One of my most vivid memories from childhood is gathering wild flowers with my mother to enter a competition at Castlebayney Agricultural Show back in the 1960s. It was a happy, happy time and, even though I was very young, I knew that Mother was enjoying the adventure just as much as I was.
Mother died almost three years ago, aged 88, and today I unearthed an article which she wrote around the time that we were collecting the wild flowers. Reading it, I became acutely aware of just how deeply she appreciated nature and how it is no coincidence that the re-emergence of wild flowers, especially in spring, is so fundamentally important to me. Here is what she wrote:
Flowers, especially wild flowers, played a large part in my childhood in Co. Meath. In the woods at home grew masses of snowdrops, under the trees, making the winter woodlands beautiful with their dainty white flowers among dark green ivy leaves. Oh, the thrill of the first snowdrop. To know that spring was on its way, and soon my beloved woods would be awakening from their winter slumbers. My birthday is in late January, and perhaps that is why I loved the snowdrops so much. They were my special flower. I would search the woods diligently, and always succeeded in finding enough to decorate the table for my birthday tea. After I left home, my mother never failed to include a tiny bunch of snowdrops in my birthday parcel. Snowdrops have always been synonomous with home to me, and although I have moved home umpteen times, I always plant a few snowdrop bulbs in each new garden.
Then there were the lesser celandines. There was a wood at home which was completely carpeted with them. Surprisingly early in the year, not long after the snowdrops were in bloom, that particular wood was filled with birdsong, sunshine, the tender green leaves of the celandines, and the little golden flowers.
And then came the primroses; primroses and baby chicks are always associated in my mind. They both arrive around Easter time and are the same delicious pale yellow. There was a stream at home which ran between very steep, sloping banks on which great clumps of primroses grew. Primroses abounded in the woods as well, but I loved to pick them on the banks of the stream. There was always a distinct danger of falling in, and of course this added to the fun. There were periwinkles in the woods too. They made a lovely posy, their tender blue toning beautifully with the pale yellow primroses.
In a dark corner of a laurel grove grew a few shy wood anenomes. Never enough to pick, but I had to visit them each year and admire the few precious blossoms.
Bluebells and beech trees go together, and the bluebells are in blossom just as those beautiful fresh young beech leaves unfold. To me, there are few lovelier sights than a carpet of bluebells dappled by the sunshine in a beech wood.
Cowslips were not very plentiful in our part of the country, but there was one field where they flourished. I used to make a pilgrimage to see the cowslips every year. I remember a grown-up explaining to me how to make a cowslip ball. I was horrified. How anyone could do that to my lovely cowslips!
I always prefer to see flowers growing, and when I do pick them I like to pick them here and there so that they will not be missed. Lilac grew in the woods, too. There was one big lilac bush in the wood by the river. Oh, the scent of that lilac with the dew on it, on a warm May morning.
We always went to stay with my grandmother in the early summer. She lived in Co. Kildare, and when I think of going there I think of dog-roses. The road from the station was always bathed in sunshine, with blue mountains in the distance, and the hedges simply covered with dog-roses and honeysuckle. And in the tillage fields on either side of the road, there were wild red poppies. I know farmers don’t like wild poppies much, but I loved them. Oh, let me have dog-roses and honeysuckle and poppies for my holidays. Nothing in all the travel brochures can give me such a thrill.