Three days in the New Forest on the cusp of spring brought moments of ecstasy; Wordsworth moments. ‘Ten thousand saw I at a glance’. True, there are blowsy daffodils, and self-conscious little ones with long noses; the true excitement for me comes where our modest little native shakes its pale head in spreading crowds. Ten thousand? I couldn’t count, but they spilled over paths, into the gullies brimming from days of rain, clustering under oaks and mobbing the young beeches.
Our little oak wood (perhaps one hundred trees) is threaded with streams that rarely run, but raced to fill three ponds on the way down the hill. The floor is still bare under the hazel coppice; there are bare bushes, and others dripping with bright buff catkins. Among them we have planted a hundred seedlings of Acer palmatum, now four-foot saplings, to see what colours or eccentric shapes of leaf they will produce as they grow up.
We have lined the streams with Rhododendron luteum, the plain yellow azalea, to flower with the bluebells that carpet the wood at the beginning of May and whose leaves are already starting to green the ground. Here and there, as examples to the rank and file, we have planted the two cheer-leaders among acers: Seiryu, delicate-leaved, yellow, green and occasionally orange, and Osakazuki, reliably November scarlet.
The Tokyo cherry, Prunus yedoensis, is ten feet high and already in swelling bud. I have high hopes for the weeping version of Prunus subhirtella, which we have seen stooping low over a pond in a garden near Rome, and which we hope to see admiring its rosy reflexions among the shoals of bright green duckweed. The tall weeping willow on a tiny island is sparse-leaved in the shade of the oaks, dangling its long streamers like the flimsiest of curtains. Young rhododendrons, generous gifts from Exbury ten miles up the road, are yet to show their colours; for the moment it is yellow and blue that dominates among the grey pillars of veteran oaks.