early spring

Happy New Year!

Down here in southern-ish,western-ish England it has been a very mild winter so far. There has been just enough frost to knock down the dahlias and their like, but not so much cold weather that the grass has stopped growing. It hasn’t and could soon do with a mow. I was listening to an interesting story on this morning’s BBC news concerning the early blooming of wild flowers in south Wales, not so very far from here as the crow flies.

The story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-16465 133 concerns a survey conducted by Dr. Tim Rich of the National Museum of Wales and Dr. Sarah  Whild of Birmingham University, who  found 63 species of plants in flower around Cardiff. In a more normal year, 20-30 species typically flower through the winter.
The story resonated with me as I have begun the spring tidy in the garden and noticed plants in flower here that are not normally winter blooming. Beside my pond a clump of campanula portenschlagiana is flowering cheerfully, the blue bells clear against fresh green leaves. It is a plant I both love and hate. I love it for the endless nectar and pollen it supplies in summer for a range of bee species, especially the leaf cutters I love. But is it ever a hooligan, spreading absolutely everywhere and growing in good, bad, indifferent and no soil at all. I have an annual purge at removing most of it. The fact it is annual should tell you all you need to know.
A hollyhock flowering until last week when the gales finally finished it off is another unseasonal specimen. I have never had Christmas flowering hollyhocks before, but this year we had one in full flower. There were plenty of examples of the usual early starters I spotted as I weeded-primroses and primulas, snowdrops, the first buds of species crocus and hellebore, chaenomeles, autumn cherry although the birds were striping the flowers from it energetically, daisies. Further afield, hazel is flowering in the hedgerow and I have calendula, celandine  and ground ivy flowers on the allotment.

I know many people have unseasonal blooms in their gardens and would be interested to know what else might be flowering. Is there anything unusual in your garden?

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of cuckoos and cuckoo flowers

We have just spent a  few days away walking (and sightseeing)  in Dorset and whilst it is the adjacent county , it is in many ways very different; different geology leading to different geography, different landscapes, different vernacular architecture. And it has the sea. Unlike landlocked Wiltshire. It has been a source of constant fascination to me how the geology of this tiny country is so varied, belonging to many different geological Eras,  has shaped an enormous variety of small landscapes, each with a character as distinctive as a fingerprint.

This is Portland Bill, the southernmost tip of the tied island of Portland, itself at the end of the 22 mile length of Chesil Beach. It is noted for its bird observatory and for good reason. Many migrating species regularly pass by here on their way north to breeding grounds in Northern Europe.

It was a cold day but optimistically, migrants were arriving-swallows in particular and also what we believe were two cuckoos. I have looked through the sightings log at Portland on the day and none are recorded, but when Rowteight gets the photos off his camera we will have another look. We certainly heard cuckoos during the week we stayed in the area.

At the cottage we stayed in, a converted mill, there were beautiful cuckoo flowers  (Cardamine pratense) growing in the back garden. A member of the brassica family, Cuckoo flower, more delightfully known as Lady’s smock,  was once used as a substitute for watercress. Orange tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) rely on its edibility too-it is the one of the principal larval food plants, although butterflies will also lay their eggs on other wild  brassicas , such as hedge mustard, bittercress and charlock.

There were not many butterfly species on the wing-the wind was cold. But orange tips are a true indicator of spring, freshly hatched and not over wintered adults. Good references at

UK  butterflies

Orange tip male resting, exposing beautifully patterned underside

Orange tip male feeding on dandelion