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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Keeping buzzy?

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Honeybees visiting Holly

What to do? This time of social non-contact and temporary closings has forced us to improvise or even relearn ancient skills. One is repainting every room in their house and another has rediscovered the kitchen after far too many restaurant meals. Then there are my neighbors. Their only skill in mowing. The grass is barely green, the pollinators are hungry, and these folks cut down the small spring flowers without a second thought. Perhaps they should think. Maybe the destruction of nature has something to do with the rampant diseases coursing through our over-populated world. Could discovery and working with nature be the remedy?

If you doubt the importance and vibrance of nature, just look around you. Nature has brought you spring. Time to go outdoors and soak up the world as it comes alive. You should have no worry of anyone coming close. The world is safe while you walk, mark out your garden, plant your little seeds, or transplant those plants you’ve meant to for years. You now have time to go through all those spring plant catalogues you’ve neglected, buried under the mountain of mail you’ve intended to sort.

The coronavirus can’t keep me indoors. It is something else. Not the usual contingency of cardinals, red-winged juvenile blackbirds, blue jays, sparrows and other birds which gather at the feeders before the sun rises. Usually not the personable opossums who wander up rooting for tasty morsels. Possibly the squirrels when I stop to watch them drop out of the sky from overhanging tree branches or easily shimmy up metal poles of bird feeders. Is that a hawk perching quietly in the poplar tree? It’s dangerous when the cottontail bunny, which has grown brawny and bold, hops wherever. But everything stops when then the big birds come, and they’re not from Sesame Street. The turkeys are here.

Winter flocks of over fifty turkeys spent this winter in acres of woods and fields to the north of my house. They have now sorted themselves into smaller rafters of more females and fewer males. Rafters? Another name for a group of turkeys. The name comes from their habit of perching on barn rafters. Around my house, the turkeys occupy redcedar branches. Would they be called branchers?

This spring the turkey family who periodically visited the bird feeders last year remembered the ground buffet and showed up last week. They are now full-grown turkeys. Is their mother still with them? I can’t tell. Five or six pretty fill up the area. This Tuesday a single female was merrily pecking away at seeds below while one industrious squirrel hung precariously from the feeder above, grabbing or dropping all the sunflower seeds it could. So, you see, I can’t go out. I’ll just settle into a comfortable chair with a cup of tea and a book. What a delightful way to be socially isolated.

The Bradford pear. I’ve tried not to go there but…. this Bradford pear has been sneaking its way to heaven the last few years while hiding behind the blackjack oak. I carried my wood zig and pair of snips out to do battle with that pear, its little friends and the Japanese honeysuckle. The treacherous vines crisscross the ground and were coming dangerously close to the native honeysuckle. Each spring I choose an area of the yard for some intensive invasive removal. I’d like to say the pesky meddlers are gone, but they are clever and conniving and will try to return again and again.

Because the soil was so moist, the honeysuckle came away with many roots. The Bradford pears were cut to ground level. I surveyed the small mountain of vines, leaves and the Bradford pears, scooped them into my arms and carted the surprised plants to the rubbish bin. The lid was flung back, landing behind the bin. Things were going so well. Then the largest Bradford pear, with revenge on its mind, somehow pivoted itself under the lid and brought it forward just as I was dumping the rest of the debris inside. The lid slammed down on my nose. After my eyes uncrossed, I threw back the ‘darn that was heavy’ lid and jammed the nasty Bradford pear deep into the depths of the bin. Take that, you despicable devil spawn.

My poor nose had previously been broken while we were living in the UK. It was dusk. Good old Joe Barnes left Lidgate Church on his bicycle with no light and was building up a head of steam going down the hill on the sidewalk, not on the road. Didn’t see me until it was too late. I was struck from behind and flew like a bird in the air, landing on my face and knees. I limped home. Chipped a tooth, my lips had swollen, eyes were puffy and bloodshot (they’re usually green), and the bleeding nose had an interesting bend to it. After a collective gasp, my sympathetic lot quipped if I won the fight, they hated to see what the other guy looked like. Deviated septum and surgery.

Good thing this time the nose remained strong. It is sore and now has a red scrape down the bridge. See, Bradford pears are not your friends.

The increasing daylight, warming temperatures and recent rainfall has excited the female American holly (Ilex opaca) in front of my house. The ends of her stems are now covered in small incredibly fragrant greenish-white flowers, each with four tiny petals. Behind the floral display on the same stem are last year’s red berries. Hollies are dioecious, with male and female plants. The male holly lives nearby, assuring fertilized flowers and future red berries aided by hundreds of honey bees, bumble bees, flies and other pollinators now swarming the holly. My uncle remembers towering 100-foot-tall holly trees growing in the river bottoms of southeast Oklahoma. My fifteen-foot lady holly in central Oklahoma may reach forty feet.

Hollies are immensely important wildlife trees, attracting bluebirds, thrashers and at least sixteen other species of birds, squirrels, deer, red foxes, box turtles, bunnies, raccoons, and 39 species of butterflies and moths.

At ground level the ephemeral but vulnerable ‘Spring Beauty’ (Claytonia virginica) is adding its pink cast to the landscape and buzzing with activity as well. This totally edible 6” tall spring flower is also called the fairy spud, because of its tasty sweet 2” long underground tubers (corms). Harvest during bloom-time, but return the smallest ‘tater tots’ back to the soil to regenerate the flower patch. Those pink stripes on the flower petals? They are landing strips that guide pollinators of 23 different species to the nectary glands at the base of each petal. The little Spring Beauties may be here only briefly, but they offer so much. Learn to appreciate nature. Mow with discretion, not thoughtlessness.

“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement.” Wayne Dyer

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at