Spring is in the air and don’t the animals know it!

According to the calendar, spring started on Friday. From that point on there are more hours of light than dark, and this situation continues to improve until midsummer. Without doubt we are now on the right side of winter.

Tuesday, 25th March 2014, 9:00 pm

Some argue, however, that spring is sprung much earlier, typically around March 1st when many plants emerge from winter dormancy and start the new season with a spurt of growth. Many bulbous plants such as snowdrops and crocus are now past their best, and now daffodils and tulips are springing into life.

Hellebores too are in flower, along with such shrubs as ribes (flowering currant) with its pink tassel-like flowers, the forsythias (golden bells) are smothered in bud and the small red rosettes of the rather unkempt but reliable chaenomeles (Japanese quince) are starting to appear amid their spiny jagged stems.

A particular favourite of mine are the gorgeous glossy-leaved camellias. Always early into flower, they are now either in heavy bud or even in flower. Although, not keen on exposed windy sites (who is?), they are actually remarkably tough plants which, in an ideal world, should be grown in the dappled light of young woodland.

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Unfortunately, not many of us own woodland, but thankfully camellias are happy in most garden situations so long as they are pampered occasionally with a mulch around their base of lime-free (ericaceous) compost. A little effort yields a huge reward of classy rose-like flowers in shades of red, pink or white, displayed to perfection against the dark, glossy leathery leaves.

Speaking of woodland, I am especially fond of the purple-leafed plum (prunus ‘pissardi nigra’). Tiny pink flowers are displayed now on mainly bare stems, with just the odd leaf shoot starting to unfurl. Much more delicate-looking than the later flowering cherries, it is a lovely source of early colour.

Of course, plants do not have calendars to remind them when to start growing, but they do have subtle biological clocks which are triggered by combinations of temperature, day length and moisture levels. Animals too, know instinctively that spring has arrived. I was up Crown Point over a week ago and spotted some frog spawn and there is a mass of spawn in our own garden pond.

Sometimes a sudden chill can catch out plants and animals fooled by a warm spell. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for a butterfly foraging around our primulas at Reedley. The wind was howling around us as it bravely stumbled around from plant to plant. Plants and animals may arrive too soon or too late, fooled by the weather but they certainly never forget. I wish the same could be said of me. I spend half my time forgetting what I was supposed to be doing, and despite every phone, tablet, computer and newspaper telling me the time, date and day, somehow after nearly 30 years of writing for the Express, I forgot last week to send in my copy!