crab apple blossom

Bramling Cross Hops in April

April is a fabulous month but this year it has surpassed itself. I can understand the homesick yearning described by Robert Browning when he wrote his famous lines –

“Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there”,

This year the wildflowers and blossom trees have been and continue to be exceptional. Each successive show of blossom seemingly trying to outdo the former. Mother Nature has certainly pulled out all her ‘floral’ stops with the sheer quantity and quality of blossom. No wind or rain means individual flowers have remained perfect.

The Cuckoo arrived spot on cue during the 2nd week of April and my first sighting of swallows swooping and diving was on Easter Day. Each bird heralding the end of winter.

Bluebells are carpeting woodland floors with that unique dark blue wash, blue mixed with just a pinch of purple. The only shadow here is of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides Hispanica) creeping ever closer and threatening our native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). I cannot deny the Spanish bluebell is an attractive easy garden plant to grow and was recommended as such a few years ago. Garden grandees like Christopher Lloyd  in his book The Well-tempered Garden
recommended them. They last well in a vase. However, this bluebell has not stayed within garden boundaries. It is a strong grower and cross pollinates with our native blue bells producing hybrids which in turn threaten to invade our woodlands, by elbowing out the native bluebells.

bluebell woods

These stronger growing hybrids are relatively easy to spot, their leaves are a tad broader and their actual bells are paler, broader and shorter. They grow more upright and to me they can resemble weedy hyacinths. Therefore if I see a bluebell close to our woodland, the simple guideline I use is, if it gives any inkling of a weedy hydrangea then I destroy it. ‘If in doubt then dig it out.’  Below our native Bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

The Spanish Bluebell – Hyacinthoides Hispanica

spanish bluebells

Hop twiddling started on 6th April, a week earlier than we have ever known. By comparison hop twiddling started in this area on 20th April last year. The dry mild weather this month has made for an easy first round of training. After my last post the short cold spells this winter have not so far had the effect we hoped for on the Bramling Cross. Whilst the other varieties have been up and away, disappointingly as I write the Bramling Cross remain stubbornly inactive.  Their leaves retain the peculiar heliotrope purple colour,and until they turn a ‘proper’ green they will not start to grow away. Last winter sadly did not have the ‘get up and go’ effect on the Bramling Cross hops we had hoped for.

Bramling Cross hop leaves
This month I had a treat too. It was a day I had been really looking forward to and as a bonus it started with a train journey. More about that will be revealed later this year.

The only downside to this April is lack of rain, the ground is very very dry, this year’s baby hops could really do with some gentle warm spring rain. In the South East we had a dry winter anyway and now this month only one third of expected normal rainfall. ‘March winds and April showers bring forth sweet May flowers’ – well not this year, not one April shower and we definitely need rain for all spring sown crops in general.

According to folk lore this dry spell will continue, the rooks are nesting high in the trees, apparently a sure sign of a warm, dry summer to come. Another old folk lore concerning rooks is if they line up on a fence it is a sign that it will rain. Whatever the truth of that, we will keep an eye open for any rooks lined up on any fence! But for now we are just wishing hard for some last minute April showers, that truly would be the cherry on the cake to make this month just perfect.



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