31/5/2018 I have resorted to partial cheating again. May possesses so many treasures that I could only get round to writing about a few of them, a problem that was exacerbated by the late arrival of so much that ordinarily belongs to late winter and early spring. But then growth and flowering caught up, and many weeks of flowers and blossom were condensed into just a few. This year there were barely two weeks, instead of two months, between the last of the blackthorn blossom and the first of the hawthorn; a very strange state of affairs.
May isn’t only the month of cow parsley, but also of wisteria, laburnum, wild garlic and bluebell woods, all of which I love. Due to bad weather, time constraints and timing misjudgments, I didn’t make the most of the woods this year. Bull’s Wood is my favourite place to go for oxlips in late April and wild garlic from April to early May, but despite my good intentions, I didn’t manage to get there. Bluebell woods are to be found in many places in Suffolk: Priestley Wood in Barking, Captain’s Wood in Sudbourne and Dollops Wood in Polstead (photo right), to name just a few. This year I went to Dollops Wood, but I forgot that my garden’s seasons are usually at least a week or two behind everywhere else. My bluebells were at their peak, so I thought I would be in time to catch them in the woods, but as soon as I arrived I realised they were on their way out. There were still enough flowers for me to enjoy them, but the blue haze would have been far more luminous a week earlier.
Dollops Wood is an unusual wood for Suffolk, with its magnificent beech trees and steep slopes. So, bluebells or no bluebells, I always enjoy my visits there. The first thing that attracted my attention this time was not the sight nor scent of bluebells, but the smell of garlic. I had forgotten Dollops Wood also possesses a large crop of wild garlic at the boggy bottom of the steep hill. After stopping for the bluebells, beech trees and landscape, I made my way down the hill, hoping I’d find them still in flower. They were. They couldn’t compete with the Bull’s Wood display (see header photo), but I was very glad to have caught them.
The main reason that I have decided to include the whole month of May, however, isn’t to catch up on individual treasures that I have run out of May weeks to include. I have known for a long time that April to June is my favourite period of the year, and nothing can now induce me to go abroad, and very few things even to London, during this time. But what I didn’t become aware of until this year – and this may be partly due to the time-lapse quality of spring’s progress after such a late, cold winter – is that May is without question the best month of the year. I have spent so much effort trying to learn to love autumn and winter that I had almost convinced myself that I am as fond of them as I am of spring. There is a peaceful quality about them that I appreciate, rather than the constant high I experience in spring, and the slight anxiety I feel at the progress of summer, knowing that autumn is on its way.
But now I have to admit to myself, definitively, that there is no competition. ‘Fondness’ is completely the wrong word for my feelings about spring: it is the difference between contentment and euphoria; affection and being in love.
May is Queen of the year. The tentative start to the season is over, and the soil and air have warmed up sufficiently that plants and trees have overcome their ambivalence about growing, and everything is in full, enthusiastic bushiness, splendidly dismissive of any human attempt to control it; and if not in flower already, fully committed to reaching that goal. Even the mulberry tree has finally decided it might be time to grow some leaves – and mulberries. The birds are busy feeding their noisy chicks and proclaiming the glories of the earth to anyone who will listen.
When I walk in the countryside, I wander around almost in a trance, wondering if I can really believe what my eyes are telling me. It is only a year since I saw such a sight, but it might as well have been a decade. I have never fully realised before that it is this disbelief – as though I’d suddenly found myself in paradise – that contributes to the anxiety that accompanies the exhilaration: I know that in a few short weeks I will wake up from the dream, and it will be gone. And then I will wonder if it ever really happened, despite the fact that I know it returns every year without fail.
Last week I spotted my first lone poppy at the Hobbets, and the ox-eye daisies have just burst into flower. I have a soft spot for them, and know that they herald the coming of pyramid orchids and countless other wild flowers. May is Queen, but she is short-lived. Thankfully, following in her wake are enough treasures to fill the rest of the year.