Earliest Spring Ever

We can usually squeak our last day of local skiing in during the first week of March, but this year the middle of February will be stretching it.  Spring seems to be here.  Not Easter dress, bouquets of tulips spring, more of a garden waking up, could still get buried in snow kind of season where you’re somewhere after mud season but not yet ready to put the winter coat away completely.  None of that makes sense, but maybe it does, and I suspect that’s a reason you still read this blog rather than just skim the pictures… not that I could blame you for skimming, it’s all just snowdrop nonsense again!

spring snowdrops

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) next to the driveway.

Although it’s been remarkably warm the plants still don’t seem to have that urgency you see after a March blizzard melts and everything erupts.  Tulips and daffodils are still lying low and only a few crocus have started sprouting.  The snowdrops seem eager but a few are still holding back as if they’re also a little apprehensive regarding the calendar.  Whatever.  I declared spring last week and spring it is.  The entire garden was finished off this weekend and nearly every bed is cleaned of winter debris and cleared of tired hellebore and epimedium foliage.

spring garden cleanup

Just like my definition of spring’s arrival bucks the trends, my ‘cleaned up’ beds will also not please everyone out there.  There are still leaves everywhere, but at least the birch trees were power-washed last fall, so thank goodness for that! 

A good amount of rain is forecast for Thursday and that combined with more warm will likely get everything sprouting.  Even a cold Friday night (just in time for the weekend) won’t be enough to stop the progress.

spring snowdrops

More leafy beds.  ‘Richard Ayres’ in the center is looking better than he ever has, the mild weather has spared this early bird from his normal beatings.

You may have noticed I allow quite a few leaves to stay on my beds and if you really insist on knowing more I’ll be happy to go on and on about it.  Around here my autumn cleanup has been reduced to barely cleaning out beds, mowing all the leaves up from the lawn, and then just dumping the chopped mulch over whatever lays there to cover it all up in a nice consistent chopped leaf look.  I act like it’s a careless activity but to be honest I’m almost neurotic about stray grass seedheads falling into the mulch and having their beige-ness contaminate the brown-ness, and having spots where there are too many whole leaves, and not enough chopped bits to settle everything down, and…

spring snowdrops

This spot by the compost has just enough broken bits of twigs and small leaves to look like it just happened.  Even the bit of brick looks like it was just left where it fell rather than placed there because I liked the mossy look of it. 

So is it obsession or just some elaborate story being spun to cover up a sloppy cleanup?  Maybe I don’t even know myself, but I do know my policy of mowing whatever I can saves me from a ton of trips to the compost pile.  Weeding and compost turning and digging and hauling are a bunch of work so why not throw everything on the lawn, suck it up with the mower and then use it elsewhere (or back in the same bed) as a mulch to keep down the weeds?  Saturday there were piles of hellebore leaves heaped on the lawn, Sunday there was a nice mulch smothering the bittercress in the tropical bed.  I think that’s a win-win.

galanthus egret

This is the first spring I’ve ever actually seen ‘Egret’ show it’s distinctive upward curl to her petals.  Exciting?  Of course.  It doesn’t take much with snowdrops.

So it’s not even mid February and the garden is already tour-ready.  I’ll be spending the next few weeks leading tours through the garden and reminding visitors to follow the official snowdrop path and to not stray into the moss garden.  I’m sure everyone will be thrilled with my snowdrop stories and of course be amazed by my name dropping.  Boy will I be busy.

galanthus dryad gold bullion

A few years ago a friend gave me a tiny sliver of the yellow snowdrop ‘Dryad Gold Bullion’.  She’s done well and even if she looks similar to her ‘Wendy’s Gold’ parent, I think she’s slightly more vigorous.  

When the tour buses stop I wonder if they’ll notice the still-not-repaired bulldozer tracks across the yard, the scaffolding, and the piles of gravel and scrap siding.  And the mud.  Hmmm.  Maybe in my enthusiasm I’m missing a few things but such runs the passions when spring comes knocking, even if winter was all of 8 days this year 😉

21 comments on “Earliest Spring Ever

  1. I think leaf mulch is perfect for snowdrops, but when you mentioned the hellebore foliage chopped up and returned, a light bulb of understanding went off. Our walk-behind lawn mower doesn’t have a collection bag. A grievous oversight in my opinion. Yes, chop it up and return it. Compost in place. Genius.

    • bittster says:

      Hellebore trimmings are such a huge mess, even if they weren’t useful as a chopped mulch, just reducing them to an 1/8 of their volume is worth it. Without a collection bag, there’s a good chance nearly everything will just disappear into the lawn. In NY I had voles, and voles and mulch are a terrible combo so most of the leaves were either composted or chopped into the lawn.
      I love composting in place. Fancier people call it sheet composting I believe.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Such a non-winter! It looks like the warmth is staying on for the long term. Today I was reminiscing about winters of yore (like the old codger I am) when the snow piled 6′ up to the deck railing and my kids would snowboard right off it down into the yard. (There’s only a few inches of crusty snow this year.) Doesn’t feel all that long ago truth be told. I won’t have to retire to Florida in the winter, it’ll come to me!
    At any rate, your yard is looking fine. I’m happy to see you are using shredded leaves for mulch. I’ve been using leaves for 32 years and it is the best for the soil. Nature has been using it for millennia so it must be the ideal thing, right? Your snowdrop parade creates a lovely show– ‘Dryad Gold Bullion’ and “Egret’ are quite lovely. Enjoy!

    • bittster says:

      Isn’t that the truth!? This was a North Carolina winter, and I think I’m just fine with this level of cold 🙂
      You’re right about ‘nature’s mulch’. My front border has become beautiful topsoil and all I’ve ever done is dump chopped leaves onto it, first with leaves stolen from the woods and later with the neighbor’s leaves. Now my neighbors are talking about cutting the trees. I won’t miss them a bit, but I will miss the leaves.
      Time to buddy up to a landscaper and ask what they do with their yard cleanup debris!

  3. Su says:

    Temperatures are spring-like here in MN, but there’s still a ton of snow out there, so nothing is venturing up. Rain tomorrow may help that. It’s probably a good thing for me right now, since Covid has me down for the count. I’ve been vaxxed, and am recovering, slowly. Love your pics, and your use of leaf mulch. Enjoy your spring!

    • bittster says:

      Sorry to hear you’re under the weather. Please kick that Covid before the gardening season starts to pick up, being sidelined during spring is about as terrible as it gets.
      I’m not sure I should say ‘fingers crossed to get all that sow melted’. It’s still February after all, and if there is cold on the way that snow cover will come in handy. But…. how can you not get excited about a sunny 50F day? I will take them whenever!

  4. Paddy Tobin says:

    We have had a stretch of dry weather here in southeast Ireland and have been busy in the garden almost every day. I began collecting leaves from the grassy areas last autumn and I bag these to allow them become leafmould which will be ready in about 12 months to be used as a mulch around snowdrop clumps and when planting. Leaves were left on the bed and we have been tidying those up in the past while and also spreading garden compost on beds. Snowdrop season is at its height here and numbers will begin to decline from now onwards. I am admiring your ‘Dryad Gold Bullion’ which I grow here also but it doesn’t get as yellow as yours, due to lesser light levels, I believe.

    • bittster says:

      The end of snowdrop season is always so unexpected… well maybe not unexpected, but it creeps up on you alongside a bunch of other exciting things like the daffodils and tulips and by the time you’ve realized they’re gone it’s already May. That’s how things work for me at least. Fortunately May also brings iris and clematis and then roses so it’s a new thing everyday and hardly the time to complain.
      Leafmould is excellent. The closest I get are the bags and bins of leaves I set aside in October to mulch a few precious things with in March. They’re still far from composted, but you can already smell the richness and the texture has already changed from the dry and crusty leaf of autumn.
      Yes, I’m always grateful for how bright most of the yellows here become. Yellow snowdrops but for some reason the leucojum here always go green rather than the yellow they’re passed on as. I guess you can never have everything.

  5. Oh, I love them! How nice! I’ll be by for a personal tour someday soon! I’m going to start using more leaf mulch too; you and Pam make a convincing case for it! And the curves on Egret are lovely!

  6. Oh – I so wish I could come on one of your tours round the garden. I am totally in agreement about the mulch (although perhaps not quite so fussy as you about size and content … less said!). Egret is truly exciting (I kid you not) … those little fussy bits like turned up toes! Nice to see Richard Ayres. I must get his snowdrop. I have fond memories of him showing me around Anglesey at snowdrop time many years ago. Lovely to catch up with you!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I would love to take you on a tour! It might be painfully boring, but at least things here are flat 😉
      That’s a wonderful snowdrop memory. I’d send you a few bulbs if I could, I know the struggle of growing snowdrops in the middle of a snowdrop desert!

  7. Pauline says:

    Serious envy for you aconites, they are wonderful! I too save all my leaves, but stack them in a corner of the woodland to be used as a mulch round the snowdrops and then again when I’m planting anything new. They rot down to a beautiful mulch in just 12 months and the snowdrops seem to love it.

    • bittster says:

      Leaf mould is such magic, everything seems to love it but there’s never as much as you need. The aconites are funny. They come and go and the minute I think they’re looking great that corner disappears for the next spring. The named forms also like to die off, so I’m always anxious to get a few seedlings going before the one I paid for kicks the bucket.

  8. Same here. I actually spotted snowdrops in bud two weeks ago (first time ever, h ere) and Eranthis began last week. Today (60F) I saw ‘Arnold Promise’ in bloom which usually doesn’t begin until next month.

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Tour ready already???!!! You have been busy. I understand that this winter has been more like an extended fall. I am not going to complain but I feel almost as confused as some of the snowdrops and crocus that have been blooming their hearts out earlier than normal. It seems odd that the usual early risers such as the daffodils have been slow to seek the sun what with all this warmer than usual weather.
    I have been traveling more this winter than usual so my clean up is going to begin after this rain we are having moves out. I too leave the leaves in the flower beds. I haven’t asked the neighbors for their leaves as yet. The bits they have tend to blow over into my garden anyway. Ha… I have voles here. They are pesky little varmints.
    Yes, I read every word you write. You are an excellent explicator, You do it with such style as to inform and entertain. You remind me of a modern day Henry Mitchel, who I adore. He could express in writing what I often felt in gardening.
    Best of luck with your tours.

    • bittster says:

      You’re right about some things still lying low. With all the warmth I still didn’t see too much in the way of other spring bulbs, but just now within the last few days I see them sprouting as well. We’re supposed to get some more snow next week, just a nuisance in the valley and I’m fine with that!
      Ugh I don’t want to imagine gardening here with voles. Did that once before and it’s as bad as trying to have a garden with a herd of deer in the neighborhood…. except there’s no deer spray which will keep the voles away. I remember the day a 20 year old lilac started leaning. All the roots had been nibbled away, a death of a thousand cuts!
      There couldn’t have been a higher compliment than to mention Henry Mitchell’s writing and to compare it to my own. I also love his work and often think of things he’s said or projects he’s tried when I’m in the garden puttering around. I’ve planted many things just because he’s mentioned them. What a talented writer and gifted storyteller he was and maybe it’s time I re-read a few of his books. It’s been a little while, this winter hasn’t left much time for cozy reading and being in for a storm with little to do.

  10. Cathy says:

    I am so envious of your tidy mulched beds Frank! My garden is still half frozen with grasses and dead bits everywhere! I am of course also envious of your spring having started before ours. 😉 Enjoy the sunshine and don’t let the hoards of visitors step on any of your precious drops. (And I won’t ask about how the building is going….) 🌷

    • bittster says:

      Heh heh, the construction is inching along 😉 and normally I would complain, but our contractor asked about the snowdrops the other day and all was forgiven!

  11. Ian Lumsden says:

    The idea of spring cleaning the garden is an attractive one and particularly the hellebores. The actual job is a chore in the cold. I’ve waged war against holly clippings, though they usually win. When I have photographed my early plants I realise the detritus that has accumulated. Your garden looks spick and span, something t hat can’t be said of our little patch. Yet. I’m inspired. I also like your use of mulch. It’s a plan.

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