The Growing Palette


Storm Doris has swept through the edgeland woodland, pushing aside Willows and Hawthorns like a bowling ball through skittles. The path through the sewage works woods is a tangle of trunks and branch, scattered across the foot-way like leaves on a Spring breeze. Glass-like shards of wood rise a metre or so above the woodland floor where once solid trunks gave way to tangled reaching arms and fresh buds. These giant-sized splinters, the gnarled and crooked teeth of trolls asleep below the leaf-litter surface will, in months and years to come, play a vital role in the woodland ecology as they rot and decay, providing food and nesting material for wasps and beetles, grubs and larvae. The branches cast aside on the woodland floor form informal log piles, a new home perhaps for mice and voles, hedgehogs. Despite the immediate devastation, life here will not just go on; it will increase, it will expand. It will reclaim the fallen timber, nothing will be wasted. Where the canopy is no longer thick and full, woodland plants will grow again in the company of fresh sunlight. Seeds that have laid dormant for months, for years even, may now find the lease of life required to germinate. Storms may make life difficult for us, but nature? Nature thrives on a good storm.

Despite the evidence of destruction, it is an affirming sight of new life that first catches my eye. Bare branch and stem are wrapped in the sweet snow-white of blossom. Blackthorn is in flower, the first blossom of many for the next three or four months. Delicate, crisp crate-paper petals and lemon stamen form thick frothy clusters of elegant blooms in dizzying quantities. Suddenly and as if without warning, the grey, wrought iron naked woodland is transformed by bright-light colour where once dark bark and gloomy skies threatened to make the season of Winter never-ending. On the stiff breeze the scent has changed too. The lingering, fusty smell of damp and decay has been replaced with sweet sugar syrup, light and refreshing. The display is natures perfect middle-finger salute to Strom Doris.

Coltsfoot in the small scrub

The small scrub too is undergoing a transformation, if a little more subdued. Whilst traversing the chalky broken stems of bramble, cow parsley, wild carrot and hogweed which weeks ago stood tall despite their death, amongst the now flattened, grey-scape scrub I stumble upon a patch of vivid sunshine in the guise of Coltsfoot. This small but sturdy, dandelion-like flower may seem meagre recompense for months of landscape devoid of a palette beyond dull green and brown, but en masse the rich, golden-yellow hints at far more drastic changes to come.

For weeks now, vivid colour has passed through the edgeland only fleetingly. Glimpses of red-faced and yellow-tinged Goldfinches, jungle Green Woodpeckers, the rusty-red breasts of Robins. Today, still they flit in and out of the trees above me, more frantic in fact than in recent weeks and far more vocal too. In the depths of Winter this passing of colour is a lifeline, a warm respite from the surrounding cold of a bereft and grieving landscape but as fast as they appear, they disappear and the colour-void returns. No match are they for the rapturous rainbow blanket of Spring and Summer when colour washes like a tsunami over great breadths of land and lane and woodland edge; colour so loud it deafens. No sense is left untouched by the colour of spring, it transcends the eye. In turn these buds and blooms bring to life the bees, the butterflies and so the palette grows. This blossom, this Coltsfoot; these are the conductor’s baton, ready to wave the orchestra into life. These are the first vital stitches of the blanket.



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