Posted on 02/05/2019
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.
Seek out wildflowers along the Kennet & Avon
The Kennet & Avon might be a busy and well-used canal, but along some of the more rural stretches you’ll find plenty of unexpected plant life. The canal is an important area for wildlife conservation, and the wet meadows just north of Batheaston are favoured among birdwatchers. While the huge variety of habitats on the waterway mean you might spot an incredibly diverse array of plants even by walking just a few miles along the towpath.
The designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Inwood runs right next to the towpath and is home to oak, ash, elm and hazel, as well as a plethora of low-growing wildflowers, ramsoms and wood anemone – this gentle flower with its crest of yellow antlers is one of the most-loved flowers to appear in spring.