Spring is possibly the richest season in terms of that wonderful assault on our senses that nature can provide. For the eyes there are glorious displays of spring bulbs, blossom and wildflowers littering our gardens and countryside. For the ears, the beautiful swell of birdsong as birds establish breeding territories and seek mates.
Here in Hampshire, you can soak up the very best that nature has to offer, with the National Trust. The charity cares for some of the county’s most magnificent gardens, and gardeners have worked hard over the winter months to ensure they’re packed with a kaleidoscope of colour, from tulips to cherry blossom. Beyond the gardens in late spring you’ll find ancient woods carpeted in native bluebells.
At former priory Mottisfont, lilac and yellow tulips have been planted in the kitchen garden, inspired by the colours of medieval wild pansy ‘heartease’ – a herbal plant the monks would probably have grown here. By the stables you’ll find pretty white cherry blossom and thousands of tiny lilac-blue chionodoxa flowers lining the lime avenue. Snakeshead fritillaries and orchids nestle in the meadow adjoining the gardens, and if you follow Mottisfont’s estate walk into Great Copse wood, you can take in swathes of bluebells.
Hinton Ampner’s head gardener John Wood has planted eight new varieties of tulip for this spring, including frilly candy-pink Huis Ten Bosch in the sunken garden. In the walled kitchen garden are vibrant displays of deep-red Lasting Love and tangerine-pink Dordogne. In May, fragrant creamy-white blooms of cherry Mount Fuji are in full flower in the orchard, their branches of blossom drooping almost to the ground.
If you visit on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon you can see the very best of the garden’s colour on a free tour. A 30 minute walk into the beech woods reveals magnificent displays of scented bluebells. Deep purple Queen of the Night tulips fill the borders in The Vyne’s historic walled garden. In the fruit orchard plum, pear and apple trees bare clusters of tiny cream and pink flowers, which contrast with the formal planting of the summerhouse garden, bright with exotic spikes of yellow and orange crown imperials. A little further on and you’ll come to the wild garden, where young cherry trees are covered in pale pink blossom. A short distance from the garden lies The Vyne’s peaceful woodlands, covered in bluebells in late April and early May.
There are plenty of countryside locations in Hampshire where you can indulge in glorious spring sights and sounds too. Downloadable trails at Hinton Ampner and Mottisfont will take you along country lanes full of hedgerow blossom. On Stockbridge Down patchworks of wildflowers are beginning to appear; beauties like purple knapweed, wild thyme and pink scabious.
Birdsong walks and forest bathing mornings
Listen out for birds too – at their busiest at this time of year. National Trust rangers manage their landscapes to provide food and shelter for wildlife, protecting lowland heath for ground-nesting birds like the nightjar and Dartford warbler, and maintaining scrub thickets for willow warblers and nightingales. The New Forest is a particularly good place to enjoy birdsong, and this year there’s a series of guided birdsong walks. You’ll learn how to identify key species like the woodlark and stonechat too, in the quiet heathland enclosure of Foxbury.
There are walks on 26 April, 10 and 24 May between 8 – 11am. Call 01794 344020 to book. On 17 May, there’s a special opportunity to enjoy the forest’s spectacular dawn chorus, with a guided walk from 5 – 8am. Another way to enjoy the countryside this spring is through the restorative Japanese practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku). These natural therapy walks have been proven to help people relax and unwind, and they are being held monthly throughout the year, at the National Trust’s Black Hill common in Bramshaw.
Led by a qualified practitioner, the walks help you to reconnect with your senses and nature, as you’re guided through a peaceful woodland landscape filled with birdsong.
Spring dates are 19 April and 17 May, 9am – 11am: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/foxbury
Make a promise for nature this spring
This year, the National Trust celebrates its 125th birthday, and has big plans to do more to help nature and the environment, but it needs our help. New research commissioned by the charity has shown that while many children and adults are deeply worried about the future of the natural world, fewer than ever before are connecting with it. The good news is, the research indicates that people who have small everyday moments in nature are much more likely to look after it. Plus, we know that this kind of contact is good for our wellbeing. To help, the Trust has launched the equivalent of a ‘couch to 5k’ for nature – a weekly guide of bite-size activities that can easily be squeezed into busy, daily life, but that collectively, can help halt nature’s decline (nationaltrust.org.uk/features/connect-to-nature). You can make a simple ‘promise for nature’ too: letting your grass grow longer, buying produce that’s in season, building a bug hotel.
Find out more here: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/promise-for-nature
There’s never been a more important time to look after the places we love, whether it’s a local park or wood, or your own back garden. So, make a #PromiseForNature this spring and help wildlife thrive once more.
Words and images courtesy of National Trust.