Signs of Spring

By Gardennia nutti

For many people, signs of spring are wonderful bulbs that pop up to greet us with their sunny faces, the fragrance and flowers of witch hazel, or a mist of beautiful yellow forsythia. For me, the spring litmus test is a bit different:

  • A new bottle of Advil (or other anti-inflammatory over the counter drug) in the medicine cabinet. You laugh, but I know it’ll take months for my back to get in shape for the digging and lifting I need to do, and a stocked medicine cabinet is a wise precaution.
  • A loud “What are these?!” from my husband as he trips over a box of new plants that sit innocently on the front stoop. For me, spring is that first real visit to an out-of-the-way nursery where I discover many plants I can’t live without. To qualify as a true sign of spring, my plant “haul” needs to be large enough to trip a grown male.
  • The days get long enough to allow me a few minutes weeding time after I get home from work. I know…weeding isn’t fun…but it is a sign of spring growth.

What says “It’s Spring!” to you? Read on for some thoughts from the gardening community:

  • The early and brave: Pink Dawn viburnum are blooming! – Kaitlin Kenegy, Garden World (, Yard, Garden & Patio Show exhibitor)
  • The first sign of spring that I look for is that glorious week of sunshine we get in early February. I know I can make it through the rest of winter when that sunshine comes. – Ann Nickerson, president, Association of Professional Landscape Designers ( and Yard, Garden & Patio Show exhibitor,
  • A favorite sign of spring is non-blooming but always has pleasant memories for me of my grandmother and her garden: the peony. When the red buds pop up through the ground, I know spring is on the way. So often when we refer to early spring color we think of a flower and that is not necessarily the case. The other sign of spring in my garden is, of course, the hellebore. Over the past few years, I have accumulated quite a collection and in spite of the very cold weather we had earlier, there are some in bloom now. What a delight it is to look over a rather bleak garden space and see these spots of color. I encourage people to plant hellebores because they are so easy to grow and give us so much early spring color. It is difficult to think of something that performs better with such minimal care. – Mike Darcy, In the Garden with Mike Darcy on 750 KXL. Mike does a live show from the Yard, Garden & Patio Show (Sat. morning, Feb. 13 beginning at 9am).
  • I know its spring when the chorus of frogs occurs on a nightly basis. I often spend evenings potting up newly arrived plants preparing for spring sales while enjoying the peace and serenity of the frogs. – Carol Westergreen, owner, Out in the Garden Nursery (, Yard, Garden & Patio Show exhibitor)
  • Although they bloom in January, I tell myself that my witch hazels (Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Aphrodite’) are the beginning of spring. The approaching Yard, Garden & Patio Show and shopping for echiceverias and other succulents. The urge to prune before my trees begin to leaf out. The bright blue Stellar jays returning to my garden. And slugs. – Kym Pokorny, garden writer for The Oregonian ( Kym will be speaking at YGP with Mike Darcy about their favorite plants (Saturday, Feb. 13 at 3:30pm).
  • Noticeable longer day length, especially sunset time. I am always amazed at how hardy and optimistic the Hamamelis or Witch Hazels are. All of a sudden you walk through the garden and almost overnight they have spun their thread-like blossoms into bright pompoms, some of which are spicy and sweet in scent. Another true workhorse that most of the year fades into the shadows and gives backbone to a bed is Sweetbox or Sarcococca. I usually do not even see the flowers developing but once we have a bit of a balmy break in the weather, their perfume sets sail through the air. It is a welcome scent that delights the nose much more than the smell rotting leaves and stems from the last icy blast. The bulbous rock garden iris, Iris reticulata, also bravely step forward into the season and put on a show to rival any crocus collection. They are early, increase well, and love to bake in the summer. Of course, it is always with anticipation that I wait for the current favorite hellebore to bloom…and then it is on to the next to see if it is just a bit more exciting. My sure sign of true spring is the return of the swallows. I’ve been tuned into their arrival ever since my grandfather showed me how he noted their annual return on his calendar 40 years ago. Now we do the same and it is a marvel at how they always arrive around March 19. Finally, looking forward to a season of enthusiastic gardeners and plant fanatics – Leonard Foltz, Dancing Oaks (, Yard, Garden & Patio Show exhibitor)
  • It may be a bit trite, but for me the first hint of spring occurs when my crocus pop out with color. In the midst of winter debris and muck, to see such hopeful energy surging through the soil does my heart good! Of course, even with that harbinger of spring, actual spring is still weeks away. But those first crocus lead a cheery parade of blooming bulbs—narcissus, muscari, tulips, and more—until before we know it, we are swept into the fullness of springtime. The days lengthen, the light changes, and the air itself softens and sweetens. And once again, we realize we’ve survived another cold, dark, challenging winter and are heading back to light and growth. – Linda Shively, Farmington Gardens (, Yard, Garden & Patio Show exhibitor)
  • “Enduring winter is an act of faith for gardeners. Spending time in the garden during our rainy season is an affirmation of what is to come.
    Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, planted by the front door is the first portent–the delicate, spicy fragrance of sweet box, extends to the front
    door–what a welcome–throughout December. A lone Helleborus x hybridus, cotton candy pink blushed with merlot–looks good but wouldn’t taste good–is in full fettle by Christmas day. A good present. Snow drops seem to just appear without warning–such little blooms making a grand statement mingled with the golden bowls of winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis. My witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’ stands regal and resplendent in a coat of chrome yellow emitting a spicy citrus scent. Be still my heart–spring is afoot in the garden. – Lucy Hardiman, landscape designer, Perennial Partners (; speaker at Yard, Garden & Patio Show: “From Sidewalk to Treetop–Maximizing Space in the Garden”, Friday, Feb. 12 11am, and “Decorating Eden–Personalizing Your Garden”, Saturday, Feb. 13, 11am).

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