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April 2013

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Mary Davies looks at spring verges


There is much to contemplate along suburban verges as the dog and I go on our daily walks. Closer in to the big city, a century or so of houses and pavements means that the wild flowers have long since been eradicated. Out here on the fringes only a few decades, if that, have passed since the land was open fields. The suburban estates that have replaced the fields are generous with their grassy spaces, diversified with mature trees and the occasional stretch of ancient hedgerow. Old favourites still reappear each spring.

Dandelions and daisies are commonplace enough: it is the cowslips, bluebells and wild primroses that draw the eye. Primroses still seed themselves and bloom along the old hedgerows; they hug the shade, seeking cool runs for their roots. The contrast between the pale delicacy of their blooms and the vivid colours of their cousins inside the garden gates is clear to see.

Native bluebells also hug shady sites, their future complicated by the arrival of the exotic Spanish bluebell, their coarser relative, introduced, innocently, into woodland not far from the sea. But I have a particular fondness for the surviving cowslips that appear alongside the path. Our walking territory was once cattle pastures stretching down towards the coast: the clayey fields would have been thickly dotted with cowslips, just like other similar fields I remember only a few miles away. But cowslips rarely appear on the public areas; no doubt municipal weed-killers and close mowing have done their work. They survive best on the verges where the neighbouring gardens are least well-kept - where the householders are little concerned with keeping grass weed-free.

There is a corner site by a neglected garden that each year is brightened by an abundance of cowslips among the rough sward. Small clusters appear here and there along other parts of our walks. And there is a spot to look out for below a high granite wall where one clump of cowslips manages to reappear each year, somehow evading the mower blades. This clump grows at the edge of a triangular patch of grass, privately owned, where some of the old grassland mix of species survives. White clover, and red, attract bumblebees, the common birdsfoot trefoil puts out pale yellow pea-flowers and a great patch has spread of the prostrate silverweed, its pale, toothed leaves contrasting with the surrounding green. Even dog daisies try their best to flower, although their upright flower heads rarely escape the mower for long.

This subtle show of colour begins while the flowering trees are scattering their petals onto the verges. Residents' associations have added flowerbeds: daffodils and roses, petunias and begonias satisfy the urge for neatly-organised brightness. For the moment the wild and the cultivated co-exist: long may it stay so.

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