Snowdrops. They are the first flowers most of us see early in the year, but theyre followed pretty quickly by others.
Did you know that the Victorians regarded snowdrops as a bad omen, representative of death because they so frequently grow in graveyards? I think that in modern times they are regarded more optimistically as the first harbinger of spring; here in Cumbria we can find them on shady verges throughout the county: theyre not too fussy about soil type so long as it is damp.
Hard on their heels come primroses and crocuses enjoying the same kind of habitat and adding the first colour to these early dark months. Crocuses are considered to represent gladness and youthful joy; this may be to do with their bright colours purples and yellows shining out of the wet ground cover in February and March or perhaps because of the legend that a Greek youth called Krokus was so in love with a nymph that the gods rewarded them both with immortality by turning them into crocus plants side by side. There are cultivated varieties of both crocus and primrose; if you see primroses any colour other than yellow, it is not our native species.
By the time these two are flowering, the days are really drawing out and we know that the spring is upon us, and from March you will find the white bloom of wood anemones covering woodland floors: their flowers, which normally arrive before their leaves, are not actually petals but sepals, and they close up at night to protect the stamens inside from frost: apparently they also close if rain is on its way. The ancient Egyptians regarded the anemone as a symbol of sickness and the Chinese as a flower of death; both somewhat at odds with Greek mythology which says that Anemos, the god of Wind, sends them in the early spring to herald his approach.
Common dog violets share space with primroses; one of my overriding memories of a trip to the Isle of Man a few years ago was earth embankments (in the way that we have dry stone walls) garnished liberally with violets and primroses. It felt like Easter!
On the fells, whatever the conditions, you might still see gorse in flower - not that it is particularly a spring flower, but it blooms pretty much year round. It is nonetheless a welcome splash of colour at a time of year where there isnt much around.
So when youre next trudging through the rain on a typical Cumbrian morning, have a look in the hedgerows and verges and see if you can spot something to convince you that spring is, honestly, really here.
Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith