It’s the second of December and cowslips are flowering in the garden. November has been warm, and the newspapers are reporting apple blossom, breeding frogs and fresh leaves on the trees. On the driveway, the snowdrops are pushing their spears of glaucous green up through the wilting autumn leaves whilst last weekend’s trip to Wimpole Estate revealed daffodil leaves arrayed around a tree like soldiers awaiting their instruction to advance and flower.
The cowslips are wild, as far as can be told. I spotted them on a site inspection, in the path of a proposed access track, and salvaged those I could with clumps of the clayey soil still clustered around their roosts to ease the transition. Now they bask around the edges of the pond, or dapple the swaying light at the edge of the lawn.
Some of our cowslips are bold and triumphant, showy and brassy, with flowers packed so tight that they tremble like a firework just exploded, the shape held for a split second before the sound catches up with the light and all is shattered. Others are shy and retiring, demure and delicate, with single flowers bowed abashedly downcast until you lift them to look them in the face. The petals are a soft banana yellow with flecks of apricot orange which is also the scent that a closer sniff will reveal. The five petals are deeply notched and conspire into a deep corrola tube which the green calyx envelops. This encourages pollination by long-tongued invertebrates – bumblebees, butterflies, moths and bee-flies – which are in very short supply at this time of year meaning that the late flowers are unlikely to be fruitful.
The cowslip usually accompanies the other yellows of spring – the daffodil, the brimstone butterfly and the sun itself. I hope the unseasonable appearance will not affect the April display which heralds the winter’s end.