The hay meadow beside my house is at its very best in Spring when the flowers are in full bloom. I walk through it every day and still find something new or simply so beautiful I wish I’d brought the camera again to capture it.
It changes you see. The meadow is a shifting kaleidoscope of colour as first one then another plant species makes its resurgence – like a fickle model who throws off one dress in favour of another – and I can only applaud and photograph as another catwalk show takes centre stage.
Managed without the use of chemicals or fertilisers the hay meadow is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) under a stewardship scheme. It is allowed to flourish unchecked until the end of July when the wild flowers have had their day and their seed has set. The tall grass is then cut and bailed and limited livestock grazing permitted.
Following ancient farming methods once widespread across upland Britain, the meadow is floral showcase, a haven for wildlife and a rich habitat for butterflies and insects.
The season opens with a yellow dawn. The first joyful Primroses burst forth, then Cowslip and later Oxlip, which is a hybrid of the two, scatter across the grass signalling winter has at last released its grip.
Tiny Dog Violets animated in the growing greenery are an indication of the new fashion to come. Then patches of Ground-ivy and the tiny vivid blue flowers of Germander Speedwell creep from the sides of the field. For these diminutive species this is the time to shine before the fast growing grass smoothers them.
The purple pallet continues with a flush of Bluebells and clusters of upright Bugle, both tall growing and more able to compete with rivals. Early Red Campion completes the pretty picture.
I find the Cuckooflower or Lady’s-smock, whose pale pink flowers are thought to coincide with the arrival of the first cuckoo – and the next day I hear the instantly recognisable call of the secretive bird echoing through the woods.
Spring has now surely sprung and I become half crazed with counting flowers. The names rehearsed and learnt last year are easily forgotten over winter when such colour seems a too distant memory. Identification books and nature-guides litter the kitchen table, torn slips of paper used as bookmarks tumble to the floor like falling petals.
Water Avens, with their orange-pink nodding flower, and Red Campion now jostle for position on the field margins with dense patches of Crosswort.
Hugging the meadow on two sides, the river is home to a vibrant yellow Broom who stoops to admire her reflection surrounded by the last of the bluebells.
I find Bird’s-foot-trefoil or Eggs and Bacon as some call it referring to the egg-yolk yellow flowers and reddish buds. It also known as Granny’s Toenails for its claw like seed pods! Along the woodland edge I come across Cow-wheat, a semi-parasitic plant which attaches to the roots of other plants to feed.
The blossoming of the Hawthorn heralds a new phase, for now the meadow is dressed in bridal white with Pignut and Cow Parsley throwing a veil over lush grass. There are bouquets of Stitchwort and the Wild Garlic on the riverbank dresses for the occasion, throwing off pungent green for a fitting delicate bloom.
Now we must tread carefully for the meadow is teaming with wildlife. A roe deer enjoys the abundant grazing and relative security of the tall grass. My dog tastes the air allowing scent to flow through her nostrils before tensing up on point indicating the presence of game. She’s interested also in another area the other side of the stock fence where I know a hen pheasant is nesting and only reluctantly obeys the call to come away.
Above us red kites and buzzards sore through the sky and swallows dart for abundant insects. A sparrow hawk hunts along the edge of the wood and in the evening we see a barn owl swooping low over the meadow, searching for mice which tunnel through the long grass.
The pale purple blooms of Wood Crane’s-Bill emerge toward the very end of May and that night a glorious full moon rises. Known as the flower moon it marks a time of increased fertility when temperatures are warm and plants blossom.
With the garden demanding lots of attention at this time of year we have made full use of the light evening and worked late, sitting down to dinner as the moon rises over the tree line and bathes the meadow in a luminous glow. Bats take the place of the birds in the dark sky and entertain us while we eat. But later clouds mask the moon and giant May bugs, or cockchafers as they are also uncomfortably known, are drawn to the lamp on the table. They clatter unnervingly into our faces and get tangled in our hair and eventually we are forced inside – leaving the meadow and the moon to the wild creatures to whom it really belongs.