There are few things that signal spring as sweetly as the seemingly overnight arrival daffodils in our gardens, by the roadside and in woods across the county.
Known as Lent Lilies, daffodils (narcissi if we are to use their formal name) are the most popular flower for Easter decorations, flowering anytime from January through to April. So bedded in tradition are they that Prince Charles is paid the sum of one annual daffodil as a rent payment for the unattended lands of the Isles of Scilly.
But like most blooms there are plenty of myths attached to them. Did you know it’s is bad luck to bring in a single daffodil into your home? Doing so, it is said, will bring misfortune upon the house.
So always bring a bouquet, if you intend to give daffodils as a gift, as this will bring good fortune to the house.
And even before they’ve been picked, daffodils are rife with superstitions. It is said if you step, stomp, or trample on a bed of daffodils, bad luck will find you. However, if you make a great effort to avoid stepping on a daffodil, you will be rewarded good fortune (so keep that in mind when admiring them in their hundreds at Warley Place Nature Reserve, just south of Brentwood.)
And daffs are not alone. Snowdrops (our earliest flowering bulbs. Sometimes popping through the snow, these frosty-white bell-like flowers seem impervious to cold weather. The display in the gardens at Hedingham Castle is always beautiful…) are said to be unlucky because they often grow in cemeteries. It is believed to particularly unlucky to pick them and bring them into the house on Imbolc (a Celtic festival celebrated on the second day of February) or St Valentine’s Day (but there appears to be no problem with growing them indoors – so don’t throw out those little ones on your windowsill!)
Tulips, which you are just about to burst into life in flower beds across Essex (don’t miss the fabulous display at Ulting Wick near Maldon – more than 5,000 grow there!) are one of the only flowers to carry on growing once they have been cut. Symbolising love, they’ve become synonymous with the Netherlands and Amsterdam, but tulips are originally a native of Turkey. The dainty, pointy-petalled bloom was introduced to the West in the 16th century.
Interest in floriography – the language of flowers – soared in Victorian England. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient.
Victorians often exchanged small “talking bouquets,” called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which could be worn or carried as a fashion accessory. But meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Today, we tend to just enjoy the beauty of blooms with little thought to the stories growing in our gardens. Maybe this Spring is the time to look a little deeper at that bouquet you’re planning to send this Mothering Sunday…
Where to find bluebells in Essex
Snowdrops have had their moment, our daffodils will soon be drooping. But bluebells usually flower next month (though a super chilly winter can delay things).
Here are some of the best places in the county to see them in their full glory. Remember though, it’s illegal to pick them! They’re a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
- Blake’s Wood, Little Baddow, Chelmsford, spans 100 acres. In spring, it is filled with bluebells, primroses and yellow archangel.
- Pound Wood Nature Reserve, Benfleet. This 55-acre reserve is one of the largest remaining areas of ancient woodland in south east Essex. Fantastic spring flowers and a site where the Heath Fritillary is flourishing.
- Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre Hawkswood Road, Downham, Billericay. Enjoy panoramic views over the 870 acre reservoir. The visitor centre is set in mature woodland and boasts a beautiful carpet of bluebells in the spring.
- Weeleyhall Wood Nature Reserve, off the B1441 (Colchester to Clacton Road), Weeley. The 78-acre reserve is one of the finest surviving woods in the Tendring area. In spring the bluebells carpet almost half the wood.
- Shut Heath Wood Nature Reserve, Great Totham. A 50-acre reserve just below the crest of the Great Totham Ridge, with a wonderful carpet of bluebells in spring.
- Hedingham Castle. Bluebells and rhododendrons provide spectacular contrasts of colour and shape in the gardens.