Today, for the first time since the Punxsatawney Phil saw his furry shadow 18 days ago and predicted six more weeks of winter, Mother Nature gave an indication that she may issue an early injunction against that pampered rodent’s prognostications. After weeks of thermometer readings below freezing, snow and ice covered sidewalks, and a dearth of sunshine, warmer air made a welcome return.
Early this afternoon, the overcast skies that dropped a dusting of snow overnight had lightened to allow a few rays of sun and raise the temperature to a wintry balm of 37 degrees F. As I walked out the front door, camera in hand, the ice that has stood several inches out of our gutters for the last few weeks was quickly melting in a continual chorus of drips and drops.
I instantly knew the focus of today’s photo walk would be the emerging buds in our landscape. Every year at the first hint of warmth after a long winter’s cold, the tress and shrubs that form the winter bones of the garden start to break their dormancy and put their stored energy into bud growth. These packages of new growth that have remained tightly wrapped throughout the winter suddenly begin to swell in anticipation of spring.
For a tree that will eventually be covered in a soft, prolific blanket of white blossoms, the crabapple (Malus sp.) on the corner of our garage appears gnarled, scarred and spiked with small pointed buds that remain virtually camouflaged against the dark grey twigs.
Dark brown buds emerge along the dormant stems of a Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ that resides under the northern eaves of the house.
New buds emerge at points along the peeling, mottled branches of Weigela florda ‘Variegata’. The buds of this spreading shrub, like many in our landscape, are hidden at first glance.
Flower buds on Cercis canandensis (Eastern Redbud) first appear as black nubs along the branches, waiting to emerge as showy magenta flowers later in spring.
Tiny leaf buds along the new stem growth of Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ stand out against the light grey bark of the more mature branches.
Our lilacs (Syringia vulgaris) show their eagerness for spring. This variety, which sports white flowers, has bright green buds, while the buds on our purple-flowered lilac appear burgundy in winter.
The bud clusters of Prunus cerasis ‘North Star’ contrast beautifully along its dark brown and white branches.
Witch Hazel (Hammamelis vernalis) will be the first shrub to bloom in the landscape. If you look closely at the bud cluster near the top of the photo, you can see small red crosses on two of the buds — an early peek at the orange-red color of the petals that will emerge in the coming weeks.
Two leaf buds on Cornus serecia (Red Twig Dogwood) point in opposite directions at the end last year’s growth. These leaf buds will emerge in what I can best describe as an unfolding of wings as spring arrives.
Brown buds tinged in pink grow on Lonicera (honeysuckle) vines that cover the fence at the back of our raised vegetable beds. Winter is my favorite time to view this vine, as the stems seem to infinitely weave themselves into an indivisible embrace.
Of our trees, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is one of the earliest to break bud. Today, the red and orange buds are about twice the size they were a couple of weeks ago.
Late winter is an ideal time to view the stems and buds of Euonymous alatus. Without the leaves, the ridges that give the shrub the common name of Winged Euonymous are more apparent.
Even our evergreens have begun to set new growth along their stems. These small buds on Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ (Colorado Blue Spruce) will grow into soft, new candles later this spring.
Leaf buds on our sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua), small now, will start to swell as the weather warms, eventually growing nearly an inch long and half-inch wide.
The new growth on sweet gum appears bright yellow against the whitish-grey bark of existing twigs.
This winter has seemed longer and colder than most, but that could simply be the feeling most gardeners get as spring teases us with its impending arrival. We all get the urge to get out a spade and feel dirt under our fingernails, but for me there is nothing that stokes the desire for spring more than the emergence of buds. Each one, as it swells with a new season’s growth, is a promise that winter will soon be a distant memory.