Almost spring

    Late March is the bipolar adolescence of the year. The calm afternoon of faintly warm breath on the breeze is followed by a morning of unrelenting raw wind and sleet that seem to attack just when you dared to hope we were done with weather tantrums.

    The few flowers out are remarkable for their economy of form and their plucky opposition to the final charge of winter. Some manage by their thick skin, like the hellebores that have been in bloom all winter. Dinosaur-like, their coarse foliage stays above the muck, and the thick-petaled flowers carry themselves hunched over, heads down against the snow and pelting rain.

    Snowdrops are ubiquitous right now, seeming to spring from the footprints of those who lived here before us. Here’s a patch inexplicably in the middle of the woods, or a colony on the soft crumbly edge of a creek. The little white flowers spring out of neglected patches of ivy and pop up on the shady side of the house. I see them everywhere, almost always the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, more rarely (but often enough that I always have to crouch down to check) one of the old fashioned double varieties. Like the hellebores and other winter flowers, they hug the ground. Their flowers hang down like pearl earrings from impossibly thin green threads and the petals are clamped shut on all but the most mild late winter days.

    Other flowers can be tricked like trusting and unworldly children to blossom before their time. The screaming yellow branches of forsythia won’t be demanding attention for another month, but a twig snapped off and put in a vase will bloom within days, and will stay in flower for weeks. The flowering quince is a shrub of few merits except for its beautiful, apple blossom like flowers that cover the branches before the leaves emerge. It blooms in the garden at the same time as the tulips and other showy bulbs, but branches stuck in water will flower a month early.

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    Until the first truly mild days, when the fat dandelion bursts into bloom and the sun feels warm, gardeners and anyone else sick of winter will have to rely on good eyesight, a lot of bending, and maybe even manipulation to make it over the hump.

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