May 1st is considered in some quarters to mark the coming of summer. The meteorological beginning of summer comes later, and this year’s weather would support that. In this Corner of Cornwall there has been very little merry-making in the merry month of May. May, thus far, has been cold and stern with northerly winds which carry a sharp bite and a nip of frost, which has blackened tender tips and kept me largely indoors. But not always. There have been interludes of sunshine even if temperatures have remained stubbornly low.
When the sun not only shines but warms, then I see May as she should be. Driving about the countryside with the heat of the sun magnified as it streams through the glass, it’s been easy to slip into the spirit of spring. I motor past wide verges carpeted with drifts of bluebells and I think of hazy impressionist paintings and festooned maypoles and girls in white dresses with circlets of flowers in their hair.
On foot, along my usual route, albeit a road less-travelled in recent weeks, when sunlight skips to the bees’ industrious drone, I watch May’s merry dance up close. It’s been a good year for primroses and also for dandelions and celandine and buttercups. But last year’s massed display of white stitchwort has stepped back and so have the ramsons.
White this year, is timorous in the dance, but yellow is in full flow, spikey and shining, palest lemon to deepest gold; yellow is in the limelight on May’s floral stage.
Campion and ragged robin, accents of pink, deep and solid, are liberally strewn.
Bright sparkles of deep blue twinkle from the borage stalks, softening to dots of speedwell and deepening to shy little violets. Disregard their diminutive size and they make me think of irises.
And a single spread of forget-me-not, the colour of open skies. Surely there is forget-me-not everywhere, but rarely do I see it here.
May is alive with layers of blue, epitomised by the purple-blue ribbons of massed bluebells. These are creating a dappled display along the edge of the garden, (complete with flattened feline path). And yet, if you ask me: what are the colours of May, as Margaret wrote about last weekend, I can’t simply offer a bouquet of blue.
May is crowned not only by the bluebells but by also the freshness of leaves on the trees. Still unfurling and vibrant in their infancy, shades of lime, chartreuse and citrus proliferate among newly-dressed branches, with blocks of bronzed-red where the sycamore saplings spread themselves in the hedgerows and majestic oak boughs reveal tiny rosy leaves still tightly curled.
Only now, in this first half of May, is the burgeoning growth so new that the leaves can dazzle in their brightness. They are unsullied by wind and rain, heat and dust; the passing of insects, people, pollution and days. It will not be long before lime deepens into malachite, chartreuse dulls into beryl; leaves lose their early flush of bronze and brightness and settle into the maturity of quieter shades. For just a few fleeting weeks, green sings and has its moment in the sun. And life is lifted because of it. At least, when the sun shines.
O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
Thomas Dekker (c. 1572–1632)