After the wettest year in England since records began, the new year kicked off with a dry, sunny January 1st. The next day it rained, but that one day of sunshine seemed to lift everyone’s spirits. Then yesterday Maisie noticed that the barometer hanging in the hall had leapt up from ‘Change’ to ‘VERY DRY’. Just before lunch the sun poked through and I decided to take my sheepdog Twink with me for a quick walk in the wood. It’s so sad: I can’t walk among those ranks of sturdy ash trees without thinking about their impending death. I wonder when it’ll happen? I’d guess in a couple of years’ time, as the disease is already in Norfolk, our neighbouring county. So sad. But enough of that: shoulders back and think cheerful thoughts.
The wood is changing every day. Snowdrops are now growing appreciably, and in the last couple of weeks, Hellebores have come into flower. A few years ago we bought a plant of the garden variety of the native Hellebore, H. foetidus, var. Wester Flisk and every so often a seedling (probably a cross with the straight H. foetidus) springs up with the red veined leaves of Wester Flisk (which itself was a sport). Rather more common in the wood than the native Hellebore, which seems a bit reluctant to thrive in our heavy soils, is the European Hellebore, H. orientalis whose hybrids are now forming quite substantial patches. I think its flowers look almost better when they’re just about to open – although, having said that, when they do flower they look gorgeous, especially when poking through snow on a sunny February day.
The big surprise when Twink took me towards a pair of big oaks, was a hazel bush whose catkins had opened for the first time this morning. I’ll swear they weren’t open when Twink led me along the same route yesterday (later I discovered why she was so keen to come this way: a very dead hare).
Then finally, we came across several patches of aconites that had just pushed their heads and leaves up through the silty muds stirred-up by the endless rain. If ever there was a sign of spring, it was those aconites. So I’m beginning to think there’s hope in sight. Let’s all pray the rain holds off for a few more days – or even weeks. It would be lovely to be able to go for a walk without wellies and squelching. Of course, I suppose I could always lay a tarmac path through the wood. Then it would be just like Wisley or Kew. But what else can they do? We really do pay a huge price for living in such a crowded island…