RICHARD WILLIAMSON: An Easter feast of flowers

Easter is a movable feast and all because of the moon, which got it right this year. March full moons after the equinox give us March Easters, which is a bit early for spring flowers.

This year we should have our Easter cowslips, primroses and false oxlips at the right time although global warming has thrown a spanner in the works a bit. Those flowers are all in my photograph taken just outside the garden fence in the woods. Primrose and cowslip on right and left of picture produced the mule in the centre, which is the false oxlip. It happens quite a lot here.

Volunteers working in this nature reserve (which is managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust) have harvested several acres of hazel coppice on the usual seven year cut. All of this is trimmed and tied into bundles and sold to the garden industry for fencing or basket weaving, bean poles or walking sticks.

The result is that every seven years the wood is opened up and the spring flowers burst forth. They have a year or two of sunny-side up and then the hazel coppice regrows and gives them a rest till the next cut. It has been going on for centuries, possibly since Roman times. They brought a dozen different types of hazel when they came from italy and planted the woods of old england for the cob-nuts, wattles, hurdles, baskets and firewood which hazel is used for.

Before they came here the Germanic tribes of the Bronze Age finished clearing much of the woods of the Sussex Downs and had open fields for pigs and sheep, cattle and horses. All of their field banks can still be seen in this wood and all over the chalk hills as well.

Botanists here have found about 300 species of flowering plants growing on this 40 acre patch of land. Although the bright yellow ones are the obvious flowers of Easter, to be followed by the bluebells, there are many very small flowers which are easily missed.

Barren strawberry is one, to be followed a fortnight later by wild strawberry, which does have a fruit. The small white star-like flowers are often hidden by wild grasses. We have three species of violets, constellations of wood anemones, and of course the wild daffodil colony which started the year off with a massive eruption of yellow.

Next week I shall be on the look-out for the first wild orchids, the Early purples, which so interested Shakespeare. More about them next week.