Country diary: The gentle swell among the grass is spring starflower

<span>Flowers of the spring starflower (<em>Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’</em>).</span><span>Photograph: Joan Gravell/Alamy</span>
Flowers of the spring starflower (Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’).Photograph: Joan Gravell/Alamy

A white flower flaps in the grass, half-opened and filling with wind like a tiny balloon. I bend down to see a small cluster around it, not yet opened. When they start to unfurl, a circle of fluttering, snowy parachutes forms on the edge of the bank, on the brink of the water.

Below them, the sheen of the mud stretches out in the stillness of low tide – it seems encrusted with light, as though frozen over. There is a hint of lilac, of blue, in the mud’s surface that is echoed in the flowers. Turning back, I trace the six albescent petals and long narrow leaves of Ipheion, the spring starflower.

Coming to my knees, the wetness of the grass seeps through. I follow a maroon stripe – a likely nectar guide for pollinators – that runs along the outside of the tepals. A lighter blue one stretches down the inside and at the centre of the flower are bright orange anthers. A non-edible relative of the onion, it has a subtle, sweet scent, apart from when the leaves are bruised. I catch nothing at first, then, a few breaths later, a soft sweetness, like violets. When I rise, my hands, which have brushed the leaves, smell of garlic.

I take in a gust of salt air as a surge of skylarks rises in the distance and a closer crackle comes from the gorse-fringed rock that a wheatear has chosen. Ending its raspy call, it lifts and speeds over the mud with a flash of white rump. The first flower in the cluster seems to catch each sound, like an open ear.

Attached to this spot yet moving, billowing yet rooted, these blooms add a gentle swell through the stiffer grass. They wait for the wind, for the coming of the air across the water, like the sails of a flotilla – a floral fleet upon the bank, ready to embark.

When an egret passes over, spreading its sails, these stars of spring, turned upwards, reflect the pale, feathered light. They tether it to the ground, pulsing white.

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