Here in Ireland, chilly easterly winds have prolonged Winter and Spring has been reluctant to appear. Grass is not growing as a minimum temperature is required for growth. Animals – cattle mainly – are collapsing due to starvation as fodder supplies have run out and farmers report that animals are ‘crying’ with hunger. Because of the wet summer of 2012, the fodder has been less plentiful and less nutritious than normal. There is indeed a food crisis in the farming sector and the farming community has suffered greatly due to the high cost of importing fodder and the expensive substitutes that have to be fed to farm animals – if their owners can afford it! Hopefully this animal food crisis will come to an end within the next couple of weeks as temperatures finally begin to climb and Spring finally takes hold.
A few warm days with temperatures in the mid teens have already produced great signs of hope. Native plants, shrubs and trees are finally beginning to stir. Today as I travelled from Cork, I took a detour to see if I could find Spring in the bleak fields. I am delighted to report that it IS there!
Here we have Blackthorn. Blackthorn is,for me, the real harbinger of Spring with her beautiful white flowers borne on bare branches. Blackthorn has delicate blossom, and is a precursor to the more feisty Hawthorn (or Whitethorn) whose boughs will bend under the weight of fabulously profuse blossoms that will adorn the hedgerows and whose scent will fill the air for weeks. The Hawthorn bloom is one of the most beautiful spectacles of Nature occurring in Ireland…and I just LOVE it!
In the past few days, the ubiquitous and often unloved Gorse has begun to put on a spectacular display. The sulphur yellow flowers of this otherwise unattractive and spiny shrub are cascading down sheer embankments on new roadways,often distracting this driver! Gorse, otherwise known as Furze, or as Whin in my native Donegal, thrives on disturbed ground and is very much at home along our motorways and major roads.
Gorse often flowers almost all year when conditions are mild, but has been less obvious so far in this this cool year.
Now it is shouting from rusty gates down country lanes, if only we will look!
To me, Spring is yellow. Apart from the white Blackthorn (!), many of our wild early Spring flowers are yellow. This has always fascinated me as our cultured yellow daffodils, yellow crocus, yellow Forsythia are also among the first to awaken after winter. If we look at ground level in country lanes and along road verges, there are carpets of yellow there too.
Driving along sheltered country roads at this time of year is a real ‘joy-ride’! The banks are covered with the pretty multi-petalled Lesser Celandine (nothing ‘Lesser ‘ about her! ). They also grow right down on to the road, facing up into every spare ray of sunshine!
Driving these minor roads is an enormous voyage of discovery as the yellow linear meadows follow the road, changing and adapting to the micro-climate around every corner.They are all the more beautiful as the trees are still bare and leafless, even in these closing days of April.
Profusions of yellow edge the narrow country roads and sit at the foot of the barren trees. Yet there are signs of bud burst – delicate green buds are swelling, and some delicate lime green leaves are already opening in sunny sheltered positions.
Yellow -green catkins are in great profusion on the stems of willows, ready to burst forth with a few more days of warmth.
Almost most spectacular of all is the much maligned Dandelion, scattered in great drifts in the verges of motorways, (where drivers may not stop to take photographs !) and carpeting entire fields colonizing bits of ground where nothing else would think of growing. Yet it delights us at this time of year, with its sunshine colour, defying the cold bleak days of winter and giving us a promise of hopefully yellow-sunny and yellow- warm days ahead!