Just as I was eagerly anticipating in my last post, we haven’t had to wait long to enjoy the carpets of native Bluebells blooming in our local woods. There are certain parts of our woods where the Bluebells really make themselves at home during May.
Across the forest floor amongst the feet of beeches, sycamores, rowans and oaks the luxuriant green foliage of Spring flowers provides the backdrop for the beautiful Bluebells themselves. Native UK Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta are a much deeper blue than the Spanish Bluebells. The rich blue sometimes adopts an almost purple hue in the dappled woodland light.
The native Bluebell’s slender stem hooks over to one side, like a shepherd’s crook. The slim blue blooms hang beneath the crook, turning up the points of their petals when the flower fully opens.
In our woods Bluebells are joined by the clean whites of Wood Sorrel and Greater Stitchwort, the deeper purple of the Dog Violets and the occasional flamboyant yellow of Dandelions. The acid-green of the Wood Sorrel’s fresh trifoliate leaves provide another luminous blast to the woodland floor. For me, these are the colours that I really associate with Bluebell woods at this time of year.
Having the woods right on our doorstep makes me rather like Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. If you know this classic children’s story you may recall that Mole is drawn from his chores by the temptation of the outdoors. “Hang Spring Cleaning!” he exclaims before setting out to explore Springtime in the countryside. Just like Mole, I find sunny Spring days hard to resist … who wants to be stuck indoors when there’s so much to enjoy outside!
For us, woodland walks in Spring bring the exciting prospect of foraging for fresh wild food. Spotting the first ‘munchies’ of early Spring is something of a family ritual. The wild food we fondly refer to as ‘munchies’ is Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella. Once the Wood Sorrel’s new acid-green citrus-flavoured trifoliate leaves begin to brighten up the forest floor we can’t resist picking a few as we meander on our way.
Whilst on the same walk, as well as finding this year’s first ‘munchies’, we also spotted the feathery leaves of another Spring flower of old woods, the Pignut Conopodium majus. The chestnut-type root of the Pignut seems to be quite a well-regarded wild food though I must say I have never tried it. The digging up of any wild plant is not legal in the UK unless you have the permission of the landowner. I forage out of interest rather than necessity so I tend to restrict my wild food foraging to leaves and fruits, making sure that the plants retain the ability to thrive and re-grow. This photo shows the Pignut in its classic habitat – growing amongst the Bluebells.
Some of the woodland flowers are among my Spring favourites – I find I have ‘favourites’ for each season! Spring finds me combing the sunny banks for the first Violets and Wood Sorrel, or taking certain paths through the woods to seek out keenly anticipated patches of wild Primroses or Bluebells.
I have been eagerly watching out for the Primroses in one of our woods in particular. The area where they grow had been under conifer plantation for some years but has recently been part of a programme of ancient woodland restoration. Now that there is more light reaching the forest floor, it is wonderful to see those sleeping seeds that have been waiting patiently in the woodland soil for years taking their chance and bursting into life.
This week when we visited the wood we found the Primroses had sprung up in lots of lovely patches of yellow and green. They looked wonderful! We also discovered this lone Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa nearby. I love the way my son has managed to capture the silky texture of the white petals in his photo. The flower was popular with insect visitors too – there’s a small cardinal beetle making a cautious entrance in this shot! Hopefully that will mean there will be more Wood Anemones here next year.
Here is another fascinating flower that I watch out for each Spring. This is Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina. It grows on a sunny bankside beside an old road over a Victorian railway bridge in our woods. I have seen it described as the ‘Town Clock’ flower and when you look closely, it is easy to see how it came by this name. Each flowerhead is held on a tall stalk (approx. 5-10cm high) and comprises five yellow-green florets with yellow stamens. Four of the florets form a square with the fifth one facing upwards. The three-lobed leaves at the base of the stalk are a darker green than the flowers.
On one of our sunny Spring walks this week we saw the promise of the first fruits of this year – the bilberry, that’s the UK’s own wild ‘blueberries’ which grow quite prolifically in our local woods. The pink berry-like flowers are just beginning to open. Although we have hillsides growing thick with the low-growing bilberry bushes, these berries do take a bit of picking when they ripen in late Summer.
The berries grow singly and are often tucked away out of sight so keen eyes are needed to hunt them out. Equally keen eyes are needed if I am hoping to make sure any of these tasty purple-blue berries actually make it back home rather than being enjoyed straight from the bushes 🙂
There’s always something magical I think about seeing tiny seedlings sprouting through the earth in Spring, whether they’re out ‘in the wild’ or if they’re just regular domesticated seedlings I’ve sown myself.
My first sowing for this year was a tray of mixed salad leaves that I started off early in February. I grow most of my ‘eating’ leaves on a sunny east-facing window ledge so they can get plenty of daylight … without the having to compete with my slimy mollusc friends who frequent my back yard! This first sowing of leaves is now just about large enough to begin picking.
I find it very convenient to have fresh salad leaves to hand so I tend to choose the cut-and-come-again varieties. Another thing I do is to make regular sowings to provide an ongoing supply. My second sowings went in early in March and are showing good progress already. Our recent prolonged spell of Spring sunshine has certainly helped them on their way. These leaves are another variety of lettuce and my first sowing of rocket of this year. I like to add rocket and some wild leaves usually too to my salads to give a bit of extra flavour and bite.
As well as salad leaves I also like to grow a few fresh herbs. My mint cutting is still thriving as it sets down its new roots in its new ‘big’ pot – it looked a bit lost when I first planted it out, but it is beginning to spread out now, as mint likes to do. And this weekend I was delighted to see my first parsley seedling hook its tiny pale crook through the compost and open its seed leaves to the light. Now it has been joined by a number of others too.
I sowed the parsley in early March at the same time as the lettuce and rocket, though the parsley has been residing on a different window ledge that has the benefit of sunlight from above and a central heating radiator below. This is my special seed-sprouting and cutting-generating window ledge for those plants that need a greater level of warmth to work their magic.
In my back yard, my self-seeding wild salad leaves are making progress – garlic mustard and bitter cress. Both of these wild plants grow easily I find. The bitter cress arrived of its own accord and is happy to make a home in any of the pots where I allow it to. I originally harvested some local wild seed for my garlic mustard and it has continued to self-seed each year since. I also have two tiny plants of wood sorrel that emerged from some mud cleaned from walking boots! I am hoping they will grow on – perhaps a little rich leaf mould will help them on their way – I shall try.
My next sowing will be some more thyme as that’s another herb I find extremely useful. More time would be good too … I wonder if I can find some seeds in a catalogue for that …. 😉