An End To March

I’m taking a short break from ‘The Anxious Gardener‘ but meanwhile, and after months of winter drear, it seems a shame not to share some images from the last days of March.

Daffodils

Daffodils aren’t around for long but The Priory’s brief show is hearty.  I’m so used to their regular, faithful appearance that I don’t even bother photographing many of them any more.

February Gold

(But I made an exception a month ago for Narcissus ‘February Gold’ – which lived up to its name with about a day to spare).

Daffodils (2)

I’ve written before about the dozen or so varieties I’ve planted since 2008 but many Priory daffs pre-date my arrival and, names unknown, continue to thrive.

spring bank (4)

I have an irresistible urge to show the bank below the greenhouses at this time of year.

spring bank (3)

Other than now-over crocuses and snowdrops, I haven’t added anything to this slope.  But unlike the previous gardener, I don’t strim it; at least not until the autumn.  How he strimmed this splendour is beyond me.

spring bank (2)

I say every year how I love this bank in springtime and especially so as I do nothing to it … other than that one autumnal strim.

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The big weeping willows are coming into leaf and another irresistible urge is to lie down beneath them and, fighting to keep my eyes open, clear my head for a few moments to appreciate scale that most gardens can’t accommodate.

Bergenia

A month or so ago, I cut off all the leaves on my bergenias.  You don’t have to but I don’t like the black-splotchy old leaves and prefer to start the season with a clean slate: fresh green leaves, clearly visible flower stalks.  But do as you like – I shan’t judge.

Magnolia stellata (2)

I’ve only ever known one Magnolia stellata intimately.  The Priory’s is a little tree and only reaches my chest.  It has barely grown taller during the nine years of our intimacy.  In the past, its flowers have been browned by frost but this year they are unblemished.

Magnolia stellata (1)

Other than giving it an ericaceous feed (about now), a winter mulch of leaf-mould and keeping its planting square free of weeds, I leave it be.  I’ve never pruned it.

Magnolia stellata

It’s a beauty and when I finally settle into a house for good, with no plans to move, I shall plant one (and hope for lichen too).  And honestly, there aren’t many trees or shrubs I can say that about.

Male pheasant fighting (2)

Male pheasants make an awful racket in March.  It is particularly their loud, short, territorial proclamation that makes me jump and sets my teeth on edge.

Male pheasant fighting (1)

These two were having a protracted battle for the Bird Feeder Territory.   The scatterings from the feeders make this the must-have territory.

Male pheasant fighting (4)

Their sporadic fighting drifted back and forth across the lawn, including a dunk in the pond.

Male pheasant fighting (3)

I don’t know who won the war but I suspect whoever did, will end up the fatter of the two.

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Wood anemones are another rich reward for not mowing and not strimming – though you can see where I cut a path to the bridge when mowing starts again.

Canada goose (2)

Every spring, at least one pair of Canada geese arrive to pooh on the lawns and honk repeatedly.  They honk a lot, Canada geese.  And pooh.

Canada goose

Their arrival is as much a spring marker as any number of daffodils and anemones.

Auricular

By the greenhouse, one of my few auriculars flowered on Friday.  I love auriculars – as perfect a flower as I could wish for.  And I love how they almost stare back at you, demanding your approval.  An approval I give readily.

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Wildflowers On The South Downs

I’m not terribly fond of petrol mowers at the best of times but when they break-down repeatedly, I think them insufferable.   If only they would listen to reason and I could patiently explain how simple their duties really are.

Buttercups

At least a faulty mower induced forced-stop to mowing at The Old Forge gave me a compensation of buttercups;

Speedwell

and a patch of blue speedwell salved – a bit – my disgust at uppity machinery.

Flax South Downs

July 2014

As pretty as flowering lawns are however, for big colour impact on the Downs you must lift up thine eyes unto the hills.   In summer, fields are turned golden by ripening wheat; or the powder blue of flowering flax.

Poppies South Downs (2)

In July 2013, I was wowed by a remarkable field poppy display.

Poppies South Downs

Mesmerised, I took far more photos than I ever needed (or published – so here’s another two).  The sheer amount of flower hasn’t been repeated since; though poppies aren’t the only wild-flower to daub the skyline above the ‘Forge.

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In May, the field next to the ‘poppy field’ glows from a mile away.

Flower Meadow South Downs (2)

At a distance one might mistake it for rape but no, it’s buttercups again.

Flower Meadow South Downs (1)

Thousands of buttercups; with cowslips

Flower Meadow South Downs (4)

and some yellow rattle too.

Daisies South Downs (1)

From my new front door, a short walk leads to pasture

Daisies South Downs (2)

and small paddocks smothered by buttercups and daisies.

Daisies South Downs

And I instantly recall  a primary school hymn, ‘Daisies are our silver‘.

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About the time I was singing ‘Daisies are our silver’ – for the first time

Almost 50 years later, the first verse still comes easily and I sang it again, lustily like a Welsh miner.  (There was no-one about).

Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.

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As well as charming to a five-year old boy with a nascent gardening gene, the words proved prophetic too – given the chances of me ever owning a chest of treasure.

Flower Meadow South Downs (3)

Since I first visited fifteen years ago, these paddocks have been grazed by ponies and horses and, in one case, by the same pony – despite the toxicity of buttercups.  (My equine dietary expertise isn’t up to much and no doubt some horse owners will be dismayed at buttercup-rich, poisonous pasture.  I’ll just add that in East Sussex, in spring, it is a very common sight).

May South Downs

Higher up, a larger field is burnished too; mirroring distant blocks of rape.

Cowslips South Downs

Only here, the predominate species isn’t buttercup but cowslip; a colossal number of cowslips.  Which doesn’t match my usual view of them at all: an occasional hedgerow flower or a few individuals lining a country lane.

I hope that July 2016 will see a return to magnificent poppy-red splodges above the ‘Forge.*  But if not, that’s OK.  I know that one year they’ll be back; and will again force people to pull over, park and whip out their camera phones – as they did in 2013.  In the meantime, buttercups and cowslips have magically transformed the Downs to cloths of gold; far more gold than I should have or hold.

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The Lyrics of ‘Daisies Are Our Silver’

I rarely meet anyone who knows the hymn I sang as a young boy, but for those of you who do, (but like me, can only remember the first verse) here are all the lyrics.  (I’m pleased speedwell gets a mention, if not cowslips).

Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.

Raindrops are our diamonds
And the morning dew;
While for shining sapphires
We’ve the speedwell blue.

These shall be our emeralds
Leaves so new and green;
Roses make the reddest
Rubies ever seen.

God, who gave these treasures
To your children small,
Teach us how to love them
And grow like them all.

Make us bright as silver:
Make us good as gold;
Warm as summer roses
Let our hearts unfold.

Gay as leaves in April,
Clear as drops of dew
God, who made the speedwell,
Keep us true to you.

The words to ‘Daisies are our silver‘ were written by Joyce Maxtone Graham, under the pseudonym, Jan Struther.  She also wrote the hymn, ‘Lord of all Hopefulness‘ (which surely you do remember?) and the novel, Mrs Miniver – one of the most beautifully written books I know.

*It didn’t.

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