The secret valley is at last bursting into life, albeit rather late. Or perhaps, this is how the season should be as we have had such mild winters the past few years. Whichever, the last few days have been warm and sunny, although the wind has been on the keen side at times. The result is greenery beginning to appear in the hedgerows and on the trees and what a welcome sight it is. Today I decided to walk along the ‘old’ road, a drover’s route that was the original way to enter the secret valley before the present road was created, probably in the late 18th century. This route is now a wide grassy path – a subject of a post to come shortly.
The photo above shows how advanced the Spindle bushes are compared to some of the other hedgerow shrubs. The hawthorn beyond it is still quite dormant yet, some years, they can start to leaf up during February. Hawthorn seems especially prone to variation as some of them elsewhere in the secret valley are quite green with new leaves.
The Wayfaring Tree, Viburnum lantana, below (which never reaches tree like proportions) also looks lifeless from a distance. However, that is because its leaves and flower buds are greyish when first opening, being covered in felt like hairs , botanically referred to as tomentosum. The photograph beneath the Wayfarer is not of the same plant but the opening buds of the Whitebeam, Sorbus aria. They are not related: Viburnums belong to the honeysuckle family and Sorbus to roses. The Whitebeam makes a fine tree and although it is native, it is often planted in gardens.
It will be sometime before the Ash trees open their leaves but their black nobbly buds, that look so hard and devoid of life, quite suddenly have burst into little pom-pom flowers. All they need now is a group of cheerleaders to use them in their routine: it would certainly aid pollination!
Why should this group of Cherry Plum be in full flower when other trees are not in leaf? I have no idea but am just grateful to be able to enjoy some of the first blossoms of the year. I’ve had to wait a long time to see this, this year.
The wild flowers also show both signs of the winter and also spring life. Cow Parsley or ‘Keck’, as it is known locally around here, is sending up its young leaves which clearly show the reason for the ‘parsley’ in its name. Where ‘Keck’ originates from, I have no idea, for I have not come across that name when I lived in the Chiltern Hills just 50 miles away. Local plant names can be very confusing and make an interesting study in itself. Despite its lushness, Cow Parsley is poisonous. Later, in the summer, it will send up tall spikes of flat, white flowerheads made up of dozens of tiny stars. These dessicate to remain standing through the winter and, surprisingly, there are still a few that have survived the snow. They have a special beauty when the sun catches their metallic, bronzed skeletons.
Cowslips, Bluebells and the Hedge Mustard (which in the Chilterns, we called Jack-by-the-hedge) are all showing signs of things to come. The cowslips show their flower buds and, normally, bluebells would be doing so too. In the bottom photograph, the Jack-by-the-hedge has leaves reminiscent of the garden plant, Honesty. These leaves have quite a mild garlic smell when crushed and make a good addition to spring salads when they are young and tender. The little spikes of six to eight small leaves in whorls are the dreaded Goosegrass (or Cleavers, depending where you live). Before long, these will have scrambled five or more feet over every plant in the hedgerow and the garden, their leaves and bobbly, pinhead seeds sticking to every bit of clothing – the gardener’s curse.