Spring plantlife in the South East

Look out for crack willow and buttercup meadows along the Grand Union Canal

Reflective reed beds, Ham Wall, Somerset

Robbie Wojciechowski

Posted on 02/05/2019

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I remember the first time I began to notice the changing of the seasons around me. It was a few years ago and, having spent the winter in a dull cycle of working from home, I could feel myself itching to be back out in the open. I couldn’t wait for the days to extend so that I could once again spend time beside the water, walking and cycling along the Regent’s Canal.

That spring was the first time I noticed the overwhelming growth of plant life around me. That year, I had taken on an allotment, and began to see how intricate green patterns would form in beds that only a few months ago had been a mass of stodgy brown earth. I watched in awe as the emerging plants and weeds brought life back to my allotment and the world around me.

Some of the best plants to see during spring can grow in the most unlikely places. All along the canals are shrubs and wildflowers that thrive on the patchy ground between path and water. Often the Canal & River Trust’s volunteers have helped these plants to thrive, cleaning up the verges over winter to allow for fresh spring growth.

There’s something so exciting about these in-between spaces – and I find canals beguiling for this very reason. They can quietly weave through the most heavily populated areas of a city or lead you out into cascading meadows and dense woodland. I have a favourite ‘in-between space’ I like to visit – a channel of water that’s caught between a congested A-road and a suburban railway line. Away from the cars and pollution, this little piece of wilderness helps me slow down and foster a deeper connection with the world around me; it’s a place where I can watch the seasons shift and change.

Here I can return, week by week, to watch new plant life populating the grassy river bank, and trees transforming first with blossom then later with fresh leaf growth. Beneath the canopy, the familiar cobalt blue of bluebells is always a joy to see. While on the grassy verge, a motley collection of wildflowers rear their heads.

During this switch from spring to summer the world around us brightens and fills with colour, and you don’t need to be an expert in recognising plant life to appreciate the new season unfolding.

Look out for crack willow and buttercup meadows along the Grand Union Canal

Visitors to canals in the south east of England will find a huge selection of wildlife and flora thriving on the Grand Union Canal. In the Chilterns, you can expect to see thriving reed beds, and the distinctive leaning crowns of crack willow trees; bright yellow catkins signify a male flower, while the shorter green ones are female.

Keep a keen eye out for arum lilies, striking architectural plants with large, glossy foliage and hood-shaped flowers. Wilstone Reservoir and Wendover Woods are also fantastic places to see a variety of plant life, with rich woody areas replete with bluebells and hawthorns to wide open meadows swathed in buttercups.