Nature Responds Quickly
March certainly came in like a lion: snow, ice, gales – winter seemed to have returned with a vengeance! Then suddenly all change again. I am astonished at how quickly wildlife responds. On March 4th I was greeted by a song thrush singing loudly from my neighbour’s holly bush. No sign of him before and yet there he was and the song fully formed, several separate phrases each meticulously repeated three or four times and all delivered in that ringing, incisive tone, shouting his arrival to the whole neighbourhood.
Plants too respond quickly, especially those growing in woodland since they have to complete their flowering cycle before the canopy closes in. But they need to be cautious too – a hard frost is a serious threat if you’re in a vulnerable spot. I was meditating on this last week on our way to lunch with a friend who lives in a remote valley beyond Oakworth. We had to pick our way along half a mile of rough track running steeply through intake pasture and woods to farmland on the valley bottom. It’s bordered by drystone walls and steep banks, and our careful pace was perfect for scrutinising the flora: at first little to see except withered scrawny grass and lichen; then the odd foxglove plant tucked flat into a wall-crevice, its rosette of felt-thick leaves just starting to fill out. Further downhill tiny nettles and shoots of cow parsley gave tentative promise of the thick stands that will completely smother the roadsides come summer. The final hundred yards of our route was more sheltered and here foxglove leaves stood up a proud eight inches or so, nettles were six inches tall and there was even a patch of shiny wild arum leaves catching the sun. Then – our friend’s south-facing garden – and great clumps of wild primroses in full flower – what a greeting!
As we sat enjoying a reviving drink I looked out across the valley to the opposite hillside where a single tree stood in a winter-bleached pasture: a hawthorn or rowan perhaps, its underside boughs trimmed by cattle so it was the lollypop shape of a tree in a child’s drawing. It stood on a circle of brilliant emerald grass, quite different from the rest of the field. Perhaps there was a damp flush here or perhaps sheltering stock had dunged the ground under its branches. It would take a long steep walk to investigate, one beyond my capacity on a winter afternoon, but it was another indication of what every gardener knows, the importance of situation.
Jenny Dixon – Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Photo by Brian Green [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons