In the Garden:
They may be only 3 inches tall or so, but the pleasure that snowdrops bring in winter is giant sized.
Looking for Spring
Depending on the weather, my spring vigil usually begins sometime in February. I walk around the yard, starting by the front door, looking for signs of spring. It's a gradual building of energy starting with just thin green blades and ending by April with the garden covered in flowers and leaves. But for now, I thrill to those first spring harbingers.
The First Bulbs
The first bulbs to bloom are usually the snowdrops, strategically planted by the steps. On a bad day, I can look out the storm door and know that the wind, snow, and sleet will not deter these brave little flowers. Of the various species, Galanthus nivalis is the first to bloom. The plants grow only about 4 inches tall, producing white bell-shaped flowers marked with green.
Soon we'll have the bright yellow flowers of Iris danfordiae and the various shades of blue and purple of I. reticulata. Both grow to about 6-12 inches tall.
Crocuses are synonymous with spring. They feature grassy foliage and graceful flowers in the shape of chalices in white, yellow, and shades of purple and can be planted in small groups or used to fill large areas of the yard. Of the early-blooming species, the earliest is the lilac-colored Crocus imperati, followed by the blue C. sieberi, the golden C. susianus, and the lavender C. tomasinianus, which is the best one for naturalizing.
The First Perennials
In a mild winter, the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, has already been blooming for weeks by now. This year, however, it's just starting to send up those spectacular waxy white blooms. These evergreen foot-tall perennials grow best in moist but well-drained soil in partial shade.
There are larger plants, too, that keep my spirits up when snow is falling down. The pussy willow is still one of my favorite plants. The silky catkins are beautiful for weeks, both in the garden and as cut stems indoors in a vase (where they'll easily root). The European pussy willow, Salix caprea, has larger catkins than our native pussy willow, S. discolor. Either one makes a large rounded shrub 10-15 feet tall.
The Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, is another great large shrub for the landscape. The fragrant flowers are composed of narrow, ribbonlike petals and bloom in very early spring. A number of hybrids have been produced, the best known being 'Arnold Promise', which features golden yellow petals. Other hybrids include the red-flowered 'Diane'; 'Orange Beauty', which produces deep yellow petals with red bases; and 'Sunburst', touted as one of the most showy, with large clusters of brilliant yellow blooms.
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