Signs of spring

David and I used to have this tradition called Signs of Spring. We would take walks across Regent’s Park and Hyde Park in London and the first person to spot a sign of spring won a point.  Daffodils, snow drops, winter flowering cherry all worthy of a yelp of delight. And a point.

duckpondThe winter flowering cherry is a bit of a cheat as it really flowers in January in warm London. But the blossom so early is always a treat.

Here in the unseasonably warm Ardèche it’s an easy game.  My early daffodils are doing their thing over by the duck pond.  The viburnum in the hedge is going mad with scented petals.  And there are buds everywhere.

The tulips of course are still just small protuberances in the ground. Just tall enough for me to shriek when Etienne runs over them with his wheelbarrow.  They are shifting the mortar in wheelbarrows from way down the end of the east garden because Madame doesn’t want the grass and lawn close to the house desecrated by her favourite ‘barbarians’.


They think I’m hilarious about how fussy I am with the building site versus gardener issue.  But it has been a ten-year gentle battle. Mostly gentle.  But some of the viburnum close to the house is going to have to be cut down so they can work on the wall on the north side of the house. Lost that one. I’ve promised Etienne a bouquet of daffodils when they flower if he doesn’t kill them. Carrot and stick.

And the other daffodils – narcissus thalia are months off. The crocus are up on the east lawn. But most of those just got buried under a tonne of sand that has been delivered. Missed that one as well.  But hah! Gardener’s revenge. I am going to loot some of the sand to mark out where I want the wildflower seeds to go in the area behind the soft fruit orchard. Just yesterday I was scratching my head trying to work out where I was going to find sand.

IMG_5048My favourite later winter early spring-flowering plant is none of the above. It’s the stinking hellebore.  Helleborus foetidus. Let me just check that spelling, back in a tick. Phew. Haven’t lost my touch.

But does it stink? Well, not really. It’s more a mystery whiff than a stink.  And it is so fetching that I had to bring some indoors and shove it in a vase. Just so I can study it a bit better.  Out in the fields I rarely stop long enough for a good look.

And it’s so valuable for the early bees.  I went down to the lower terraces last afternoon as I spotted a particularly good specimen from the kitchen window.  But when I staggered down there I saw a great lumbering bumble bee working its way through the flowers and didn’t have the heart to cut off its precious food supply.  I chose some wonkier plants closer to a big clump of them in the shade garden instead.

And look who else loves the shade garden right now.  The chestnuts aren’t in leaf so there’s plenty of dappled sunshine from the euphorbias for Artur to enjoy.