheek like a gentle blessing. Spring blossom cascades over hedgerows, brightening twigs that have long looked drab over the winter months.

A cascade of blossom on grey twigs
White blossom brightens the hedgerows

‘Take note of the courageous daffodils that emerge no matter what the weather throws at them. Now is the time to push our own heads up and out of the soil in the knowledge that we are deeply rooted. It’s time to dare to share our calling with the world, to take risks and journey forth.’ (Louise Press)

A clump of daffodils emerges bavely from the soil
Brave daffodils emerge from winter’s hard soil

Plants, bushes and trees put forth tentative shoots and blossom buds – but then, as one writer has said, – ‘March responds carelessly, brutishly, showering them one day in snow, the next in rain, then in warm, glowing, impossibly gorgeous sunshine, then in snow again.’

Solitary figure fighting a way through the snow
A figure trudges through a sudden fall of snow

But perhaps the animal kingdom has more faith – March sees the birds beginning to nest.

A bird brings food back to the nest for hungry mouths
Birds build intricate nests for raising their broods

Early lambs will be let out into the open.

Young lambs are let out into the open.
Lambs explore the great outdoors

Truly, the beginning of spring is gentle and violent; chilly and balmy; joyous and fiercesome. Truly a month of contrasts.

Tulips and boots - symbols of the contrary nature of spring.
What will spring hold in store for you?

A Gala of Galanthus…

‘…I tell you, no Palm of Victory or Tree of Knowledge or Laurel of Glory is more beautiful than this little, white, fragile cup on a pale stalk waving in the rough wind.’

so wrote Karel Capek, in The Gardener’s Year in 1929.

A single snowdrop speaks of the promise of spring
…fragile cup waving on a pale stalk.

Years have passed since this was written but still it holds true. In the greyness of reluctantly lengthening February days the sight of a carpet of snowdrops lifts the spirits and offers promises of hope and delight as the shy spring flowers gradually and gently unfurl delicate leaves and optimistic blooms.

Masses of snowdrops beside a fallen tree trunk
A carpet of snowdrops to lift the spirits

The technical name for a snowdrop is Galanthus, from the Greek word, gala, meaning ‘milk’ and anthos, meaning ‘flower’. Thus we get ‘milk flower’ and, indeed, the pure white blooms resemble upturned drops of spilt milk.

A drop of milk resembles the cup of the snowdrop
A drop of milk…

It is a signal that winter’s grip is loosening when snowdrops make their appearance – but make sure you see them in their masses as it is said to be unlucky to see just one solitary snowdrop. Taking them indoors is a portent of an impending death – so enjoy them in their masses and in the great outdoors!

A gleam of sun illuminates a mass of snowdrops
Enjoy the massed spectacle of snowdrops – but in the great outdoors!

There is a touching legend that tells how, when Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, Eve sat crying in the cold bitter wind and hostile environment that now confronted them. An angel took pity on her and breathed on a snowflake, sending it fluttering down to earth. Where the snow landed, snowdrops grew.

What made the snowdrops grow? an angel's breath on a snowdrop.
Where the snow landed, snowdrops grew…

In Romania, the flowers are known as ‘Daughters of the Wind.’ Legend has it that each year, the sun returns to Earth at winter’s end as a young girl. One year, Winter didn’t want to let the young girl go. He kidnapped the girl. Her lover fought Winter and managed to free her but was wounded in the process. Where his blood spilled, snowdrops grew.

In Romania snowdrops are called 'daughters of the wind'.
Daughters of the Wind’

A German folk legend tells how God sent snow to visit every flower to decide what colour each flower would be. But all the flowers were rude, with the exception of the snowdrop. As a reward, snowdrops were allowed to bloom first – but they had to agree to give up any claim to colour.

The colour of snowdrops - any you like, so long as it's white!
No colour, but the purest of white

So, enjoy the pure white carpets of snowdrops whilst they last – more colour is just around the corner!

The emergence of spring…

February sees the first real signs of spring as it emerges from hibernation.

February sees the first real signs of spring beginning to emerge. Gardens and wayside verges that have looked bleak, bare and uninspiring are gradually being disturbed by new, tender shoots pushing up through the packed soil and winter debris.

Now is the time to look out for nectar-rich plants, whose gift is to provide food and nourishment for the insects at the bottom of the food chain – those which in turn sustain birds, bats and hedgehogs.

Look out for the following plants; admire their unassuming beauty and value their contribution to the amazing way in which wildlife is sustained.

The primrose is often one of the earliest flowers to emerge, its shy, pale yellow flowers peeping out from spear-shaped leaves. Watch for early bumble bees seeking out this delicate flower…

The pale yellow of the primrose offers a ghostly glow to the spring garden.
Shy primroses peep forth as daylight beckons.

If one crocus flower springs up you can be sure that more will follow… an early-flowering bulb and a rich source of nectar. Planted close to fruit trees they will encourage insects to come close and pollinate fruit blossom when that makes its glorious appearance a little later in the spring.

Bold crocus push up through grass and flower beds
Crocus spring up in all sorts of places

The grape hyacinth is frequently seen now. It seems to pop up almost anywhere in a garden once it is established, its bright blue spikes of numerous tiny blue flowers making it look like a miniature bunch of grapes. A welcome source of nectar for foraging insects!

A sudden flash of blue from grape hyacinths shows a welcome burst of life.
Grape hyacinths bring a splash of startling blue

Lungwort, or pulmonaria officinalis, displays pretty, pollen-heavy flowers that are irresistible to insects. Traditionally used as a remedy to help colds, coughs and asthma, the high mucilage content also helped treat a variety of chest conditions. (Warning: never use plants medicinally to treat ailments unsupervised.) Sight and smell, however, may be freely enjoyed!

Lungwort flowers peep through unusual foliage.
The unusual markings of lungwort conceal it’s pretty flowers

Peeping shyly through winter overgrowth you might spy the hellebore, or Christmas Rose. It’s also known as the Lenten Rose since it often doesn’t come into flower until the Lenten season. It is welcomed by bumble bees but less so by deer and rabbits for whom its leaves are poisonous. One writer has described its flowers thus: ‘their finely modelled bowls indulge in all manner of strange freakings, frecklings, cloudings, stripings and blotching… every individual flower a fantasia of its own caprice.’ In other words, every flower is different!

Hellebore flowers come with all manner of weird and wonderful markings.
A fantasia of its own caprice’

But look for yourself and simply enjoy the rich array of unsung beauties in the early spring garden.