Sunday, 7 February 2016

February Fill-dyke

My grandmother's reaction to February rain was predictable: 'February Fill-dyke,' she would proclaim.

Although probably unaware of it she was quoting from Thomas Tusser's 'Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie' (sic), first published in 1573: 

                                           Feb, fill the dyke,
                                           With what thou dost like.

Much of the text seems to have been written in the form of rhyming couplets, easy for a farmer to remember in an age when most workers on the land were illiterate. He had a few snippets of advice for every month of the year, with January's maxim being:

                            When Christmas is done, kepe not Christmas time still,
         Be mindfull of rering, and loth for to kill.

I suspect that John Clare would have been familiar with these old quotes, and it is remarkable that - albeit slightly distorted - they should have lingered on into the second half of the twentieth century. Allowing for modern developments, some of the advice is quite sensible and at times I have heard allotment holders making comments which I suspect were based on Tusser's maxims. Of course, they were not his ideas but were distillations of many generations of experience.

The last couple of days have been very wet - as has the winter as a whole. Dykes (for which we may read 'reservoirs') should be well and truly filled ready for potential summer droughts. Nevertheless conditions are mild with Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, having been in flower for two or three weeks. 

Corsican Hellebore flowering in the Timken area of
Daventry. 7 February, 2016

Today Corsican Hellebore, H. argutifolius, was also in flower in Daventry, with the slightly soiled tepals also suggesting that they had been out for a couple of weeks. This species is native to Corsica and Sardinia. With its rather spiny leaves it is sometimes called the Holly-leaved Hellebore. In older books it is Helleborus corsicus. 

Helleborus argutifolius in flower. Daventry, Northants. 7 February, 2016

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