Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Monday, 28 March 2011

"I would I had some Flowres o'th Spring . . ."

". . . that come before the swallow dares,
and take the windes of March with beauty

from "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare

The clocks have sprung forward and it's now officially British Summer Time; after a dull and particularly chilly Saturday, the wind dropped and the sun came out yesterday afternoon; so we decided to walk one of our 'hare-watching' routes.

Sure enough, after walking quite a long way along the un-seasonably dry and dusty lanes, we spotted the hares – their whiskers shimmering in the slighty misty sunshine. We had to share a pair of binoculars and our digital camera doesn't zoom in that far, so sadly no photos. (Making a note to treat myself to a good DSLR this year so I can take photos of hares.)

The Pussy-Willows in on the field edges are going over, the catkins reminded me of hares' tails.

One thing I didn't expect to find, but was very excited to spot, were Oxlips, Primula elatior – these are the iconic flower of Suffolk (except these particular ones are in a wood just outside the county on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border).

'Perdita' by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys

Oxlips were one of the 'Flowres o'th Spring' listed by Perdita in 'The Winter's Tale', they are now a rare in the wild in England, their distribution now confined to isolated woods in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

When Shakespeare mentioned Oxlips they were not known as a distinct species from all the various hybrids between Primroses and Cowslips, which botanists today refer to as 'false Oxlips'. In 1842 Henry Doubleday (yes, the same chap who founded what is now known as Garden Organic) studied Oxlips and decided that they were a distinct species in their own right. To get a second opinion, he asked his friend Charles Darwin to check his findings – who came to the same conclusion.

Luckily the camera is very good at close-ups, so I got a few nice shots. The first patch was in a ditch at a deer-crossing and near a small pond – deer love to nibble Oxlips and have a huge negative impact on the numbers of flowers. Maybe these have been spared because the deer are concentrating on crossing the ditch to the pond and not looking for snacks on the near-vertical bank.

A little further away I came across a much large area of Oxlips, these are in an open cleared ride through a large wood; the ground is usually waterlogged here – Oxlips love damp and shady conditions. I noticed that in open ground the flower stalks had been nibbled back, except for where the rosettes of leaves were protected by tangles of Dewberry briars, which obviously prevent close cropping by the deer's muzzles! However, due to lack of recent rain, these plants were dehydrated and therefore smaller and the leaves and flower heads were becoming limp in the sunshine.

By far the best plants were under a thorny hedge – difficult for deer (and me) to get close, but I managed to crawl near enough to get these photos. You can see the pale-yellow rounded petals and how the flowers hang their heads down to one side of the tall furry stalk.

On the way back from our walk we passed a pond and I decided to check it out for frogspawn . . .

. . . so, did you spot what I did? Do you see there's frogsawn AND toadspawn mingled together in the weeds?

Unlike frogspawn which is a blobby cloud-like mass of eggs; toadspawn is in ribbons, all laced and wound around the water plants. (Newt eggs are completely different – I'll tell you more about the amazing newt and how she lays her eggs, another day)



  1. A few years, when I did after-hours calls for Parks and Wildlife, I'd get frequent calls about the difference between frog' and toads' eggs.
    The most understandable answer was: "frogs' eggs look like snot; toads' eggs are like tiny black beads on a necklace."
    Crass, but I got the message across!

  2. do you suppose the hares are thinking 'just a little further, & she'll never get our photo' ? ;) how pretty oxslips are. as they're getting to be a rare sight in the wild, do people cultivate them in gardens? deer: rabbits with really long legs.

  3. Celia, thank you so much for taking me along for this walk. I love your close up photos, and also your descriptions of the deer and hares. You've given me some of your fresh spring air!

    Best wishes.

  4. I would love to get some images of hares but don't have the patience or a long enough lens for that sort of wildlife photography.
    I have heard of a good 'cheat' on the suffolk coast for getting close to Hares!
    As I was driving back from work today I was thinking about how dry it was. Fingers crossed for a sprinkle of mid week rain
    Great spring post

  5. This post is making me look forward to spring!

  6. Gorgeous post Celia-thanks for noticing the things I really look for and photographing them too!

  7. If these are ox lips, then what I think of as cow slips, are really cow's lips? Why?

  8. yay - such a happy post, so springy. I've only ever seen 1 hare in my life and that was about 17 yrs ago!
    oh i love the idea of frog/toad spawn nearby - how exciting!!

  9. How lucky to see oxlips. We only ever see the false oxlip here - and that's a rare treat too.

  10. You are clearly a lot further south than us! I think our daffodils might start to bloom soon. But I have seen a hare, almost two weeks ago! Thank you for the lovely photographs.

  11. So sweet. On the trail I hike with friends and dogs, there's a puddle that fills with those lovely strings of black pearls. Later the puddle dries up, so we rescue a coffee-cup full of eggs each spring, and raise them in an aquarium on our deck. I love hearing the toads sing in my New England yard in June, and wonder if they're the ones I rescued. Thanks for the images and the thoughts.

  12. Hi Moreidlethoughts - like it!

    Hi Petoskystone - yes some native plant nurseries supply oxlip seed and plants.

    Hi Frances - it's a pleasure!

    Hi Rhiannon - yes I've heard of that place too. But not being able to get close to hares makes them more special.

    Hi Amber - enjoy your autumn!

    Hi Threadspider - isn't it amazing what you find when you really look!

    Hi Elephant's Eye - yes you're right it should really be Ox Slip, but it's evolved and shortened over the years.

    Hi Carrie - are there hares in Northern Ireland?

    Hi Veg Heaven - we're lucky to live at the epicentre of Oxlip sites.

    Hi Skybluepinkish - yes a bit further south than you, but still cold compared to London and the South coast.

    Hi Lauren - welcome to PPPs, I love seeing toads too.

    A big welcome to lots of new visitors to PPPs this month.

  13. I love your wilderness pictures, the pond, the flower...


I love reading all the comments (except for spam and advertising which I will delete) and I'll reply here in the comments under each blog post, it may take a few days if I'm busy.
You don't need to have a blog to leave a comment, you can select the name/URL option and fill in just your name instead of a blog link.