Planting the Healing Garden: First Signs of Spring

Where I live in the northeast U.S., winter can get a little tiresome after awhile. Sure, it’s nice to pore over garden catalogs and watch the birds and the falling snow from the warmth of the house, but around February I’m done with shoveling and long underwear and root vegetables, and I start to look for signs of spring, thinking please, tell me winter isn’t going to last forever! 
For me, witch hazel (Hamemelis spp.) is one of the earliest and most wonderful spring harbingers. I blogged about this last year in one of my first posts (see this one, too, for more) and this year she’s doing it again, this time maybe even a little earlier, and still under a blanket of snow. Tiny little red buds appeared on the spare tan-colored branches about two weeks ago, and they have slowly unfurled to provide some much-needed color in the dreary end-of-winter landscape, as well as fragrance and the promise that spring will, indeed, come again. Different witch hazels bloom at different times: My ‘Jelena’ blooms at least a month earlier than my ‘Arnold’s Promise,’ whose fragrant blooms look like shredded Forsythia blossoms. A friend just turned me on to the New Jersey Botanical Garden, which apparently has a wonderful witch hazel collection. I sense a field trip coming on.

Some other early-spring bloomers ’round these parts are blue Siberian squills (Scilla), pictured above, which poke through last year’s fallen leaves around the same time as the skunkweed; blue snow glories, or glory of the snow (Chionodoxa); Iris reticulata; and snowdrops (Galanthus). I’m actually not sure if snowdrops’ common name is for the whiteness of the blossom or the fact that they often push through the snow to bloom, as you can see in this lovely photo from Anette Linnea Rasmussen, but regardless, they sure make for a welcome change.

And of course, Crocuses! Remember that Joni Mitchell song, Little Green: “There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow…” Curious about what other plants give people hope, I polled my network on twitter, and sure enough, Crocuses were the most popular early-spring bloomers. For perennials, Hellebores (also called Lenten rose for the bloom’s coinciding with Lent) were a favorite. And what about the rest of the country? In Maryland, the pussywillow is one person’s favorite, and a little south of there, in upstate South Carolina, Prunus mume does the trick. This photo by was taken in mid February, but they can bloom even earlier (though they do sometimes get damaged by frost). 

Prunus mume ‘Rosemary Clark.’ 
Photo by Karen Russ, © HGIC, Clemson Extension
In the Pacific northwest, primroses are the spring harbinger, as well as by Daphne odora – my Daphne blooms much later, so I don’t think of it as an early-spring plant, but I’m glad it is for somebody – the intoxicatingly fragrant blossoms must produce a Pavlovian like response up there in Seattle. 
One person responded that catnip was their favorite spring plant because as soon as its little green shoots start to emerge from the soil, the cats find it, get stoned, and frolick about. Now that’s spring fever! In Florida, it’s Viburnum and Hippeastrum. And in Los Angeles, though I would have thought it wouldn’t even matter, people still do like to mark the change of seasons. For some Angelinos, Freesias mean spring; for others, it’s miles of bright orange California poppies blanketing everything. Here’s a photo I took from the airplane in early March last year. No, the hills are not on fire, they are abloom with poppies.

And in case you want more inspiration, here’s a nice publication by Iowa State University Extension, Early Spring Blooming Perennials. So, dear readers, what about you? What plants help you get through those last few weeks of winter? Add a comment so we can see and take notes!