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28 Apr 2013

April 2013: spring may or may not be here

The winter of 2012-3 was of course pretty dreadful: continuously colder than usual, and very much wetter than average for Normandy. The snow in March was so bad that the Ouest France regional newspaper published a special supplement of facts and photos, with the cover an aerial picture of the closed A84 motorway with the roofs of abandoned cars poking through the snow.
It was beginning to look as if there would be no end. Until last week. Sunday was warm, almost hot, the next couple of days back to cool, then two more hot days. In those two days spring arrived. Primroses that had been lurking in the hedgerows stood up in everywhere, the winter skeletons that were blackthorn trees turned white with blossom, like candy floss, lawns grew two inches. A mistle thrush built a nest in the cherry tree 20 feet from our door, in a tree that had no leaves to hide it, but which was half obscured by cherry blossom the following day.
The delay in spring's arrival has compressed a month or six weeks growth into a week. The pasture beside our garden went from tired dull green to almost throbbing bright green in a day, and turned yellow with dandelions the next, and off white with dandelion seed head two days after that. The usual pattern of primroses, then violets as they fade, then early spotted orchids as they fade, has been overthrown, with all of the spring flowers in full display at the same time.
Pasture with dandelions

Primroses, violets and dandelions together

Early spotted orchid
The leaves, close to the ground
have the spots. 
An odd effect is that this year, the early spotted orchids are everywhere, not just in ones and twos, but dozens in a square metre and groups over a hundred metres of hedge. This is very pleasing, because over the last few years there have been fewer and fewer orchids appearing.
The quiet of the days has been replaced by the noise of tractors, as farmers, plough, chalk, harrow, muck spread and sow seeds to try to catch up after weeks of inactivity in the fields.
It was a bit strange. After that week the day time temperatures have been around 10-12, with as low as 0 at night with frost. It may be that the cold nights will affect this years crops, with the soil unexpectedly staying too cold for seeds to germinate. Last year, haricot beans were sown three times, before a crop could be harvested, and fruit trees produced very little. We had in total one cherry (a starling actually ate it) on two large, long established cherry trees, a handful of apples on a tree that the year before had branches breaking from the weight of the fruit, and a few pears. The same went for commercial growers: cider apple crops were terrible, for example.
This spring although there is blossom on some trees, there are few bees. Normally, the buzzing around a tree in flower can be heard from yards away. It does not augur well.

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