Picking Primroses – March 1924

A friend of mine has left the country and gone to live in a city where, in spring-time, she misses the lanes and woods, with their lovely blossoms pushing their way through the winter-bleached turf. I bethought me that she would take pleasure in filling a wide, shallow bulb bowl with primrose roots, the spaces between them filled with feather moss.

I could see her arranging that bowl in such a way that the primroses would appear to have grown there from seed; and she would take a daily and hourly pleasure in watching each pale, delicate flower open its eye in innocent surprise in a suburban sitting room. So, I set aside an afternoon to go, armed with a trowel, a basket , and plenty of newspaper, in search of roots at the proper stage for my purpose.

A piercing north-westerly wind made me thankful for the shelter of the high dyke-hedges when I reached the lane. And how unspring-like! Not a blossom to be seen. Even the celandines had closed their petals and showed only the copper-coloured undersides.

The wind whistled through the bare branches of the high thorns, on which the mere tips of the buds were showing here and there a faint green. The song birds were silent except for an occasional protesting little strain — it sounded like a meek protest — from the hedge sparrow.

The curlews in a neighbouring common — I saw three of them as I passed — uttered that strange piercing call, not the cuddling note, but the passing call, which brings up a vision of wide gorse commons and bracken-covered hillsides.

But primroses! Not one for three fourths of the length of the lane. It appeared as if they had never taken courage to emerge from the cover of last year’s withered grass, or the shelter of the thick moss on the opposite bank. Yet, at last, I was cheered by the pretty sight of the bright green crinkly rosettes spreading themselves in the hollows of the feathery bed of variegated grey-green pink.

I selected these roots that gave promise, deep in the heart of the rosette, of an abundance of blossom, and was busy lifting them as neatly and carefully as I could when flakes of snow began to appear on my hands. Looking up, I saw that the blue of the sky had disappeared and greyish-yellow streamers seawards betokened a storm in that direction. At the other end of the lane the hedges a few minutes earlier had framed a view of snow-streaked mountains, sunlit, with buoyant cloud shadows moving across them.

In those few minutes the hills were completely blotted out in a thick mass of yellowish cloud. I snuggled in as well as I could in the lee of the hedge to watch the falling snow, hoping it was only a passing shower, which it proved to be.

Then contrition came upon me as I looked at my roots. Why rob the sweet wild hedge? So I put back in their holes all but four and left no mark of rude devastation. Indeed I tidied up a part of the bank that had been ruthlessly torn, with turf and moss strewn in the ditch — whether in search of flower roots, I know not.

I salved my conscience as I packed up my spoil by saying aloud to the curlews and the gulls that it was for friendship, and not for myself. But oh, what a spring walk! Browning was abroad when he sighed — “Oh, to be in England, now that April’s here!”

A most unusual sight in the field I am looking out upon when I lift my eyes: the ewes are lying at rest with their lambs. For the last week or two they have been so restlessly busy nibbling at the bare pasture that they have hardly had time to loiter long enough to give their lambs a drink.

But a cartload of roots has been scattered over the field and, after a good feed, they are enjoying a couch under the April sun, apparently insensitive to the Polar wind. It is pretty to see the lambs nibbling at the roots. One determined little chap, finding his teeth not as effective as he would like, is pawing at the turnip with his forefeet.

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