Despite a week of mild, sunny days at last; as I made my way to the edgeland yesterday evening the tide was, typically, turning. In contrast to the changing clocks, gloom descended well in advance of five o’clock to the point where car headlights were firmly flicked on. Between home and the sewage works, some 10 minutes drive, the clouds burst and put paid to any idea of finding a butterfly or two on the wing.
On leaving the car and treading the farmland to the small scrub, the rain grew heavier and with it a brisk wind sent the birds ducking for cover in the nearest hedge and seeking refuge in the hollowed middle of bramble thickets, the outer shell greener than when I was last here some weeks ago. With that, beyond the crackling laughter of a Green Woodpecker, the edgeland fell silent in both sight and sound. The fauna evades me in one foul swoop; a cruel blow having waited weeks to get back out into the land, restored by a week of warming Spring sun with the puddles and endless thick, gloopy mud subsiding only to be rising up around my feet, becoming once again and in a matter of minutes a thick brown paste that cakes both man and beast. How effortless, at this time of year, the landscape can change in an instant; the weather beating the seasons blurring, fragile lines, already thin this time of year, back into that midi-season that’s neither Winter or Spring. What warmth there was simply dissipates as icy rain washes away the heat like a hot pan beneath a cold tap; you can almost hear the ground hiss.
Still though, Spring is visible in the flora. In a matter of weeks it seems the edgeland canvas has been repainted with a sponge. Where before bare soil and the faintest hint of emerging seedlings ruled natures floor, a frothy, sea-foam carpet of green has raced towards the growing light of the year, climbing what seems impossible inches each day. Away from the still sodden, sloppy, well trodden central paths the woodland, scrubland and meadow floors are exuberantly green. The Winter rot of stem and leaf has vanished beneath this lavish new carpet; the rain water no longer sits in great puddles, the land no longer floats precariously atop a bog nor sinks under foot. What sitting damp there was has been recycled by awakened roots and upcycled into the lush jungle leaves of Nettle, Broad-leaved Dock, Cow Parsley and Cleavers. Blooms too are on the up and already others fading. The brilliant yellow of Lesser Celandine and Coltsfoot is increasingly browning and withered; flowers seemingly spent so early in the season. In contrast the distinctive hook and lip of dense whorls of White Deadnettle flowers, full to brimming with sugar-sweet nectar that can be literally squeezed like a rung towel and drank like syrup, form breakers atop the rising green wave of new growth; the white horses of the woodland floor. The smaller, showy pink blooms of Red Deadnettle are in full swing too and where the knee-high canopy of new growth recedes and leaves but fresh grass, the blue and purple hues of Common Dog-Violet and Sweet Violet make the most of the space and dress the ground all over.
New golden blooms have sprung in the form of vast swathes of Dandelions; a common garden weed to us they may be but at this time of year they are invaluable to the Queen Bumblebees in desperate need of food and energy in preparation for nesting, even if, for today at least, the rain has put paid to any great feast. The wild Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus (our only native, and under threat) still look splendid; creamy outer florets hold dear an August-sun-yellow trumpet. The Primroses, having flowered for weeks, still bud away. Already, an army of caterpillars are making the most of this bounty; the young, fresh nettles forming mats and banks across the edgeland are riddled with holes, perforated by the micro-mouths of Micro Moth larvae and one in particular; the Mother of Pearl moth. In weeks to come the young of Comma, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies will join the feast but still the nettles, urgent and strong, will continue to climb skywards.
As the rain subsides, briefly, from the shelter of a Goats Willow overcome with Ivy, I make my way back to the car. In the weeks to come the wave will rise, the green will divide and multiply and fill every nook and cranny. The emerald hand-sized leaves of Giant and Common Hogweed and their dainty, feather-leaved cousins of Cow Parsley and Wild Carrot will give rise to tall, hollow stems; support canes for the next phase of froth as cream and white umbels bounce aloof, delicate blooms will sway en masse in the breeze from every inch of the green sea below. There is a new scent in the air too, one usually reserved for post-storm in midsummer. The fresh smell of rain water cooling the undergrowth, leaves hot with the rising sap of Spring.