First Signs of Spring

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Pansies in ice

Where is spring? I know it’s early, but we’ve waited for what seems like eons. During the holidays, we force bulbs indoors and grow tropical plants, but if we’re honest, we’re always on the lookout for something more.

On cold and dreary days, we troll television stations and our favorite websites for garden shows longing for a sprig of green. For the truly color starved, the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is held each February in Seattle. The Philadelphia Flower Show is conducted in March, and there’s also the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show to get your fix. My local home and garden show is, to put it mildly, a bit of a disappointment so I use my frequent flyer miles. Some folks go to Hawaii in winter. Instead, I travel to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, and this year, I’m excited to share I’m speaking there.  


Display at Flower Show


If you can’t get away, bundle up, go outside and take a brisk walk. Look for the return of male bluebirds scouting for nesting sites. Watch robins as they search for worms in the lawn. Listen for other birds like Cardinals, hawks, and where I live, Golden and Bald Eagles. Buy a bird book and some binoculars and enjoy another hobby in winter if you must.


Cardinal in snow


To see new plant growth this early, take a cue from the birds and peer closely at the ground.  Grab your camera too. You might be surprised at how much you see. Perhaps, it will be the first yellow crocus emerging.


Crocus chrysanthus Goldilocks


If you grow old roses, you’ll likely see an orange and frozen rosehip full of Vitamin C. Or, maybe it will be a hellebore blooming on fresh foliage because you trimmed off the tired leaves in late January or early February. Fiskars garden scissors are just the right tool for trimming hellebore and other soft foliage. Hellebores and Hamamelis spp. (witch hazels) are two plants to brighten the cold days of February and March.


Hellebore Ballerina


You have to get up close and personal with the garden in these early days. It’s not a time for sweeping vistas unless you want to see winter grasses, blowing in the wind, or the brightly colored and textured bark of winter trees. Leaves and blooms haven’t yet emerged, but moss and lichen cover rocks, and up close, these are miniature worlds full of the miraculous.

Crocus tommasinianus “tommies” you planted last fall reach for the sun, and every little thing seems precious on the rare warm and sunny day. Spring is returning, and if that doesn’t gladden your heart, then I don’t know what will.


Crocus tommasinianus


In addition to crocus and for later spring blooms, plant Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant’ (summer snowflake). Although not as early as Galanthus nivalis (common snowdrops), small white bells hang daintily from long slender stems and are easier to see. In the south, summer snowflakes are also much simpler to grow than snowdrops or lily of the valley. My friend, Leslie, who lives in California, gave me bulbs, and in just three seasons, I now have plenty to spread and share.




While you’re outside, on warm days, cut back perennial grasses and prune roses before they leaf out and flower, excluding climbing roses that are pruned after spring bloom. Fertilize roses too, but don’t forget to enjoy these tiny miracles. Hold onto them. Spring is coming, and all the mistakes and bad weather of the previous year are but memories. Now is the time to get busy, but don’t forget to take pictures and enjoy the warm breezes. Spring is nearly here. Now is the time to rejoice.