“Ever-returning Spring”

“I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.” Walt Whitman wrote When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d in April 1865, mourning the death of President Lincoln.

What I lament now at the end of springtime is the shortness of the flowering bulb season and I dead-headed each daffodil with a small sliver of dismay for I wondered how many more years I’d be around to enjoy them. I know fine well that May is here with all its blossom, and the columbines and foxgloves are getting ready to flower so I try not to wallow in my momentary melancholy. Spring will be “ever-returning” whether I’m here to see it or not.

Almost as soon as I pack away the Christmas decorations, I’m out in the garden looking for snowdrop leaves pushing through the ground, and then for their white tips lightening the darkness and encouraging me to go on through January. The early bumble bees come to them looking for food and as well as enjoying your own flowers, visiting any site that’s part of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival will feed your soul.

It was dry bulbs I first planted and I had to be patient as they took years to flower; then I tried splitting a clump just after they flowered and replanting (having watched my guru Monty Don do it) but neither half of the original clump has flourished so far. The other advice is to wait until the leaves have dried up, showing that the bulbs are dormant, before moving half of them. Increasing my snowdrop numbers is my small gesture to the future.

When buying, it’s better to buy ‘in the green’ and do it from legitimate businesses. Unfortunately it’s not illegal to dig them up from the wild, but you need to have the landowner’s permission to do this. Unscrupulous traders and criminal gangs have been taking advantage for far too long: see https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/11987979.flowers-of-the-forest-are-all-going-away-illegal-removal-is-putting-plants-and-moss-st-risk/

Every spring I look out for the primroses on the banks of the birch woods along the road to Oykel Bridge, trusting that they will continue to flower there quietly and will long, long outlive me. In episode 3 of the current season of Gardeners World, Monty Don speaks of his love for the common primrose – primula vulgaris – as it’s “just beautiful, delicate and simple” and “full of hope”.

A few seconds later, they were rolling on my primroses

Another plant I saw in Sutherland, though I didn’t need to look out for it as it was smacking us all in the face, was whin; it’s far from delicate but its coconutty-smelling flowers transform an otherwise pretty ugly bush in the early part of the year.

Whin in bloom along the road and hillside at Creich, Sutherland

If the primrose means hope, then the daffodils bring cheer and a mass of them in local parks never fails to lift my spirits. I’ve been noticing for a while that some flowers have been pulled off, but not for taking a bunch home as they’re left scattered about some distance away. Is this the work of young children? What’s the ‘thinking’ behind it? Then I watched in astonishment one day as a woman posed her dog among the daffodils below in order to take a photo. He was rolling in them and she was sprauchling about, trampling even more as she tried to get him to sit still. Nor was she a young influencer-type but “old enough to know better” as we used to say. She got my best frosty face, but I wish now I’d said something.

I never used to care much for tulips but have got fonder of them as I’ve aged. I’ve taken Carol Klein’s advice and planted them in pots for my sitooterie, as well as scattering a few in the border. They’re an ‘alien species’ of course, originating in central Asia and planted in Ottoman gardens by the 14th century; from there they were introduced to Europe, most notably to The Netherlands. This year though, the most arresting images for me were of tulips in Ukraine, standing in bright red ranks in the gardens of shelled and abandoned houses.

As well as the more showy spring flowers, I look out for dandelion and wild garlic which I wrote about last year in Going down to the woods . I’ve had the dandelion leaves and flowers in salads and have been improving my wild garlic pesto, packing in even more leaves to make it a darker colour. I’m mindful though of the warnings of over-picking, having read a couple of articles. The first one was by Steven Morris and was in The Guardian on 24 March, about poor old Cornwall:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/mar/24/its-trendy-wild-garlic-foragers-leave-bad-taste-in-mouth-of-cornish-residents

Then came one by J P McMahon (fab name) in The Irish Times in which he picks up points from The Guardian article above, warning against “over-picking and careless collection” which is “ruining it for everybody”. Some businesses are uprooting wild garlic from his local woods but he reminds us that no more than a third of the growth should be taken:

https://www.theirishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/give-your-foraged-wild-garlic-pesto-an-irish-twist-1.4840193

I just stuck to my torn-up leaves, Italian hard cheese, pumpkin seeds and olive oil bunged in the blender, though I think I used more leaves this year as it came out darker and stronger-tasting than last year’s timid efforts. I can’t advise on relative quantities but I tip each small blender load into a bigger bowl and than stir it all together, adding more olive oil if it seems too thick. Then it’s into the freezer with it in lidded tubs and I feel quite smug – though that feeling fades when I think of my wee sister’s cupboard of marmalade jars and bottles of elderberry vinegar.

The time of the leaves is nearly over as I visited my woods for a last pick this week; they were starting to wilt and yellow. The flowers were mostly over and turning to seed but I knew the yearly cycle would continue underground, unseen.

I’m giving the last word to Robert Frost because he’s speaking for me, although it’s autumn he’s referencing in his poem Reluctance:

“Ah, when to the heart of man / Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things / To yield with a grace to reason

And bow and accept the end / Of a love or a season”

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