Letter from Birdland | Transplanting wild flowers

Letter from Birdland | Transplanting wild flowers

This time of year, you can find me mostly at my desk, grading papers to beat that final deadline, but I tell my students that they don't want me to grade when I'm fatigued, so I take lots of breaks. I do it for the students.

Yesterday, spring was here in all its glory, and after the crazy weather we've had, I wasn't taking any chances that it would stick around. Tomorrow we might wake to a blizzard or a heat wave.

After grading my quota for the morning, I pulled my bike out of the garage, collected some digging tools and headed up the hill to the woods. I was hoping, of course, to find some mushrooms after the soaking rain we got the night before, but I also knew that wildflowers would be up, and I've been trying to cultivate them in our little spinney of woods behind the house.

Bluebells are my most successful transplant. They have spread out and scattered since I dug one lone clump about five or six years ago. Others have bloomed for a few seasons and then either migrated elsewhere or simply got lost in the shuffle. This spinney has grown up where the old granary used to be and is still in transition to a true woodland.

Pulling my bike into the smock timber, where the foundation stones for the old schoolhouse lie, I was met with a mix of emotions: Joy, to be out in the woods on such a beautiful day, mixed with annoyance about how much trash I had to step over in the gully next to the road. I also noted, with a little bit of fear, the hedge of bush honeysuckle that has grown up to block my usual entrance into the forest.

Bush honeysuckle is the invasive that Michael has been fighting in our own little spinney and in the yard beyond these past several years. My husband has finally gained the upper hand on this plant around our house. Oh, it's still there, but it's no longer threatening to crowd out all other species. But keeping our tiny spinney relatively clear has taken diligence, so when I discovered how much it has grown in our smock timber since I last stepped in, I was afraid. I pulled my bike into the forest and parked it behind the biggest bush honeysuckle. At least it would screen it from the road.

Inside, the birdsong greeted me, and I tried to count the different calls I heard but quickly lost track and just listened. The trees above were just beginning to sprout leaves, so the open sky latticed with branches made a bright canopy. The forest floor was lush with new green growing up through the litter of last year's leaves.

I carried my digging basket with me. I would make my way into the interior, hunting mushrooms, and then on my way out, would dig a few wildflowers. Taking advice from an old mushroom hunter I once met in the woods, I walked slow and kept my head down, poking with my stick. At least I tried to keep my head down. But the birds would call, and I would look up to see if I could see them, and before you knew it, I was focused on the canopy above me. Then I would remind myself that I was looking for mushrooms, and my stick would poke in the leaves and my eyes would rake across the bases of trees again.

The day was warm, and the birdsong brightened my mood. The bush honeysuckle was growing all around me, but so were raspberry canes and gooseberry bushes. I came to the barbed wire fence that marks the boundary of our woods and turned back.

I made a broad circle on the way back to the road, this time stopping to dig just a few specimens. I had my eye on the yellow woodland violets on my way in, and I kneel now to dig one to take home. I dig just one each of Mayapple, Trillium, Woodland Phlox, Wild Geranium and Jack-in-the Pulpit. I pick some ramps to eat with my dinner and find my bicycle hidden from the road by the honeysuckle bush.

At home, Michael helps me dig my wildflowers into the spinney and water them, hoping for the best. Wildflowers are delicate and don't always survive the transplant.

This morning, as we ramble around the yard with coffee cups in hand, we wander over to the spinney to give a little drink to the tiny woodland garden of transplants. To my delight, they are still fresh and growing, even the flowers on the Bouncing Bet are still blooming. I think that maybe we might have pulled it off, and while I'm there, I see a surprise. Solomon's Seal is growing right next to the little garden. I don't remember planting it in previous springs. The birds must be helping me plant my woodland garden.

Collect beauty; transplant peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She wants to wish Bob a happy birthday and both of her mothers a very happy Mother's Day. Love you Mom! Love you Bob! Love you Linda! You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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