I am addicted to my daily newspaper and feel that the day has never really begun until I’ve had a quick swish through its crackling sheets. Two of my favourite columns are titchy little things of modest pretensions, which I might well overlook were it not for their reliably occupying the same place in the paper every day. First I scan Lindsay Bareham’s daily recipe for a bit of inspiration for the evening meal (tucked helpfully on the reverse of the front page) and then I flick noisily and progressively impatiently through to the leader page where Derwent May’s little column of 3 scant inches (including black and white drawing) sits, half disappearing around the fold, just north of birthdays of the famous and east of the voice of the paper as delivered in it s 3 leader pieces. Entitled simply “Nature Notes”, it keeps me informed of what should or might be happening in and beyond the garden and these little pieces have become even more important now I look onto walls of brick and glass rather than fields of ever changing colour. Though I take Derwent May’s prose soberly I find myself unable to suppress thoughts of that other nature writer (William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”) who, confused with a war correspondent of similar name, finds the “Lush Places” of his usual column replaced by the not so pleasant setting of war torn Ishmaelia, where – through no fault of his own – he gets the scoop of the title. ( For an example of his bucolic style try “feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole”).
Well, Derwent May (in his 80s and still going strong – I hope) is not so given to the overblown prose of William Boot but has a lyrical turn of phrase and is often there when you want a bit of enlightenment. In Thursday’s Nature Notes he turned his thoughts to the thistle, Acknowledging the plant’s summer unpopularity for aggressive colonisation and vicious prickles, he reminds us the appearance of the first leaves are as good a harbinger of spring as anything. “Field thistles, which are our most abundant thistle, are now appearing as glittering silvery-white stars flush with the ground on damp paths. Near by there may also be the first leaves of wild strawberry, each with three green or even red leaflets. On hedge banks, goosegrass – another plant that will rampage in summer, often invading flowerbeds – is coming up to begin with as little green pagodas. Also detectable in sheltered spots in woods are the dark green heart-shaped leaves of sweet violets.” There, doesn’t that make you want to rush out and check them all out? This year I shall miss the little wild violets in the churchyards – I don’t think I’ll find them in Islington.