The Little Things

Early spring in my zone is anything but a 128 piece brass band playing at full tilt. That brass band blaring part will come in May, but April is notable for its quiet moments. Those plants that foretell the spring to come are looking very good right now.  That they dare breach the comfort of their winter home for the windy, chilly, and sometimes snowy and sleety garden in late March and April makes them well worth growing. That transition between the winter and spring is a long and blustery hallway. Gardeners can shut the door on the winter, and anticipate the spring light at the end of the tunnel. I would describe that time as April.The most notable of the small early spring things are the small flowering bulbs that require a fall planting. The chionodoxa forbesii “Blue Giant” that is pictured above grows but 6 inches tall. But these true blue flowers with white centers can make that interminable wait for spring a little easier to bear. Left to their own devices, they will multiply at a steady rate. The bulbs are so small they can be planted with your index finger. Every day I look at the chios, as I call them.  They come early, and are ephemeral. Blink, and they are gone until next year.

My favorite spring preview is always about the crocus. These little bulbs produce the most amazing cup shaped flowers with brilliant yellow stamens in early April. Of course the best view is from down on the ground. In April, there is time for a little dallying in the garden. Bad weather in late March can lay waste to them, or shorten their bloom time to but a few days, but I would not do without them. The one March that bad weather destroyed the flowers before they even opened was a bad March indeed. I was not heartbroken. I was insulted. April is a preseason gardening time for Michigan gardeners. There is time to take a good look. Time to smell, see, and hear the garden coming to life again. The small spring flowering plants are many. Snowdrops and winter aconites come first. Pushkinia, anemone blanda, frittilaria species, scilla, leucojum, crocus –  the list is long.

My crocus collection came with the house. 20 years ago I probably had 5 plants in bloom. They have increased at a leisurely rate, and now put on a fairly respectable show. This is nothing like visiting the Netherlands at bulb blooming time. It is a quiet April moment in Michigan.

a sunny April day with crocus tommasinianus in bloom

Pickwick crocus

the Pickwick’s up close

Giant Dutch purple crocus

Of course no discussion of April in Michigan would be complete without some reference to the hellebores. Mine are just coming on. The flower stalks are tall and arching.  The flowers themselves are modest in appearance, as most of the flowers are nodding. Pick a hellebore bloom, and turn it right side up in your hand, and be enchanted.

I know exactly why I devote lots of space in my garden to hellebores. The plants are sturdy. The foliage is glossy green the entire gardening season. Properly sited, they require next to no maintenance. Clumps 20 years old are not unusual. I so appreciate that they begin blooming in April. Their early spring appearance affords me the time to truly appreciate them. My April is not usually about the work of the garden. It is much about anticipation.

I might routinely anticipate the beauty of my April garden, but the bigger reality of this year’s pre-spring moments is always a unique experience. An experience that is not especially showy, and not particularly vocal. April is a a kind of quiet that draws gardeners up to a fire of slow heat. I would say that the April garden in our northern zone is a meeting of the early spring plants, and the caring hands of the gardener in charge. Every year in April, I find reason to celebrate this relationship. Welcome, spring!

















  1. Thank you again Deborah for inspiring me. I too love my crocus and daffodils. They seem happy and keep spreading – some times to odd places. I have never seen any deer damage to either but see the tell tale footprints passing by them.
    I think this quote sums up early spring in Michigan: “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” – Henry Van Dyke

  2. Jo – As far as i know and have experienced, squirrels don’t munch on Crucus tommasinianus. Good luck!

  3. Eva Fierst says:

    Oh, that rite of spring. Anticipation, warm rays, and sweet, deceptively small flowers piercing autumn leaves, insisting to see the light of April. And then there are matted leaves, compacted by heavy snow. Layers of them. branches knocked down by unexpected gales of storm and flattened by icy ‘wintery mix’. The rake is doing overtime and scratches the heavy layers. Muscles remember the movements and complain about the sudden activity. That is April in the Northeast. Heave-ho – give birth to spring.

  4. Judi Floyd says:

    God does good work! Thanks for helping our Creator place his treasures in full view of so many.
    Spring here in the Nashville area is well underway and my excitement is overflowing!. Dirt Simple is definitely an added joy in my life!

  5. Beautiful musings on early Spring! The crocus is such a lovely harbinger of the season- I like to think of them as a little message “Winter is over, and there is so much beauty on its way”

  6. Laura A. says:

    Also here in ATL! We’re way into spring here and it was a mild winter. My hellebores are fabulous as well as my Homestead Purple Verbena, just going crazy and looks like the middle of summer! Thank you for your beautiful work, truly enjoy your blog.

  7. Hi Deborah
    Love your reflections and your writing! Enjoy your Spring. Where I live we are in the middle of Autumn with a whiff of Winter in the wings.

  8. Rebecca Brooke says:

    Beautiful ! Spring is my favourite time of the year in England our Bluebells are all starting to come out.
    I wish you had a shop here in Dorset ! Love your post.

  9. Thanks for the delightful post, Deborah. I gave up on growing crocus because of critters eating them. I am thinking it was because I used bone meal when planting the bulbs. Is there an alternative to using bone meal? I’d appreciate any advice. Thanks. – Jo

  10. JoyceBinAtlanta says:

    Enjoy spring… Pictures of crocus spur me to pre-order some now to plant in fall. I remember Pickwick in my Ohio garden, but don’t remember if it is a favorite of critters. Boy, do we have every kind of critter imaginable in N Atlanta!! Many of my neighbors are covering their pansies and other lovelies with aluminum frames covered in netting – it is a less than pretty sight, and hardly allows the flowers to show. Someone would make a lot of money if they came up with a more attractive spot protection solution. Daffodils do well here, but they are now through, and we are looking forward to the just opening early iris and soon to open peonies. We plant early peonies in this area because it gets hot too fast for the blooms to last otherwise. I’m glad you kept your crocus and are enjoying them. Makes me hope someone is enjoying those I planted long ago.

  11. Lovely, just lovely, your words about April. The photos, too.

  12. David Martin says:

    Things in Montreal took a turn for the better this week. We enjoyed 75 degree weather yesterday with an accompanying storm. Snow is all but gone. The Sweet woodruff looks like green confetti coming in, The variegated Solomon Seal has sprung three inches. Buds are everywhere.

    Here’s to Spring.

    • I’m also enjoying a little blue bulb – smells like honey perfume, unless you crush the foliage, when the onion smell takes over! I’m blanking on the name….Wisley Blue something? Our crocus, hyacinths and early daffodils are long gone, and the Virginia Bluebells are tattered (but still beautiful) – I wonder if you have them up there. So much blue in my springs, including the chios.


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