Nature coming alive
April is a good time to spot nature coming alive in the hedgerows. Alexanders, a tall celery like plant first introduced to Britain as a food and medicinal herb by the Romans, grows on verges near the coast and further inland. Its flowers provide an early boost of nectar for insects and its powdered seeds are reportedly a cure for flatulence and snakebites!
Wood anemones, primroses, wild daffodils, violets and bluebells are starting to bloom and the verges on the road that runs through Firestone Copse are covered at this time of year.
Some of the most interesting hedges and verges are alongside the Island’s many sunken lanes. Ironically, these lanes are at their lightest during the darkest months of winter as the leafless trees and shrubs create very little shade. As spring progresses and the days lengthen, the ground flora make the most of the increasing light and warmth before the leaf canopy closes over again.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) loves semi shade, but is happy in full sun and grows in profusion all over the Island. The leaves are similar in shape to lily of the valley, but the aroma of the delicate star-like white flowers is somewhat different. In spring you’ll smell wild garlic before you see it. The high banks of Shorwell Shute are a sea of wild garlic in spring.
These sunken lanes with their high banks are also known as ‘hollow ways’. They were the routes first travelled by early man through what was then primeval forest and subsequently worn down by human traffic over hundreds or thousands of years. As the land on either side was cleared and cultivated, these lanes gauged deeper into the soil. The Island’s countryside is criss-crossed by such lanes, and the banks at the side contain some really interesting trees and exposed roots.
Ancient trees have real character, not just in the spreading upper limbs, but also lower down. The oak tree trunk pictured is in Sandy Lane, near Newport. I think it has the face of a sleeping man with a large nose and even larger moustache. I’m sure ancient stories of tree spirits and the ‘Green Man’ must have their origins in trees with such unusual features.