Monday, 10 March 2008

Mad March On

March, the first month of spring, when everything is budding and promising more. Even the Middle English name of the month, March, sounds positive: a determined and regular moving forward.

In past years we've seen hares in the fields around here: the brown hare breeds in spring and - if you are very lucky - you may see them 'boxing' and chasing around which is why they are referred to as mad March hares.

The hare is a magical and mythical animal (see blog archive Hare Today, 3 June 2007) and the sight of one never fails to thrill me: not long ago they were seriously endangered because of new farming methods but fortunately they are now on the increase thanks to changes in agriculture and protected habitats.

But apparently these mad hares are actually the females fending off unwanted advances from males, and who can blame them, nothing mad about them at all. From as early as the 1500's hares were considered to be mad for this behaviour – the term 'hare brained' is associated with it – and Lewis Carroll, in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, didn't help with his chapter A Mad Tea Party which included March Hare and The Hatter acting very oddly and excitedly.

Of course, little, sensible, sleepy Dormouse was there too, which reminds me, last week as I walked Freddie up the road the dormouse boxes that were left in the hedges as part of an ecological survey were being collected: sadly, most of them were only inhabited by wood mice. Here again the reintroduction and conservation of hedges is so important: they shelter and create safe wildlife corridors for small creatures like the dormouse.

On our walks I look out for all the small spring flowers in the verges too: palest lemon primroses – there is something quite innocent about them isn't there – look charming as do the tiny violets, both white ones and purple. These hint at a time long past when they were collected and made into bunches, sent to the city and sold as mini corsage for ladies to wear on their lapel.

And in all the front gardens I pass – peering over the fences is one of the pleasures of walking – are beautiful spring bulbs and early flowering trees. The snowdrops are over but daffodils are out in their hundreds and are the most cheering and marvellous of sights: it always reminds me of Wordsworth's poem 'When all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils' because en masse the unexpected sight of them is stunning.

The crowds look spectacular when they fill a bed or an orchard but for smaller spaces and in windy sites I particularly like the miniature daffs like Tete a Tete or February Gold. Narcissi too are a favourite of mine, firstly because they are more delicate than the large trumpets but also because of their wonderful scents. I can't bear to pick any of them from my own garden but buy them for the house – I like a whole jug full, they're so cheap – because I don't want to dilute the sight of them out of my windows.

I have some miniature ones in my front garden – a spring garden, because I think it cheers people in chilly weather as they walk by and because I see them whenever I go in or out. And flowering with them are some of the later Lenten hellebores - the claret coloured ones such a good contrast. Their sophisticated and stylish flowers also contrast with the bold simplicity of the daffodil trumpets.

And now some blue hyacinths (old potted ones I stuck in the ground) are beginning to open, later to be followed by their baby cousins, grape hyacinths (muscari), whilst ground covering pulmonaria flowers are already out: all these blues will look lovely next to the daffodils, opposite sides of the colour spectrum. Something to look forward to late in March.

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