I belong to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, one of the 47 Wildlife Trusts in the UK and recently, while looking through their list of upcoming events I spotted a guided walk round Fox Fritillary Meadow in Framsden. It was recommended that I book a place, not because of limited space but so I could be contacted if there weren’t enough flowers in bloom to make my visit worthwhile. I was very pleased when Alice phoned me shortly afterwards suggesting she stay with us that weekend.
A few days after making the reservation I was happy to find a mention of the meadow in the book I was currently reading; ‘In the Artist’s Garden’ by Ronald Blythe.
He says of fritillaries … ‘Every April and May, from time immemorial, they show themselves in my orchard to remind me of what I have come to think of as their native land – Framsden, in Suffolk.’
He remembers his youthful visits to the meadow …
It is there, at the long pasture in the dell, which is covered with these speckled, bell-shaped, vaguely sinister blooms – the British species of genus Fritillaria liliaceae. It was an hour’s bike-ride from my house, and a proper pilgrimage for a member of the Wild Flower Society. And Mrs Fox, tall, elderly and generous, standing at the gate to welcome us where snake’s heads grew.
For 50 weeks her long meadow was no more than two acres of dank grass, with a lush drainage ditch severing it; but when the fritillaries came, it turned into the Plains of Enna when Persephone set foot in them. There they were – hundreds, thousands of them, some a papery white, but most a muted purple colour with the reptilian markings that gave them their nickname. Nightingales sang over them. There was a cold wind blowing, as well as these mysterious spring flowers.
It would have been a Saturday afternoon when Mrs Fox was at home. There were so many of them that we never knew where to tread, and when we left she would give us little fritillary bouquets. This was the time when country people believed that the more you picked the more they grew – a policy that rioted when it came to bluebells.
Fritillaries were so called by the Romans after their dice box, or shaker, which was one of the few personal belongings that a soldier carried around. This, and a chequer-board. ‘And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them and upon my vesture did they cast lots’.
I have a rather beautiful book (sent to all members in 2011 to celebrate the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s 50th anniversary) which includes a photograph of the meadow and a little about its history. In it I am told that the meadow was sprayed in 1957 with a broad-leaved selective herbicide, as the owner hoped to benefit the fritillaries by killing all the other plants. The fritillaries survived because they are members of the narrow-leaved lily family. Cowslips, cuckooflower and ragged-Robin are slowly returning but compared with other meadows where fritillaries are found this meadow is less diverse. The Trust acquired the meadow in 1977 when the farm was sold, as Queenie Fox the owner wanted to be sure the fritillaries would be safeguarded.
The morning of Saturday the 23rd April was cold and breezy with many heavy hail showers. The Trust hadn’t contacted me so we assumed the open day was going ahead. By lunchtime the showers were dying out and when we set off on the 45 minute journey the sun was shining – but it was still cold!
We found the site easily and joined others eager to see these strange flowers. At first, on entering the meadow through the gate, we didn’t see where the flowers were but a few steps further on and the mass of blooms became obvious to us. We carefully picked our way through the flowers, sometimes crouching down to admire them more fully, but all the while the further we walked the more flowers there were to see. The tributary of the River Deben which Blythe mentions as bisecting the field is still there but sadly, we heard no nightingales.
When we had had our fill of fritillaries we left for home, stopping off at Saxtead Green to admire the Post Mill there.
Thank’s for visiting!