Leaving Toronto in winter’s chill grip, we discover spring in England, the hedgerows alive with birdsong and pretty with cascades of white hawthorn.
Although daffodils are sticking their noses up in our Canadian garden, by the time we reach England in late April, the daffs are mostly over, the result of an unseasonal warm spell that brought many spring flowers on early. By early May, the hawthorn is magnificent and in villages all across the land, bright pink cherry blossoms and pale pink apple blossoms lie heavy on the bough.
Flying in, one can’t help but be entranced by the patchwork of bright green and brilliant yellow fields, the latter called rape seed, although why the Brits haven’t adopted the far more pleasant sounding canola nomenclature, I can’t imagine. Around the country, vast fields of yellow make the countryside far more interesting that it was 50 years ago, when I left, and when rape seed was an unknown crop. The Canadians tamed the poor-yielding and partially poisonous seed and through genetic engineering, developed the high yielding crop of today. Don’t believe anyone who tries to market organic canola or rape seed. There’s no such thing.
Meanwhile, in secret woodland places, bluebells stain the shady ground an amazing blue. We look for the dancing bells wherever we go, and find masses of them just reaching their best along Lime Tree Avenue in Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. The vibrant pale green of the lime trees, over 1,500 of them planted in the 1850s in a double row over two miles long, is a perfect cover. While we’re at Clumber, we take time out to visit the four-acre walled kitchen garden, just about all that survives of the original estate, and home to the second largest collection of rhubarb in the world, at over 135 edible varieties. One of the gardeners tells me the largest collection is in the Netherlands. One of the national newspapers asks readers to send in a photo and whereabouts of their favourite bluebell wood. For fear of illegal pickers discovering my own favourite spot, I shan’t reveal it.
In Sussex, we lunch at Horsted Place, a Victorian Gothic pile now a hotel, where we are planning to hold a celebration of my mother’s 100th birthday later in the year. Alas, the mass of daffs are past their best, but the bluebells in the woods lining the driveway are spectacular. A spring display of pink and purple rhododendrons adds splendour to the view.
Despite nature’s best efforts to showcase England’s springtime beauty, the weather is chilly throughout our visit, although most days the rain holds off. During a somewhat damp trip to the New Forest in Hampshire, I find I have left my raincoat in Yorkshire, so I’m forced into a well equipped sailing gear shop in Lymington, to buy something weatherproof. It’s a good justification for a splendid new sailing jacket. At Elmer’s Court, now much restored as a comfortable hotel, the wisteria blossoms drip off every corner, and their heavenly scent permeates the air.
As the weather changes, the cherry and apple blossoms are replaced by masses of lilac and laburnum.
Springtime in England is a wondrous time, with colour everywhere to brighten the spirits after the bleakness of winter. In our little garden, Fred and Ginger, as we have named the faithful couple of large wood pigeons, go into their mating dance, pairs of magpies peck along the roadsides, little birds whose names I do not know, flit here and there, and in a sheltered garden on the south coast, I spot England’s tiniest bird, the wren, that used to adorn the farthing. I’m not sure what a quarter of a penny would be worth today, but in an antique shop I’m looking for a three-penny bit (thruppence in Brit talk) and happily pay 50 pence for a 1967 version. A decent rate of inflation, I’d say.
I’m heartened by the news that we have missed the worst of the heavy rain and flooding that beset Toronto during our absence, but home we must go after another delightful tour of England.
NOTE: There are many versions of the ditty, The spring is sprung, often attributed to Ogden Nash or e.e. cummings, but factually anonymous. In it’s favourite iteration, it is spoken with a New Jersey accent by two voices.
The spring is sprung,
The grass is riz,
I wonder where the boidies is?
The boid is on the wing!
But that’s absoid,
The wing is on the boid!