The advent of spring finds me crouched over, rummaging through the grass on a pleasantly bright and mild day, whilst a wren trills exuberantly from the nearby hedgerow and a red-tailed bumblebee drones around me searching for early sources of nectar.

The purpose of my activity today is to see what’s beginning to grow and where, and I don’t have to look hard to see a couple of cowslips have produced some of their nodding, lemon-yellow flowers already.  Despite the wildflower garden being managed as a summer meadow, two of these rather shy-looking relatives of the primrose have found conditions to their liking and grown into a couple of slowly-spreading clumps.  Scattered around the plot are around half a dozen other examples grown from plugs that hopefully will combine to produce an attractive display in future years.  Cowslips were once a common sight in our countryside, but have declined drastically in recent decades, so I am pleased to have them present today.

However, the main reason I am rooting around today - apologising as I disturb the odd hibernating bee or fat little caterpillar munching on meadow grass – is that I am in search of yellow rattle.  This mercurial little annual has become something of an obsession for me and with good reason, as it has the unusual habit of being semi-parasitic on grass and thereby inhibiting its growth, something that made it the bane of farmers in a bygone age, but makes it invaluable for anyone trying to grow a wildflower patch on previously cultivated land.  With shorter grass, more light can filter through to soil level, allowing flower seedlings to establish themselves.   Besides being useful, yellow rattle is very popular with bumblebees and I find it visually appealing with its curiously hooked flowers that resemble fairy-tale witches’ noses (hence its generic name of Rhinanthus, meaning ‘nose’ and ‘flower’).

Back in the gloom of November, I parted with enough money for yellow rattle seed to make me wince and scattered it liberally around the garden.  Sadly, on today’s evidence, it looks as though I’ll have no new patches forming, but, in its favourite haunts, I’m seeing dense clouds of tiny seedlings crowded together in unprecedented numbers.  It seems that my rattle patches may not be spreading, but they’re certainly thickening!  I’m going to draw some encouragement from this and persevere until someday, the whole garden is carpeted in little yellow flowers in mid spring.

Well, that’s it for March’s instalment.  April promises to be a busy month with dozens of flower plugs already ordered and my head full of plans for many more, it won’t be long before I’m crouched over in my little meadow once more carrying on my quest to create a wildlife haven.