The joys of spring
Nemophila in Japan plus more of the season’s best flowers
Every April, a fairy tale comes true. Delicate bell-shaped perennials blanket the Halle Forest and when the soft spring light stretches through the bright green canopy of young beech leaves to reach the purple-blue flowers, the effect is magical. Throw in some mist and even a sceptic like me might look out for a beat up pumpkin and an old lady with a wand. Bluebells seed freely and spread quickly, but the abundance suggests they’ve been there for centuries. Many of the beech trees were replanted after the First World War. The forest is near where the northern Flanders and southern Wallonia regions meet, about 30 minutes south of Brussels. There are three marked trails, including a four-kilometre walk that follows blue poles to giant sequoia trees. hallerbos.be/en.
The Goldilocks Principle applies to desert wildflowers: the conditions have to be “just right” for them to appear in spring. Heat (ideally mild) and moisture (wet) are the big players. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest, a 90-minute drive south of Palm Springs, got downpours this winter so brilliant flowers were coerced out of the dry landscape that is generally devoid of flora the rest of the year. March heralded purple sand verbena, yellow desert sunflowers, white spectacle pod and more. The Wildflower Hotline (tel: 760-767-4684) is a very real thing that is updated regularly. The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve (hotline: 661-724-1180) in LA county is covered in orange poppies this time of year. But they’re sooo temperamental. They only unfurl when conditions are sunny and warm visitcalifornia.com/ca/attraction/spring-wildflowers.
Luoping is a small county in eastern Yunnan near the Guizhou and Guangxi borders that was long overlooked by travellers. Yuányáng’s rice-covered hills and Shanxi’s wooden houses received a lot of the attention. But bright yellow rapeseed flowers are impossible to ignore, particularly when its farms are terraced. Rapeseed is grown, of course, to produce cooking oil and also animal feed. The rapeseed farms in Luoping are among the largest in China and when its flowers bloom they create a sort of golden sea in spring. Karst (limestone) peaks only add to the surrealism. It’s become a mecca for photographers and also busy bees – literally. Luoping is also a hub for raising bees and producing honey. The honey is an amber gold and is available in spring everywhere in the valley. For more on China: cnto.org.
People travel to the areas around Montepulciano and Pienza in the province of Siena in southern Tuscany just to draw and photograph its poppies. The fields, groves and vineyards of the hilltop towns are literally painted with them in April and May. Even roadsides and train tracks are dotted with red. Poppies are delicate little things, with featherlight petals, but their seeds are tough. They adapt to most climates and many soil types, including alkaline/clay (the soil of Tuscany) and even sand. Disturbed soil isn’t a problem and the flowers still sprout, as if by magic, when neglected. After you’ve frolicked among the wildflowers, amble about the towns. Their ancient churches, Renaissance palaces and charming squares as picturesque as the poppies. For more on Italy: turismo.intoscana.it.
You can’t tell where the flowers end and the sky begins in Hitachi Seaside Park (adults $5) in spring. Millions of blooming nemophila with transparent baby blue petals erupt on Miharashi Hill, the park’s highest point, mid-April through mid-May every year. Crowds flood the hill’s gentle slopes and meandering pedestrian paths to snap photographs and also marvel the Pacific Ocean view. Located in the Ibaraki Prefecture less than two hours northeast of Tokyo, the park is magnificent in other seasons too. About 30,000 kochia plants huddle hillside in summer and fall. The quirky little bush has soft, hair-like foliage that’s bright green July through mid-September, dark red through mid-October. en.hitachikaihin.jp.
National Geographic once named the Tulip Route in Noordoostpolder one of the world’s most beautiful road trips. Located northeast of Amsterdam, it stretches for about 100 kilometres past thousands of hectares of candy-coloured tulip fields in Flevoland, Holland’s flower-growing province. The tulips generally bloom for about three weeks, but are at their best around mid April. Keukenhof (adults €16) in the town of Lisse is the other place to see the bulbous perennials. Seven million flower bulbs are planted in the world’s largest garden every year, including 800 varieties of tulips. Alternatively, cycle the Flower Strip from Haarleem to Leiden (32 kilometres, 90 minutes) through Bollenstreek, the Bulb Region, for a classic Dutch experience on two wheels. holland.com/global/tourism/article/tulip-festival.htm.
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