The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I’ve stolen today’s blog title from Shakespeare. Oh, how I doth spoil thee!
You see, in The Tempest, the fairy Ariel is released from the servitude of Prospero, and delights in his freedom in the simple things of life:
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie.”
In other words, the joy of liberty for Ariel is summed up by his supping of nectar and by sleeping in the flowerheads of the Cowslip.
And for me the blooming of Cowslips is indeed one of the great pleasures of spring. It is part of that great explosion of yellow that marks the season. Daffodils are cheerful if a little brash, dandelions are an intense delight when carpeting a meadow, and marsh marigold is heavenly in ponds. But the pastel hue of Cowslips is so softly satisfying.
Which leads me to one of the experiments I’ve been trying in my garden, which is to see if it is possible to transform an area of bog standard commercial turf, containing no other plant species other than grass, into something more like a meadow.
It is an area I over-grandly call the Square Meadow – it is about four metres by four in size, right outside my lounger window, with a birdbath in the middle.
To start, in autumn 2018, I mowed the turf very short and then scarified it with a rake. Effectively, it is like vigorously scratching it. It opens up thousands of little gaps in the turf, mini pockets of bare soil over which I sowed wildflower seeds.
But I didn’t add Cowslip seed at that stage, so I rectified that in autumn 2019, pushing about 100 Cowslip seeds one by one into any tiny bare gaps I could find.
Cowslips are one of those plants that need to feel the cold of winter if they are to germinate successfully the next spring, and germinate they did in 2020, but they then need a year to build up their strength before they flower. So, last spring they were just little rosettes of leaves getting themselves established.
This year – wow – they have really transformed the meadow. Here they are this week. The Hairy-footed Flower Bees have been whizzing and humming their way among them at a hectic pace. There are some gaps on one side of the area, but that's fine, I'm confident Cowslips will fill those in years to come.
I ought to quickly explain the flower’s name. Its scientific name, Primula veris, is easy to understand, the Primula of spring. But the English name? Is it a flower the cows can lose their footing on? Well, if you think of ‘slip’ meaning ‘slop’, then you probably get a better sense of its meaning. The slip probably refers to a cowpat, among which the flowers might be found.
So, if you have just part of your lawn, front of back, which you cold mow hard this autumn and into which you could push a few Cowslip seeds, then give it a go.
For me, the pleasure has been immense. I’m still on the long haul back from labyrinthitis and unable to do much gardening, and my vision has been blurred for eight weeks (the dictate function in Microsoft Word is proving very useful!). But at least I’ve been able to sit quietly next to them and lose myself like Ariel in the golden cups. It has been another reminder of the wonderful restorative effect of nature.
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