The Green Flag of Emergence

It doesn’t take but a few seconds outside today to realize it is still winter here in Central Illinois, as the temperatures are hovering around 30°F and a puffy breeze making it feel colder. It’s the kind of day where a couple layers of fleece and a pair of gloves make outdoor life much more enjoyable. But if you were to take temperature out of the equation, you’d swear spring had arrived. The sky is a brilliant blue, the sun stunningly bright. Even with the sun directly overhead, the colors in the garden look crisp and saturated.

The snow cover that has gone through a constant ebb and flow throughout the first two months of winter has receded, revealing patches of dormant grass and moisture-soaked mulch. But I had one focus as I made a loop around our house with my camera. I was in search of evidence that Mother Nature had waved the green flag of emergence, a signal for the plants to break their winter dormancy and herald in the start of spring.

The proof I was seeking lay just a few steps from the driveway, in the narrow border along the north side of our garage, where both daylilies and daffodils sprouted a couple of inches above the mulch.

Our orange daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) are always one of the earliest plants to emerge, which invariably leads to frost-nipped tips and a bit of a ragged appearance.

Daffodils (Narcissus sp.) are among the early bulbs to awaken, sending their shoots up through the remaining snow.

The heat from this single daffodil shoot melted a circular tunnel through the snow.

We normally treat pansies (Viola sp.) as an annual here in Zone 5, but if we fail to pull them out of their fall containers, the plants will green up in the spring.

A newly-planted hellebore (Helleborus ‘Melody’) breaks through the snow. This specimen is one for which I’ve been waiting all winter. I’ve never grown hellebore before, and am hoping this one does not disappoint. It is supposed to have white, pink and purple flowers.

Directly above the hellebore, the true harbinger of our spring — Vernal Witch Hazel (Hammamelis vernalis) — stands buds at the ready. A few more warm days, and it will be in full bloom.

German iris (Iris germanica) rhizomes have sprouted all over the landscape. This variety, with lavender blooms that smell like grape candy, is planted underneath the window of our master bathroom on the south side of the house.

At first, the peonies in our front foundation border appeared dormant, but a closer look in between last year’s stems revealed several tips of the bright red shoots that grow each year.

We may end up getting another cold snap as winter makes its exit, but all signs are pointing to a timely arrival of spring. The ten day forecast has daytime highs above freezing for the foreseeable future, and the official start of spring is just 18 days away.

If the plants in our landscape are any indication, there’s no turning back now.

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