It’s March but it’s not spring


The coltsfoot may be blooming but it is NOT spring.

It was assuredly NOT spring. Despite the fact is was March, despite the fact I had fought my way across boggy paths to see the coltsfoot blooming, the icy wind scything off the Thames told me it was NOT spring. The birds thought otherwise. A cetti’s warbler blurted out a song from the reedy ditch surrounding Higham Marsh, lapwings were already swooping over the inland sea of flooded fields created by the RSPB. “It’s spring, it’s spring,” nature yelled at me but it was NOT. It was still the biting, cold ridden, hanging on til the bitter end dregs of an English winter.

Elderflower Champagne

Elder_flowersA recipe for this solstice week

8 elderflower heads in full bloom

4.5 litres (1 gallon) cold water

1 lemon

650 g (1.5 pounds) sugar

2 tablespoons of white vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in a little warm water and allow to cool. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, cut the rind and put the pieces with the elderflowers in a large basin, add the wine vinegar and pour on the rest of the cold water. Leave to steep for 4 days, strain and bottle in screw-topped bottles. It should be ready to taste after 10 days.

I have never managed to make it alcoholic but maybe because I can’t wait until a really sunny day to pick them. Supposedly the sunnier the day the more yeast is in the flowers. However, it is very tasty and refreshing, super fizzy and seems to keep for ages.


Monkey’s in the park

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photo credit – David Evans

The monkey orchids at Park Gate Down near Barham in Kent are spectacular , blowsy and showy. The common spots are  more delicate delights, ever varied in shades of pink from a delicate blush to Barbie car hued. Miniature perfection was dotted all over the valley from gentian blue milkwort to tiny chickweeds. The weather is atrocious and all our plans for picnics among butterflies are abandoned as gale force wind bend trees and butterflies hunker down in the grass, rain threatens.

Half way across the site we meet my friend Trevor in equal measure cursing the weather, the loss of his precious spring, the lack of bees and butterflies, swifts gathering to head back to Africa but, and at the same time, delighting in the pleasure of a field full of orchids. We find a butterfly orchid.

“Get down and look at it” Trevor commands. “How are the sepals?” he says.

I look blank.

“Are they diverged or co-joined.” he barks.

I peer closer. “Diverged, I think.” I say.

“Greater butterfly” he says with disappointment.

Trevor, a pleasure, like a rare and difficult orchid himself, a birds nest, a ghost orchid, a diamond in the rough.

699225_7363d41dLater we head to Yocklets Bank, a butterfly orchid attaches its pollen sacks to me (“diverged Trevor”). I walk around trying to pollinate another but the damn things are surprisingly sticky and wont leave my finger and trying to attach them makes me release more until I am covered with the things. Lady orchids 1ft tall emerge like mysterious aliens among the dogs mercury. The ladies in differing attire, some in slacks, some harem pants some in traditional crinolines. They don’t look like English plants at all more like foriegners trying to fit into the dark woods and getting it all wrong.

photo credit – Mike Pennington