Friday, 10 May 2013

Spring is here, spring is here…

Spring is here, spring is here… “I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring, I do, don’t you?  ‘Course you do”  To quote Tom Lehrer. But I certainly don’t advocate his idea about pigeons in the park!!  (this will make no sense unless you are familiar with his song).


Spring is amazingly vivid at the moment – and the rain this week feels so very  welcome because the plants are really needing it.


I adore the winter but it felt very long this year, especially with all the heavy snow we had here just immediately before Easter, so I’ve really been drinking in all the colours of Spring this year.   In planning various projects I’ve been out in the woods a lot, I’ve been really busy with the Discovery Garden at Dunkirk Primary School and also very busy in my own wildlife friendly garden.

I love making things outside – whatever you make you also can’t help but be busy contemplating the natural things around you and thereby noticing so much more than you would inside.  Being relatively still in nature beings amazing discoveries and the spring is so rich in these.    I was in a wonderful woodland making patterns with sticks a few days ago and all of a sudden became aware of a buzzard flying through the trees quite low within a few metres of me – it passed close by and I stood so still as it passed.

Gardening for wildlife is a joy all year round but the spring is especially magical as creatures and plants awaken and emerge from winter slumbers…   the sight of small creatures such as the first bees, swallows, frogs, ladybirds are heart-warming.   The vivid greens as buds and early leaves unfurl are so strong. 


I love the early spring flowers and the blossom on trees – and the flowers of trees such as ash, maple, oak are such exquisite things which could also be overlooked.  I’ve always been drawn to the small little plants and flowers that live in woodland and hedgerows – and some of the woodland flowers that are out at the moment are so stunning.   They have the most intriguing names which tell such stories – stitchwort, speedwell, wood sorrel, forget-me-not… their names are a link to uses, remedies and stories we are in danger of losing touch with.


Amidst the clutter of collected objects I love to refer to for inspiration are several tattered second hand books which I’ve found in charity shops and various other places.   Several old books I love to use were also mine when I was a small child – including my worn and well-thumbed copies of the Ladybird “What to Look For” seasonal series, illustrated by the wonderful C.F. Tunnicliffe.     “What to Look for in Spring” is so interesting to refer to as I reflect on my discoveries amongst the woodlands and hedgerows at the moment.
In books like this, written over 50 years ago, its really interesting – but also worrying – to note the things that were once seen as common and yet sadly no longer are.   It’s also fascinating to see how common names for plants and birds have changed and how descriptive language has also greatly changed.

I love these words from  “Nature Rambles” by Edward Step (1930):
“…the great charm of the spring, when it comes, is, to most of us, that the old favourite flowers for which we have been watching come back to us one or two at a time, enabling us to admire them fully and to make note of their structure and habitats.  We know that most of these things have their special times and haunts; and the knowledge should induce us to make our projected ramble include the spots that are most likely to yield to us what we wish to see.   In finding what we sought, we are almost sure to find in addition something that is new to us.”


“What to Look for in Spring” says:
“Wild hyacinths (or bluebells) are blue underfoot, looking like patches of reflected sky.  By this time the nightingale should be singing, and most of the migrant birds are here making their nests”.

There’s a beauty and poetry (and a real quirkiness often) in the way older books describe things and I’m really interested in how the books aimed at children are full of very intense text.


Spring (like all seasons) has a real mix of weather conditions - which probably needs to be embraced!  I think being in the woods in the rain in spring is quite a wonderful experience, there’s something soothing, fresh and life-affirming about it.  When working with children outside it brings a different view-point to the weather and the seasons; I’m inspired by the things children find a delight in.    Jumping in puddles, collecting raindrops, catching falling petals as snow, daisy-chains, gathering dandelions to study, watching water-beetles…  It often feels such a real privilege to share journeys through the seasons with children and sometimes it can be a totally different take on things to that shown by some adults.


A week or so ago I was stuck in traffic on my journey home – and I watched a woman pulling up dandelions from her driveway and then applying weed killer to them.  A day or so later I was in the Nature Garden at Dunkirk primary with a group of children and we were discovering recent changes there.   One young boy was completely intrigued by a couple of dandelions in flower – he didn’t know the name of the plant but knew that it “makes you wet the bed”  (its wonderful that this bit of plant-lore passes down the generations).   He also hadn’t made the connection between the yellow dandelion flowers and the white dandelion clocks – but because the abundance of dandelions means its fine to pick some and pull them apart to discover their structure.   He was fascinated by the base of the flower petals and in puling apart a closed seed head he could see how the white seeds were getting ready to emerge.   It was wonderful listening to him discover all this and make connections.

Dandelions have so any wonderful uses and a brilliant name – taken from French and referring to the lions teeth like shape in the leaves…  They should be seen as a vital part of any outdoor space for children. 

We have a mud pie making area set up permanently in the Discovery Garden at Dunkirk, all year groups love to use this and I’ve noticed them learning and observing so much as they make various potions and mixtures.   Young children there were fascinated in the winter when their mud pies froze – and were explaining to me recently how they couldn’t make frozen pies anymore because the weather was too warm.  I don’t think you can make true hands-on connections for yourself (which are the best deep-seated learning experiences) without spending long periods of time outdoors exploring like this.   You also need to have patches of land left so that dandelions can flourish, mud pies can be left to freeze and mice can make little tunnels through the grass… 


“the deepwood is vanished in these islands – much, indeed had vanished before history began – but we are still haunted by the idea of it.  The deepwood flourishes in our architecture, art and above all in our literature.  Unnumbered quests and voyages have taken place through and over the deepwood, and fairy tales and dream-plays have been staged in its glades and copses.  Woods have always been a place of inbetweenness, somewhere one might slip from one world to another, or from one time to a former.”
The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane
“The relationship between humans and trees is one that is closer and more complicated than that between us and inanimate objects…”
“Ancient Trees, Living Landscapes” by Richard Muir

“Woods, like water, have been surprised by motorways and the modern world, and have come to look like the subconscious of the landscape.  They have become the guardians of our dreams of greenwood liberty, of our wildwood, feral, childhood selves, of Richmal Crompton’s Just William and his outlaws.  They hold the merriness of Merry England, of yew longbows, of Robin Hood and his outlaw band.  But they are also repositories of the ancient stories…”
Roger Deakin - ‘Wildwood’

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