“It is a moment of quickening, of rebirth. The old, lovely story: life surging back, despite everything, once again. However spring finds you – birdsong, blossom or spawn – it is a signal: the earth turning its ancient face back to the sun.”
Melissa Harrison – ‘Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons’
One afternoon as I arrived home from a university lecture I stood at the living room window and peered out into the garden as I always do. As usual, the birdseed I had put out the evening before had already gone, polished off by jackdaw and sparrow alike. Today, however, there was a crucial and very welcome difference – the appearance of the first snowdrops of the year. They were very young, still curled up tight in stiff buds, but I knew before long they would be hesitantly opening, their petals tiny white flags signalling the slow beginning of spring.
As January draws to a close, the temperature lifts and although the winter rains usually persist, our gardens are brightened by the tentative emergence of wildflowers. Bold snowdrops have led the way, but soon to follow are yellow and early (purple) crocuses, bringing a splash of colour to the repetitive greens of the lawn. Amongst all this emerging beauty is perhaps the true star of spring: the bluebell. A delicate flower more violet than blue; even one alone is a welcome sight after the biting winds and downpours of winter, but a carpet of bluebells is enough to take your breath away.
Two years ago, back home in Hertfordshire, I was stood in a patch of woodland that had long been heralded as a haven for bluebells. I surveyed the scene from a respectable distance, knowing I’d cause significant damage if I strayed from the worn path. The ocean was vast, spanning far in each direction. Together, the bluebells looked like a single blue blanket coating the tree roots, but up close each bell waved independently, and my romantic imagination gave them the quiet tinkling chime of their namesake.
Aside from wildflowers, there are plenty more indications that spring is almost here, from birds to bees to rather odorous plants:
- The gathering warmth of February rouses overwintering insects, such as the greenbottle fly, whose unappreciated beauty is something quite wonderful to see up close, even if they’re not always welcome buzzing around indoors.
- Early breeding birds such as rooks will be seen gathering nesting material in preparation for the arrival of their broods. The first eggs will appear around early March, so be sure to look out for rookeries high up in the trees and listen for the constant chatter of busy parents-to-be.
- One of my favourite spring sounds is the buzz of a busy bumblebee. As wildflowers expose their nectar, bees are quick to make use of the opportunity to gather it in the early part of the season.
- The heady scent of wild garlic will soon be filling the air. A walk through my local park often includes a good whiff of this pungent but flavoursome plant. Note: wild garlic is similar in appearance to lily of the valley, which is poisonous, so if in doubt please do not forage to eat.
Spring is undoubtedly a time of rejuvenation – an opportunity to shake off the January blues and be inspired by the emerging life outside. As many of us live in towns and cities, it can be difficult to notice these subtle changes in such busy urban environments. This only emphasises how important it is to stop and look, just for a moment, and you’ll notice that however our world changes, nature will always persevere.