Nature Calendar: February in the British Garden
This month is generally not so wet as January, but the early part may be the coldest period of the year.
Early crocuses such as Crocus imperati are in flower. The rampant Petasites fragrans, though growing so vigorously as to be regarded as a weed, is welcome for its fragrant white.
Among the wild flowers, the lesser celandine is the first member of the buttercup family to flower. Coltsfoot, which sometimes grows as a weed in cultivated ground and is fairly common on waste ground, opens a little later. Dog’s mercury is the first woodland flower, followed by barren strawberry, which is more often found on hedge banks.
SHRUBS AND TREES
Flowering shrubs and trees are much in evidence in February. There are cater-pillar-like catkins on the yet-leafless aspen, and the hazel has small, red, female flowers as well as cowslip-scented catkins. Alder catkins hang silhouetted against the bare branches. The silky tassels of Garrya elliptica come into flower at this time, as do the hardy dogwoods, Viburnum tinus and the parrot or iron tree (Parrotia persica). The attractive flowers of
Erica carnea Springwood Pink appear alongside the spidery blooms of witch-hazel and the sweet-scented Daphne mezereum.
Other trees and shrubs are none the less striking for having no flowers. The blue cedar is particularly conspicuous for its colour, as are all the ivies, with their shining leaves. The purple, red or pink berries of the pernettyas, which persist for most of the winter, contrast with the new golden growth of young willows. If growing in a sheltered position, elder and honeysuckle will also begin to show their first leaves as soon as there is a mild spell.
Flocks of birds will still be seen, but they will now vary in content and number. Starlings, black-headed gulls, rooks, jackdaws, pewits, house sparrows, pied wagtails and finches will be quick to follow the farmer as he prepares for spring sowing. The goldfinches, and other acrobatic feeders such as siskins, redpolls and tits, are attracted to alder catkins. Lakes and streams may freeze over in
February, and a mixed collection of waterfowl will therefore visit any open water. The birds seen in January may be joined by geese and even herons. All these species will move to open estuaries or beaches if all inland waters freeze up.
Birdsong will increase in volume, the yellow hammer and blue tit being perhaps the best known of the species that start singing in February.
No insects will be seen if the month remains cold, but as soon as there is a warmer day the bumble bees will be out.
The occasional day of milder weather will encourage stoats and weasels to search for holes in hedges and banks in which to make their nests. Young rabbits are already being born in specially prepared underground nurseries or ‘stops’. Some are killed by badgers, whose footprints can now be discovered in the damp earth. Old birds’ nests can sometimes be found filled with the remains of the winter feasting of field mice.