Bare trees, gray light



Bare but budding trees and other signs of life through the wall of the ice maze.

Vicki is the winner of Gene Bauer’s Botanical Serigraphs. Thanks for your comments. I can feel spring already!

It was Garrison Keillor who reminded me—on the radio,
Sunday—that we always start talking about the end of winter at the end of
February. It’s very silly. For most of the country, winter is far from over. It
seems like it should be, but, in fact, there are several snowstorms to come for
a lot of us, and, for some, the last of them could even happen
in late April, or May. And it’s not like the intervals between the storms will
be all that pleasant, unless you’re a big fan of slush, chilly rain, and mud.

It’s also a great time. It’s the last chance to think quietly
about what you’re going to do, and what you’re going to buy, and how you’re
going to change everything. And to enjoy winter. I am considering trying
snowshoeing in Tifft Nature Preserve if we get some fresh powder. It’s
interesting that in the past few years Buffalo has decided to have a winterfest
at the end of February, complete with a hockey tournament on Lake Erie. It’s a
cry of defiance to global warming that generally backfires. This year, though
the “pond hockey” had to be cancelled on the second day thanks to slushy ice,
winter was suitably celebrated with an ice maze, the largest in the world
(confirmed by a Guinness visitor). You need something like an ice maze to
understand the possibilities of the season you’re enduring with a semblance of

But not too far from the ice maze, there are snowdrops about
to bloom. There is a cherry tree whose branches can be forced inside. There are
landscapers and designers scurrying about collecting enough trucked-in shrubs,
paving and piles of mulch to fill up the local garden shows. And it’s fun to
laugh at the garden shows—hell, you might even pick up an everlasting garden
nozzle, as I did last year. I try to take weather as it comes, and I generally
succeed—else, I would hardly have happily lived in Buffalo for as long as I
have. But this is actually when I enjoy living in the Northeast the most. It is
half limbo/half anticipation. Summer will go quickly enough when it comes.

What do you anticipate most about spring? Please say in
comments. As an inducement, I have a copy of Gene Bauer’s Botanical Serigraphs—which I discussed here—to give away to one of you. I will announce the
winner tomorrow at 6 p.m. EST.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I know that Floridians don’t get much sympathy from those of you covered by endless snowstorms this year, but we, our houses, and our landscapes are generally not well prepared for a winter like this one. There has been damage all the way down to Key West! And many people in south Florida don’t have heating systems in their houses. The Florida Native Plant Society is taking a poll on cold damage done to natives this winter. There’s a link to it on my website.

    What I look forward to is some warmer weather, so I have more opportunity to get out in the landscape and continue with my normal winter/spring chores before the growing season gets under way. Doesn’t every gardener wish for the same thing?

  2. What do I anticipate most about spring?

    The bulbs blooming.

    I often find myself staring at the frozen ground, willing them to come up and bloom. Or I catch myself scratching away the layers of crusty snow to find the first green shoots from the snowdrops or crocus. Sometimes if feels like agony to wait for so many months for those first blooms of spring.

    Planting seeds for the vegetable garden comes in a close 2nd. As soon as those seed catalogs arrive in December, I start counting the days until I can get them started.

  3. Spring for me begins when I start the tomato, pepper and tomatillo seeds inside mid-March. Here on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario, we’re big contenders with Buffalo for the worst winter weather NY has to offer. Even though the skies are still heavy and grey, and the ground is still piled with snow, when I start those seeds I know that I’ll be enjoying the sun again in a month.

  4. What do you anticipate most about spring?

    ~Thunderstorms…I ♥ them!
    ~The smell of the earth after the rain 🙂
    ~Chirping birds
    ~Mud puddles
    ~Warmer weather
    ~The sun!

    That’s just a few of the things I’m looking forward to. So very tired of the long winter here in northern Michigan.

  5. I anticipate the smell of the earth as it warms, because there are so few smells in winter in northern New York, other than wood smoke.

    I anticipate the birds migrating back north – a couple of late winters ago, I had a whole flock of snow buntings.

    I anticipate little random patches of tulips and daffodils popping up in my yard – I’ve lived in my house for 8 years and just in the past two, some dormant bulbs planted by the previous owner have decided to bloom again.

  6. I look forward to the sun on my face, the snow can still be there, because you just know that soon you will be able to smell the earth! When I was on my walk on Sunday, there were some bugs that had been warmed up by the sun, they were walking on the snow, very exciting! The first leaf to unfurl, the first bloom to push through, the daily inspection of the earth to see if something is there yet, “I know you are in there, please come out”.

  7. I anticipate ….

    … the winter rain-fed fields going from seas of lush green to seas foamy with white, yellow, pink, purple, or blue wildflowers.

    … the visible progression of seasons as I drive down from the mountains (after driving up into them first, of course).

    … the last bits of romaine & kale & endive from my winter garden.

    … the feel of my muscles waking up as I work to put in the summer garden.

    … the dogwoods blooming in the understory of the foothill forests.

    … the truly ephemeral & ethereal green light surrounding the native oaks as they first begin to leaf out. Can’t be beat !

  8. Do Southern Californians get to talk about Spring when Winter is just a few rainstorms and barely cold 50˚ish nights?

    Well, I will anyway. I’m anticipating the first truly balmy day when I can open all the doors and windows and bring the outdoors inside.

  9. The bulbs. The big pile of shoveled snow by the front steps has retreated a little and there are the snowdrops blooming away. They had just nosed out and were showing their tips of white when the snows came. They grew and started blooming under all that heavy snow. The daffodills have green sprouts.

    Oh, and the birds. Saturday I am shoveling the few inches we got over the night and the birds are singing their spring songs. The male robins are back, scoping out nest sites. The Chickadees are calling.

    And the stray cats. They are looking for love and hanging around the house because of our felines. who are of no use to them as they are all spayed, but they still come calling and yowling. And leave an aromatic message.

    So the sight of bulbs, the sound of birds and the scent of toms, means that spring is on its way.

  10. I anticipate the warm sun on my face and the feel of the soil. I anticipate the first signs of peonies, and planting sweet peas. Sping has come when I am able to watch my nephew play with worms and my neice investigate the veins of leaves and the smell of soil.

  11. the haze of color in the trees on all the hillsides as they bud out

    the first day I can sit outside in shirt sleeves (which for me is earlier than most folks given how I love cool temps)

    the sweet scent rising in the sunshine from the hundreds of crocus and mini iris I’ve planted in this small garden

    the peeper chorus every evening

    the heavenly scent of lilacs coming in through the open windows at night

    the first taste of the first sweet leaves of lettuce from my own bit of earth

    the complaints I will over hear when standing in line at the grocery store about all the mud from the same folks who complained all winter long about winter and will complain all summer about the humidity or the bugs or the tourists or_______(fill in the blank)

    arguing with those who claim “it was the worst winter we’ve ever had”

    getting back to my own bit of earth and forgetting all about those silly cranky folks who don’t love weather, seasons, and earth.

  12. I look forward to the burn of muscles suddenly put to work after a winter of loafing. I pulled out the tools and tiller this weekend and my shoulders and chest were tore up! But it’s a good hurt, reminds me that I have good health, and that the things I enjoy most require effort and commitment.

  13. Perfect timing! This morning, my very first crocuses are showing flowers! What I anticipate most about spring is the coming of the sun and the bulbs. I LIKE having my walk to and from work be in daylight rather than darkness. I love the promise that a new gardening season brings.

  14. Living in the Northwest spring has come very early this year so I am already beginning to enjoy the anticipations of spring. For me it is the smell of the damp rich earth that has been amended with composted horse manure over the years. The thousands of tiny frogs who sing their chorus in the swampy areas beginning at dusk and continuing until the earliest hours of the morning. The conversations of the many birds who take shelter and build their nests in one of our many trees. The beautiful Red Tailed Hawks who enjoy soaring on the warm thermals above our home and property, and of course the promise of renewed life with tender shoots and buds peering out for the first time.

  15. I look forward to wildflower season along the roadsides and in fields. In a good year the bluebonnets can color an entire field as blue as the ocean. I’m still sorry that you didn’t get to see that at Spring Fling Austin. That was an off year because of the drought. This year promises to be much better.

  16. Anticipation is an odd thing in my world. You’d think that it was one clear thing but instead it seems to stair step or cascade from one odd thing to another. Something you thought would your signal that spring is here becomes a component of the next thing which melds with the next and so on and so on.

    This February I finally moved into an old farmhouse that I bought a year ago. Last year I was too busy working on it to spend much time looking for seasonal signposts in the yard, the long row of bushes, or the old chicken coop on the corner. Things have calmed down a bit and now when I take the hound on her twice a day exercise on the old trail that starts at my driveway and wanders a half a mile through the woods to an abandoned graveyard I see the signs: buds swelling on the maples and dogwoods; leaves a bit more decomposed on the forest floor; spring peepers/chorus frogs singing their heads off when the temps are only just above freezing; a clearing in the trees where a carpet of crocus and old daffodils have sprung up and started to bloom…all of these things would have been something to anticipate, worthwhile signs of springtime but the key was discovered yesterday, it was that smell of warm, moist soil. It was finally there. I don’t know where it comes from, I’ve been working in the dirt for weeks but yesterday it was finally there. Spring will get here by the end of the month and then I’ll wait for that first scorched by sunshine smell of summer.

  17. Mostly I look forward to a time when others (especially the spouse,he has been very reluctant this winter) will join in for walk abouts.

    When the screeching redwinged blackbirds and the joyous serenade of the cardinal begin, when mourning doves coo and mama rabbits try not to give away the nest of young and the first bumble bee queens appear searching for a good home, soon green growth will begin and the garden (which looks pretty sad by this time)starts to look appealing again.

  18. Here in Philadelphia, we have the enormous Philadelphia International Flower show to remind us of spring (and how expensive gardening can be). And, because spring will come eventually, the tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings starting on their heating pads under lights in the basement.
    Canada Geese are beginning to pair up and check out swampy lawns which are beginning to reappear from under the piles of filthy snow.

  19. I had been anticipating my daily Garden Rounds. The snow has melted and for the past few days I’ve been able to take my morning coffee outside and look around at what is stirring in the yard and garden: the birds singing, the first insects flying, the daffodils peaking through the mulch and just this morning the first signs of life in my perennials where a Tradescantia (spider wort) has started to put up new growth. Woo-hoo!

    I’m still anticipating finding out what survived the winter. This is my second spring in New England and I’m not sure yet what will thrive in this climate and what will struggle through the cold winter and wet spring. I can’t wait to find out.

  20. Ach, it’s been such a long cold winter, even for us Southerners. I’m anticipating… daffodils, indigo buntings, migrating warblers, and a trek to Texas which will probably make me tear up with joy and envy when I see the bluebonnets and other wildflowers.

  21. Spring means the weather is warm enough that my cats spend the day napping on the back patio instead of on my drafting table, my keyboard, my sock drawer…

    Also, warmer/longer days mean I can garden after 5pm.

  22. I was born in Buffalo. The weather there is why my family moved to Seattle where spring really does begin in February. Mom particularly couldn’t get out of there fast enough. She hated the winters AND summers.

  23. What I anticipate most about spring:
    no more mittens, no more winter boots, color other than black, white, gray & brown, the feel of moist air on my skin, the end of static electrical shocks, and the return of the wading birds and the bees.

  24. Ah, the beginning of Spring chores. Between bouts of snow cover in March, when the Maples’ flower buds begin to swell, I copice and prune the still bare branched Shrubs, touch up my meager attempt at making a Privet “Goldon Vicroy” (planted in too tight a spot between the Fireplace chimney and the drive) into a respectable espalier, and cut down the sad remains of the Grasses. But the real beginning of Spring for me is in the earliest days of April, when the days are still chilly, the ground begins to stir with activity, the plants pushing their way back out of the ground. With each weather permitting day, I loosen up the mulch of leaves and debris from the previous season to find more little ephemerials making purchase, first the Snowdrops and little bulbs, but soon afterwards the start of Trilliums and Varigatedd Solomon’s Seal, Lung Wart, Hellabore blooms, and a wiff of Witch Hazel on the cool breeze. The less adventuresome Perennials will come later, But the early plants pushing their way up toward the light make this time of year my favorite part of the Spring Season…

  25. I anticipate most the smell of Spring – the odor of earth thawing in the sunshine. Right now, I am missing all forms of unfrozen soil, from mud to dust. I feel as if the promise of plants and growth is locked right in there with the ice and the snow and frost. When I can first smell the thaw, I will smell the garden.

  26. I anticipate the smells of spring:
    DAPHNE is my favorite.. it’s so fresh and light and really the first smell of spring besides the smell of spring rain.
    My other favorites are weigela, plum trees and the full bloom of my lilac shrubs.
    I also very much anticipate the first time I pull back the leaf mulch cover on my garden beds.. FRESH SOIL!

  27. I am looking forward to that day I walk outside and take a deep breath, and smell the dirt breathing. There will still be heaps of dirty snow, but the hellebores will need pruning, and the perennials that I didn’t whack back last fall will need whacking, and I’ll take wheelbarrow loads to the compost pile, and breathe deeply of thawing soil, that smell like no other. I’ll clean up beds, marvelling that the weeds are already green when nothing else is, watching for green tips, like Mary Lennox, looking for the swelling buds, cutting branches to force indoors. I’ll walk around and plan my next project, because there always seems to be so much room in the spring, plenty of space for a pleached wall of apple trees, why not? and a hedge of peonies, because I like a lot of peonies, and maybe this is the year I’ll turn that rock outcropping into a real rock garden, and I cannot stand another season without a waterfall. Then, cold and muddy, I’ll go back inside and think about my 16th century garden, certainly I’ll do that knot garden this year, what should I use for a pattern, get out my books. Make a cup of tea. Go back outside and measure again. Come back inside and draw, and order more plants. That’s spring, to me: the unlimited promise of a new year, when you’re confident that everything is possible, when you smell that smell of earth.

  28. Right now on my patio in northern NJ a dandelion in in bloom. It poked up between the bricks, against the foundation of the house. Elsewhere there is 2 feet of snow. I see the yellow flower every time I walk in the back door, and it cheers me up. You go girl!

  29. Spring this year is yesterday, I am trimming the trees with a ladder and sawsall in the snow. Spring came Sunday when I started my annual seeds under lights. Spring is my granddaughter turning 3 months. Spring is also when I am told my husband will be dead of major organ failure. He is not here but in the hospital so I miss the comments about the ladder and trees, questions about which seeds this year and him holding Elise to tell her stories about ga’mas gardening addiction.
    I still have hope so I celebrate Spring.

  30. Wild tulips and the native Bloodroot! They are the beginning of the whole transition from bare, brown ground to a green land filled with bright colors.

    It all starts with the scattered sparkles of wild tulips, a few daffodils, and clumps of daisy-like Bloodroot scattered across the still brown woods!

  31. ohh.. I forgot to list…the smells of blooming Magnolia trees and while my husband could do with out it.. i love the smell of spirea blooming.

  32. Well spring does start a hell of a lot earlier in USDA zone 9/10 climate, so it has been spring-like here in the San Francisco Bay Area since the middle of January. We’ve already had waves of vividly blooming trees such as the yellow Acacias and Flowering Plums and now the Saucer Magnolias/Magnolia x soulangeana are in full bloom all over town.

    For me, the first early wave of my favorite South African succulents and bulbs and especially Proteas/Leucadendrons/Leucospermums is what I anticipate the most. The Aloe arborescens/Tree Aloe and A. striata/Coral Aloe are both in full bloom right now, and the Freesias, Babianas, Ixias and Sparaxis are soon to follow. Tulips may be the perennial bulb favorite elsewhere in the country, but the South African bulbs are so much easier to grow here, and don’t have to be replaced each year, they just get better with the years.

    We are at our very greenest right now with all the rains, and it is such a short time really that the winter green hillsides look so verdant, soon enough to change back to the tawny golds by May/June.

    Not to slight our California native plants; we’ve had Ribes sanguineum blooming since December, and many of the various Ceanothus species/California lilacs are blazing away in the deep blue spectrum. Golden California poppies are starting to light up the hillsides as well.

    The old standards of spring in colder parts of the country are already looking pretty good around here as well, especially the chartreuse green flowers of Euphorbia characias, Helleborus x argutifolius and the contrasting purples of Erysimum linifolium ‘Bowles Mauve’, Helleborus hybridus and Echium candicans.

    I’m so glad that we really have the start of spring here when it is officially winter, but it will be nice to have the warmer days so that windows can be left open to the breezes again.

    Local hummingbirds are also pretty amazing this time of year, with lots of nectar bearing flowers to keep them busy.

  33. When my bare arms can catch the sun and my bare feet can touch the earth, that is when spring is here.

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