St Dominic, Tamar Valley: Muddy ways, once trodden by donkeys carrying corn to the mill, are littered with spent catkins and lichened branches

Country diary: narcissi spring from a derelict market garden | Environment
A stream cuts through the undergrowth in the Radland Valley. Photograph: Jack Spiers

Pheasants scuttle from the windswept field to shelter among undergrowth with sprawling flowers of Helio, Fortune, Carlton and Victoria daffodils. In this derelict market garden, on a steep slope above the defunct leats and millponds in the Radland Valley, a succession of narcissi appears in spring. Each variety was planted in a separate plot and the original rows are still discernible among the encroaching hart’s-tongue fern, dog’s mercury, bramble, thorn, overarching clumps of hazel and leaning tree-trunks covered in mosses and polypody ferns.

Within this tangled habitat, as golden catkins faded to brown, cherry plum blossom (smothering twigs and branches sprouted from the rootstock of long-fallen plum trees) showed as drifts of white smoke. On tall laurels, grown out of former trimmed hedges and shelter belts, flower spikes, scented like marzipan, also bloomed thickly in the unseasonal warmth. Gales and heavy rain have since tarnished the blossoms, but there may be a set of cherry-like fruits for the birds; laurel fruits will germinate and develop into thickets like those overhanging the stream and enveloping the ruins of the nearby miller’s house. Roe deer occasionally wander through this neglected land, benefiting from its jumble of different and absent owners who were tempted more than 40 years ago to buy little leisure plots (sold cheap, mostly unseen and with no access). Hopefully, the song of chiffchaff and blackcap will soon reverberate from the most dense and inaccessible cover, secure from walkers’ unleashed dogs.

Narrow muddy ways, once trodden by donkeys carrying panniers of corn towards the mill, are now littered with spent catkins and chunks of lichened branches. Cuckoo-pint and bluebell leaves, bedraggled celandine and primrose emerge from the mosses and pennyworts of winter; the strengthening sun is high enough to peep above the hill by mid-morning, shining across the racing stream to cast a tracery of tree shadows on to warm slopes, once intensively cultivated for flowers and fruit. A buzzard glides and wheels through treetops by the iron-age “bury” (a fortified enclosure); on the steepest side facing due east, a historic plot of budding White Lady narcissus survives, growing strong and upright, sheltered from the roaring wind.