One sunny day does not make a Spring

The sun greets the spring

And the blossom the bee,

The grass the blea hill

And the leaf the bare tree

From “Love and Memory” by John Clare


The signs have been there for a while.  Birds singing as though someone told them it’s time to turn up the volume.  Grassy banks dotted with starry yellow celandine flowers.  A green haze of fresh leaves slowly creeping over previously bare branches.  If only the weather would play fair it might be spring.

So, after many days of damp and grey, the sun shone, the air was warm and it was as though a transformation had taken place.  It was also Friday Market Day and, as people wandered between the stalls, they smiled at one another and remarked on the weather.  Two busking fiddlers played pleasing harmonies in the Market Square and, outside the Italian Café, it was not quite Tuscan weather but the beautiful people laughed and smiled in the Devon sunshine.

I wandered down to the Leechwell Garden where, soon after I arrived, my attention was grabbed by a low but insistent buzzing.  On an extensive stand of rosemary growing against one of the old brick walls I saw a real sign of spring. It was a chunky bee covered in rich brown hairs but with a pale nose.  Moving quickly and purposefully among the slate-blue flowers, it collected nectar, buzzing as it went.  This was a male Hairy Footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes), my first one of the year and seeing it lifted my spirits.

Elsewhere in town, I looked at a huge willow (Salix caprea) that has been cleverly pollarded and trained over a wall where its many slender stems drop like water over a precipice.  The tree has been covered in immature, grey “pussy willow” catkins and, recently, these have been mutating into bright pollen-loaded male catkins. Last Friday in the sunshine the tree was very impressive: a mass of yellow flower heads, unruly brushes made from the long stamens, alive with honeybees and a few bumble bees and small flies.  The whole tree buzzed as the sun’s energy was transformed into sound.

When the bumblebees saw me, they flew off in disgust.  The honeybees, however, were drunk on pollen and nectar and either didn’t see me or didn’t care.    Many of them already carried large chunks of orange-yellow pollen to take back to the hive but when they encountered a new flower head they wallowed in it, they almost swam in the stamens.  If they could have expressed pleasure this would have been the occasion.

Later, a light mist crept over the hills to the east, gradually enveloping the town and shutting out the sun.

A plumipes
Hairy-footed flower bee on rosemary


The willow waterfall


honeybee 2
Honeybee on willow catkin


honeybee 1
Honeybee with pollen on willow catkin


B hypnorum
Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on willow catkin

10 thoughts on “One sunny day does not make a Spring”

  1. Great photographs! I have never seen Anthophora plumipes on my Rosemary but now I will keep a look out. At the moment they are very present on the red dead nettle. It was good to share your Devon sunshine. Amelia


  2. That first day when it ‘feels’ like spring is wonderful even if it is followed by more winter weather, you have that knowledge that soon, it truly will be spring – enjoy.


  3. Lovely writing Philip, I was right there with you – feels good that the bees are out and about. It reminds me that soon the trees by Park School (Plain Trees I think) will be alive with buzzing but not sure which kinds of bees – too high up to see but I’ve spent happy minutes under them just listening.


  4. We have suddenly noticed the bees reappearing, We went down to Plymouth on Saturday and noticed that there are more trees in Devon already in leaf compared with here. I have never come across that garden in Totnes, it looks wonderful! Sarah x


  5. Yes, the bees are reappearing, or they were until it turned cold! Interesting what you said about the trees in Devon being ahead, I hadnt realised. I have to drive to Poole next week so I will look.
    The Leechwell Garden is a bit hidden away, but actually quite close to the centre of town. If you are ever passing please let me know and I’d be happy to show you round.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s