Jewels of spring Posted on June 6, 2014

Gentiana verna at 2,000 metres. Blue is the hardest colour to reproduce, but this is not far off the truth.

Why is there no one in the Alps in June? It’s the time when the cattle make their lumbering way up to the high pastures, their heavy bells clanking. The snow is lying in disjointed drifts where the sun is slow to touch it. Everywhere else is a tapestry of the most jewel-like of flowers, embroidering the lush new verdure of the middle slopes or piercing the brown grass above the tree line, where mats of rhododendron and juniper are stirring in their winter sleep.

First come tiny ivory crocuses and the fretted furry leaves of the pulsatillas, Anemone sulfurea, soon followed by its wide, candid, creamy flowers. Gentians are already flowering: the deep violet trumpets of G. clusii and the brilliant sapphire stars of G. verna. There are violets with big flat faces, a little pink thlaspi in the middle of a stream, small purple orchids, soldanellas with pale violet fringes, lavender-coloured centaurea, primulas very like cowslips, shiny yellow globes of trollius, starry arabis, harebells, pale thrift, miniature alchemillas, many spurges and the rich blue heads of a rampion, Phytheuma orbiculare, which I took for a very special clover in the long grass – and which I now learn is an emblem of Sussex.

All these on a single ramble in the Val d’Anniviers in search of what is said to he the most splendid old larch in the Alps. Alpines are not my natural territory. I expect all my plant names have been superseded long ago; my authority is Correvon’s beautiful Alpine Flora of 1911 and its art deco botanical paintings by Philippe Robert.

We found the larches, cohabiting with equally tall and craggy Arolla pines, perhaps twelve feet round and sixty or seventy high, punished by blizzards but waking fresh in the chilly sunshine. The tender first larch leaves springing from old fissured brown wood are as touching and inspirational as the most exquisite of the emerging flowers.

Not a soul about, apart from some mountain bikers on terrifying trails. The hotels are nearly all shut; the skiing is over, the summer holidays still to come. Yet in the weeks between the flowers appearing and the cows eating them (or have the cows the perspecuity to steer around their favourites to leave them to seed?) the sun is bright, the air still cool enough for long walks, the Alps are at their best.

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