Thursday, 5 April 2018

Greeting spring.

Picture credit: Alison Everett
About a year before she died my mother handed me her notebooks in which she had jotted pieces about our life on the farm in the West Country where my sisters, brother and I grew up.  I chose to share this extract as spring is here at last. The picture was taken by my sister* last week when she put primroses from her garden into our mother's little blue vase shaped in a ring, just as we had arranged them at Easter when we were children.

In the long summer days the children kept themselves amused from morning to night.  There were woods to roam in, flowers to pick and press. Their teacher at the local infant school had always encouraged the children to identify wild flowers and in some of our fields they grew in profusion. The favourite field was a meadow known as the Butterfly Field. 
   In March yellow lesser celandines appeared on banks and dainty wood anemones covered the floor of the copses. These were not suitable for picking as they wilted so quickly. The pale yellow primroses followed and later cowslips appeared in some fields, especially on a patch of unmown steep ground known as the tumpy field because of the huge grass-covered anthills. In May the woods were misted with bluebells. Nearer the house we would spot germander speedwell, valerian, campion, selfheal, bugle, woundwort, willow herb, hawkweed, and cranesbill. In the Butterfly Field we found ladies bedstraw, agrimony, knapweed, goats’ beard, various vetches and some orchids. May saw hawthorn covering the hedges and in June they were jewelled with wild roses. Fields turned yellow and white with buttercups and ox-eyed daisies. Reed mace – often called bulrushes – grew in the reans.** 

The swallows and house-martins arrived in early April and nested in the cowshed and barns, swooping down to the yard to pick up mud with which to build their nests. Members of the tit and finch families visited the garden, a wren nested in one of the sheds and sparrows and starlings nested noisily under the roof tiles of house and barns. Blackbirds and thrushes sang, green and spotted woodpeckers tapped at tree trunks and tree creepers ran up apple trees searching for grubs. A robin appeared with a brood of young with speckled breasts but we didn’t find their nest. In the woods was an even greater variety of birds and we would often hear the cuckoo. The elm trees behind the Dutch barn hosted a small rookery. 
   We’d often hear owls hooting and one year they nested in a hollow branch of one of the old walnut trees. At about eleven o clock each evening there would be a tremendous noise as the young were being fed. Most years a spotted flycatcher built on the side of one of the barns among the Virginia Creeper, patching up the old nest year after year. 

Our garden had a young ash tree, a holly and two yew trees. In the field behind grew two ancient walnut trees with two younger ones planted on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In the woods at the top of the hill were elms, ash, sycamore and beech. A large oak grew at the top of the field next to the cart track leading further up the hill. There were several fox dens and at dusk we would often see a vixen with her cubs and we’d hear the vixen’s cries in the night.  Badgers also had setts in the woods and they would come down to our garden at night and we’d hear them snuffling around. 

The most common butterflies were red admirals, tortoiseshells, orange tip and peacocks, but in the Butterfly Field other varieties could also be spotted. In the garden we had a large goldfish pond with about twenty fish of various sizes. Beautiful water-lilies grew in it and we often saw green and blue dragonflies. Frogs laid their eggs in the pond and the kids would collect some of the spawn and keep it in a tank so they could watch it hatch and see the tadpoles evolve in to tiny frogs.

**South-west dialect for drainage ditches.


Patsy said...

How lovely to have her memories.

Joanna said...

This is so beautiful, Lindsay. reading this has really made my Friday afternoon. I so love the names of all the wildflowers. What a wonderful keepsake xxx