Words by Lydia Paleschi
Saturday 20th March officially marks the beginning of spring in the UK. This means, according to the astronomical calendar, that winter has finally drawn to a close. However, for those of us living in Cornwall there has been a notable shift in our natural surroundings already. Spring was unofficially announced by the Great Gardens of Cornwall almost a month ago and the warmer weather has put a spring in people’s steps.
So, what is it like to experience spring in Cornwall? And how do the Great Gardens know when to announce its start?
Spring in Cornwall
Well-known for being one of the warmest parts of the UK, spring arrives earlier in Cornwall than the rest of the UK, due to our geographical and southerly position.
In the countryside, fields, bunds and grassland are permeated with daffodils. It’s almost impossible to leave the house without spotting them standing to attention, their beaker-like faces offering a welcome shout of yellow to the world.
In the woodland and hedgerows wild garlic is appearing. Their long pointed leaves, the shape of rabbits ears, are perked eagerly, anticipating the spray of petite white flowers which will bloom near the end of their season. Soon, their odour will become pungent, meaning they are ready to be harvested and made into pestos and soups.
Credit: Timo C Dinger
In the trees, the birdsong has grown louder and more varied. New faces have appeared and the dawn chorus is more persistent than in previous months. Polygamous wrens are busy building multiple nests, whilst robins are starting their morning melody increasingly earlier. Both mark the beginning of this year’s mating season.
In our gardens, insects are reappearing as months go by. Peacock butterflies are amongst the first to return, even as early as March if the weather is warm. They can be seen dancing across the lawn, multiple wings tumbling over one another as they carry out their courting rituals. The humming of bees has become a more familiar sound, adding to the sense of awakening imbued in the spaces around us. Though our warmer climes and abundance of flowering plants in the winter mean honey bees continue to work all year round, there are noticeably more of them as they vie to make the most of the early seasonal blooms.
When is spring announced in Cornwall?
The Great Gardens of Cornwall announce the beginning of spring according to their own criteria. A conglomeration of twelve of the best-known, largest, most historically and horticulturally important gardens in Cornwall, they decided to do so in 2013 after visitors were missing the best part of the blooming season each year.
Whilst Cornish gardens have plenty to offer year round, the best time to visit is when the Cornish magnolias are in full flower. For this reason, according to the Great Gardens, spring has sprung when each of the six selected champion magnolia trees have 50 blooms apiece.
Each day, the head gardener at each of the nominated gardens reports on each tree. As the buds shed their outer winter jackets, magnificent pink flowers appear and the gardens become a celebration of colour.
When there are 50 blooms on each tree, the gardens declare that spring has arrived in England. In 2021, this occurred on the 26th February, almost a full month before the official start of spring.
Why does spring officially start on the 20th March 2021?
According to the astronomical calendar, spring begins each year on the vernal equinox. An equinox occurs when the sun is directly above the equator, meaning that both the northern and southern hemispheres are lit up equally. At this point, day and night are of equal length all over the world (approximately 12 hours). The vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere. There is only one other equinox each year – the autumn equinox – which marks the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere and of autumn in the northern hemisphere.
Regardless of which announcement of spring you adhere to, it has now reached us all. There is plenty to look forward to in the coming season and plenty to observe as wildlife re-emerges and plants begin to bloom. If you're in Cornwall, the magnolia trees are still on show and if not, it's something to consider visiting for next year.