Autumn treasure 12: Bluebell shoots

17/12/2018 When I first heard reports from friends and neighbours of bluebells sprouting in December, I thought they must be mistaken. I have rarely noticed snowdrop shoots in December, and that seemed far more likely than bluebells. With a large dollop of doubt and no first-hand evidence to settle the matter, I soon forgot about it.

Until last year, when I actually paid attention to what was under my nose.

I have a large clump of bluebells next to my house, beside the driveway; one of few clumps that are still thriving, as the goats rarely manage to get to them. (The intention is that they never to get to them, but anyone familiar with goats will know this is a tall order). For some reason they like eating bluebells, but not snowdrops.

Before the end of December I noticed green leaves poking up through the gravel. I was surprised: there had been extremely mild weather in previous years when there was mention of bluebell shoots in December, and even flowering snowdrops. This year the end of autumn was much colder.

Why had I still not noticed any snowdrop shoots, when they grow everywhere in the garden? Soon I realised it was probably because everywhere else, the bulbs grow amongst dead leaves, grass and weeds, hiding from the casual glance until they are nearly at the point of flowering. Snowdrop leaves are also silvery green, in comparison to the bluebells’ full-blooded green. Here, its brightness stands out amongst the gravel, requiring no searching or close examination.

I felt a little ashamed both that I hadn’t really believed the people who had told me they sprouted so early, and that it had taken me until now to notice them. Rescue chickensBut, of course, my first and last reactions were not to question, or to feel ashamed; they were pure and simple delight. It was proof spring was on the way. I was struggling with autumn, the approach of Christmas and of winter, and we had already had a bout of snow in early December. Here was something to hold on to – something more definitive than snowdrops. Bluebells conjure up for me the best months of spring: the extravagance of green, the festivity of flowers.

This year, autumn has been mild. We’ve had barely a frost, barely an icy day. Lately I’ve spent more time than usual near the driveway bluebells installing and testing a motion sensor light, and a few days ago I spotted those little green pioneers. I have no such dread of winter as I did last year, but I was still thrilled to see them.

Somehow their appearance near the winter solstice seems fitting. The whole of winter might still be ahead of us, but here is undeniable evidence: the earth is turning towards spring. No matter what weather is thrown at us before then, it will arrive. It is unstoppable.