This week’s guest column comes from Dr Chris Andrews, visitor services officer, at the RSPB...
As I write this, winter still seems to have the area in its grip. And yet, there are small signs that spring is on the way.
There are little patches of white. This isn’t drifts of snow, rather drifts of snowdrops. These lovely subtle flowers are for many, the first sign of the changing of the seasons. Not originally a native British species, there is much debate about when they were brought here. Some say the Romans, others that they were brought in the 16th century. Whatever the case, they do so well in our mild climate that many people consider them part of the native British wildlife.
Mixed in with the white snowdrops are little yellow stars. These are winter aconites, members of the buttercup family and not related to the true aconite. Not native to the UK, they have also become common after spreading out of gardens, where they add a dash of early colour.
A third flower showing its face is the crocus, starting to push its way through the office lawn.
Crocuses get their name from the ancient Greek word for saffron. The spice saffron is gathered from crocus flowers, and is exceedingly expensive as you have to pick 150 flowers just to produce a single gram of saffron.
But before you all go rushing out into your garden, saffron comes from a different species of crocus to the one growing here.
These early flowers are vital for many insects. Bumblebees and butterflies hibernate over the winter, snuggled into crevices to keep themselves warm. If you have a garden shed, you might find them squeezed into cracks in the wall. A nice sunny day can often rouse them and they set out looking for food. Without these early flowers, there would be nothing for them to eat. You can help too by making sure your garden has some early flowering plants. Snowdrops and crocuses are already popular, but you could try things like hyacinths, sweet violets, pulmonaria or some species of clematis. A good way to make your garden look nice, plus great for the insects too.
And remember, these are the bees that later in the year will be busily pollinating your garden, so it will help you in the long run too.
If you want more advice on what to plant in your garden, the RSPB website has an entire section devoted to the subject.
Even a window-box or a small postage stamp of a garden with a few plant pots can help. So give the bees and butterflies a break. And remember, spring is just around the corner...