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 distinctive wetland plants along the Stourbridge Canal
At Fens Pool Local Nature Reserve, at the tip of the Stourbridge Canal, an abundance of shallow ponds create the ideal habitat for distinctive plants such as fan-leaved water crowfoot and water starwort, known for their star-shaped leaves. Visit in spring and one of the first plants you might spot along the canal is the common arrowhead, a perennial aquatic (also known as duck potato and wapato) identified by its arrowhead-shaped emergent leaves and white, three-petalled showy flowers, which usually grow in whorls of three. Marsh marigolds tend to favour the wetter ground, while reed sweet grass thrives here offering breeding spaces for insects and wetland creatures.