Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bells of Spring

   Three bell shaped yellow flowers ring in spring. Daffodils, Clinch Vine, and Yellow Forsythia. I like to think these early bell shaped blossoms are nature's way of helping hummingbirds who thrive on nectar deep in bell shaped flowers on their northbound journey.
   Yellow Bells (forsythia) seem to pop out overnight and shimmer in the sun. They add a special glow to a yard or hillside where a farm house once stood. The bright yellow flowers manage to withstand our sudden spring freezes with amazing vigor. The sturdy bushes with great cascading branches are almost impossible to dig out. To make them flourish thicker than before, as soon after they flower as possible cut the bushes back to about six inches above ground level. New branches must have plenty of time to grow and develop as the bloom buds are set during the summer prior to spring flowering. If the new leaves begin to appear leave then alone for another year before pruning.

   We also have a white forsythia outside our library window on the south facing side of the house. Its blooms are smaller than the yellow. It also blooms much earlier, most often flowers appear in middle of January. This year like the witch hazel it got its seasons mixed up and bloomed in late November. Now it's sending out a few sparse blooms in March.
   Clinch Vine is the rarest of three native Kentucky flowering vines. It's flowers are a deep yellow with red hearts. Within days after you see the blooms high in the trees, fence rows, and bushes hummingbirds appear on their northward migration. We have a few in our maple and oak trees that bloom before the leaves of the trees appear.

   Anywhere you drive yards, ditches, and fields are dotted with the most common early spring bell. The daffodil is a European import that flourishes wherever they are planted; lasting decades after a structure has crumbled to dust. One local farmer tried to rid a cornfield of them. He plowed and harrowed his field, cutting deep into the soil. The next spring he had hundreds more of them bloom among the tender stalks of his new corn crop because cutting up the bulbs increases production of new plants.
   Beautiful they are and have been immortalized in poetry for ages for the vibrant color they bring to spring, yet they have a sinister quality of death. We used this in the opening story, "Don't Go There," of our national award finalist collection of ghost stories, Haints:
   "The night-bleached flower heads lifted their faces to the stars. The clumps bumped across the dark field in random profusion separated by narrow paths where cattle had foraged sweet grass in safety. Every bloom, blade, and bulb is safe from predators because of the poison they contain, but they are lovely to watch as they nod on vagabond currents of air."

   So our farmer's new shoots are safe from a raccoon or rabbit as they have learned the danger lurking across the field. The yellow belled flowers ring in spring more often than weather patterns that vary from soft to fierce.  

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