Light of spring

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

WE are now in that stage of win­ter when glim­mers of the new sea­son bring hope to the watch­ful and lift the spir­its. Un­like the po­lit­i­cal land­scape, now so full of un­cer­tainty, the coun­try­side is qui­etly stirring as it al­ways does at this time, mak­ing its re­as­sur­ing moves to­wards spring.

Look at the trees and it might not be ap­par­ent; the ash with its stiff, bare bones tipped with sooty-black hoofs re­mains firmly in win­ter mode and the oak’s tight fists of clus­tered buds will take many more weeks to be per­suaded to un­furl. Nei­ther shows signs of the sap stirring deep within, yet there are clues ev­ery­where of Na­ture’s reawak­en­ing.

Great tits have been singing lustily since Christ­mas and the wood­pecker’s ham­mer­ings can be heard across spin­ney and field. Trav­eller’s joy, the wild clema­tis of chalk­land, still casts its iron-grey clouds over the hedgerows, but look closer: its diminu­tive green shoots are im­pa­tient to get on with the busi­ness of grow­ing.

Gar­den­ers are al­ready alert to the change, see­ing new blades in the grass and the snouts of cro­cuses, snow­drops and early daf­fodils. Snow­drops, par­tic­u­larly, have found their way into the na­tion’s hearts. Al­though they’re not na­tive to these is­lands (their ori­gins are in the Le­vant), their white car­pets have been spread­ing through our wood­lands long enough for us to feel unan­i­mously cheered by their doughty pres­ence in the bleak­ness of Fe­bru­ary.

For Mary Robin­son, the 18th-cen­tury ac­tress and poet, the snow­drop was ‘Win­ter’s timid child …be­dew’d with tears’, fling­ing around its mild fra­grance ‘Amidst the bare and chill­ing gloom’. For Wordsworth, a gen­er­a­tion on, the snow­drop was the ‘ven­tur­ous har­bin­ger of spring’, fas­ten­ing its place ever more se­curely in our af­fec­tions as the 19th cen­tury pro­gressed. Now, in the 21st, ‘snow­drop time’ is a mo­ment of na­tion­wide celebration with nu­mer­ous fes­ti­vals and gar­den open­ings ded­i­cated to its shyly pen­dent blooms (Town & Coun­try, page 22).

For many of the gar­dens in­volved, vis­i­tors com­ing to see their snow­drop dis­plays will help to raise funds for some­thing wor­thy, whether it is the church roof, the lo­cal hospice or a na­tional char­ity. In this re­spect, the Na­tional Gar­dens Scheme (www.ngs.org.uk), such a joy­ous fea­ture of sum­mer, with its thou­sands of Sun­day-af­ter­noon op­por­tu­ni­ties for gar­den envy, is sud­denly a leading win­ter player.

This is only its sec­ond year of a for­mally or­gan­ised, month-long snow­drop fes­ti­val across Eng­land and Wales, but more than 80 gar­dens will be tak­ing part to help the char­ity, which cel­e­brates its 90th an­niver­sary with a re-brand­ing this spring and nu­mer­ous events through­out 2017. To­day, the NGS is the most sig­nif­i­cant char­i­ta­ble funder of nurs­ing and pal­lia­tive care in Bri­tain, hav­ing dis­trib­uted more than £45 mil­lion so far, with just un­der £3 mil­lion of it hav­ing been raised last year. So, let’s en­joy the snow­drops. Mary Robin­son’s ‘beau­teous gem’ is also un­ex­pect­edly boun­teous.

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