The lines blur incoherently between the changing seasons. In Australia, I eagerly counted down the days until March, when the stifling heat of a long and unrelenting summer was meant to stand gallantly aside, allowing autumn to respectfully saunter in. It never did. The eucalypt leaves, brittle like corn chips, crunched noisily under foot. Months spent languishing underneath a barbed sun rendered the landscape utterly parched. The rust-red and orange sculptural leaves of autumn found in the southern states of Australia are practically non-existent up north, where a tyrannical summer believes it has the right to rule for at least six months of every year.
What I once knew to be the virtues of an Australian spring: a kinder, gentler sun, tempered breezes, and cooler nights have become my summer here. In many ways spring was simply summer turned down a notch; a more forgiving season allowing one to luxuriate in the softer sunshine, to feel charged and reinvigorated. Since moving to England, I have become more attuned to the seasons, trying to preserve the minute details in my mind. Living in a new place is like travelling in many ways; we tend to notice things in a new environment that, had we grown up in a place, may have seemed dull or insignificant before. Our visual synapses become so easily entertained, like babies discovering the world for the first time. Smatterings of tiny, pure white daisies appear almost overnight in early spring when the earth is still damp with winter’s rain and the sun is shining plentiful overhead. Lawns are allowed to grow taller to accommodate these dainty little weeds, which lay strewn across the English landscape like a scattered cluster of miniature, gleaming white jewels. So common here, and yet they seem so enticingly strange and wonderful to stumble upon. Our first year in England my husband Dan remarked with the pure delight of a child, that even the weeds look beautiful here.
Much like those lingering Australian summers, the months consumed by relentless heat and stifling humidity which unashamedly seeps its way into autumn, here too the seasonal precursor refuses to budge. Australian summers are intense, the heat permeates the body and makes weary the mind; but the dampness of a UK winter seems to seep deep into the bones, finding nooks and crannies in which to burrow and then settle for the oncoming frigid months. March is a fickle month that leaves us stranded in our seats between two acts, an open-ended intermission that never seems to finish.
A seam between winter and spring, though stitched most unevenly, March begins to harbour new signs of life, despite its less than agreeable soggy weather. The breeze brings with it fresh, yet familiar scents, a whiff of fertile earth mixed with the sweet smell of new season growth. England is suffused with greenery, that lit-from-within iridescent green that emanates from relentless rain and rich, fertile soil. Even at its bleakest, the land still vibrates with concealed energy. Ancient, monumental Oak trees, their branches stark and bare, still stand tall and majestic amongst verdant fields that extend further than the eye can see.
From late January, hidden bulbs begin to thrust themselves upwards from the damp earth, as though one evening they collectively decided that tomorrow was their moment to shine. Dainty, virgin-white snowdrops, with their tiny bell-shaped flowers nodding in the breeze are the first to herald spring. Next, jewel-coloured crocus, their royal purple buds resembling swelling saffron flowers, smear the landscape, evoking an artist’s brush stroke upon a freshly primed canvas. But most tantalising of all are the great swathes of cheery daffodils that saturate every neighbourhood with their delightfully joyful yellow faces. After seemingly endless months of winter’s slumber, they are the welcome harbingers of spring.
Amidst a rather grey and dreary outlook, daffodils act like an extra sugar in your coffee; they are a welcome boost of energy on a less than perfect day. On those few limited March days when the sun is shining brightly, daffodils seem to take vigour from their surroundings, storing it up in reserve for when the sunshine inevitably fades. On dreary days, they appear even more vivid than before, as though they feel a responsibility to shine extra brightly to counteract the grey.
When in season, daffodils are prolific, filling every nook and cranny across the country. Here in London, they are planted en masse in tiny front gardens, cheerfully nodding hello to all who pass by. Great curvaceous swathes can be admired in almost every greenspace like glorious floral rivers flowing through the landscape. Every window box worth its peat-free soil has been laden with these yellow beauties who all turn in unison to face the midday sun. Even the most drab of gardens, with barely a plant in sight, seem to have at least a handful of jolly daffs to brighten an otherwise dismal plot.
However, there is one place in London that harbours an infinite number of these lovely spring flowers. Green Park is one of London’s eight Royal Parks, a peaceful triangle of mature trees and grasslands offering a quiet retreat from city life. Situated next to Buckingham Palace, and between two of the city’s other regal parks, St James’s Park and Hyde Park, Green Park is the smallest of London’s Royal Parks, yet its spring bounty makes it more than worthy of its prestigious position.
Today, the sky is pale and not a streak of blue is able to filter through the clouds, all of which seemed to have joined forces, blanketing the sky in a single sheet of grey. No matter, rain is not predicted, and daffodils wait for no one! Though daffodils last longer than many other spring bulb varieties, such as crocus, whose perky golden-yellow and purple flowers last only two or three weeks, they are still worth seeking out at their very best. And it is their ephemerality that makes them so special, heralding the start of what is to become a glorious new season.
Great drifts of colourful, golden saturation propel us toward an impressive cluster planted underneath the monumental plane trees which border the park. Their gnarled and twisted bare branches allow an abundance of light and sunshine to bathe the precious bulbs below. The path leads down towards Buckingham Palace, yet we wend our way, gently and cautiously past the daffodils, treading softly on the newly moistened grass. The daffodils loop around the great trees, resembling the languid ebbs and flows of water surrounding a giant rock in a riverbed, creating a serene and rather tranquil place to be.
As I observe this intense luminosity of hue contrasting against the pale buildings flanking Green Park, I wonder what it must be like to live in one of these majestic homes, watching with awe as the seasons unfold before you. What a treat to have these wondrous flowers in your everyday view. So fortunate to be able to gaze from a window in the brightness of a new morning to marvel at this sublime, painterly landscape, flourishing with colour and scent throughout the year. Some daffodils possess such a heavenly perfume, yet these are planted more for their shimmering beauty and pattern play than for any actual note of scent. Afterall, why should these delightfully cheery flowers, so life-affirming and charming, feel the need to produce a scent when they look this wonderful?
A marching band reverberates through the trees and lures us towards the Palace and the source of the joyful sound. The usual birdsong is noticeably absent from the park today, perhaps the orange-beaked blackbirds and red-breasted robins have fled the raucous sounds and are luxuriating in the quietude of nearby Hyde Park. The air is sweet with that early scent of damp earth and cut grass, and the fragrance lingers in the gentle breeze as we make our way towards the swelling crowds watching the royal marching band. We admire the musical display, before breaking away from the crowd to retrace our footsteps, ribboning our way back through the daffodils just as a glimmer of sunshine breaks through the carpet of cloud above. The golden light illuminates the already vibrant petals, their intense colour making a defiant challenge to the sun.