Getting Excited About the Little Things

by Neal Sanders
Leaflet Contributor

The snow had not even completely melted outside my front door a few weeks back when a hellebore defiantly thrust up first one flower, then two. Now, there are several hellebores blooming prolifically. Next to one of those plants, a clutch of tiny tete-a-tete daffodils preen in the afternoon light.

Welcome to early spring in New England, when we get excited about the little things.

Ours is a feast and famine region. From the end of October until the day that first hellebore emerged, there were no flowers to look at outside my window. The world was largely brown: a brown lawn, brown oak leaves and brown tree trunks. Pretty in its own way? Not really. Especially when you see this unchanging landscape day after day.

Two months from now, there will be so much color that even the most jaded among us will be overwhelmed. From late spring through the changing of the leaves is our time to feast on the palette given us by Mother Nature.

Manhattan's SunriseNow – the beginning of April – is when we see the first hints of what is to come. There is a bed at the front of my property. It’s called ‘Manhattan’ because its shape is somewhat reminiscent of that island. Driving by, there’s little to attract the eye but, on foot, the site is abuzz with activity. Hundreds of crocus have bloomed purple and the short perennial blue grasses and yellow-striped yuccas have un-flattened themselves and now look more dignified. This bed will be royal purple with hyacinths in a few weeks and, already, the dark green leaves of those perennials are showing their spikes. One the western edge of Manhattan, alliums have sent up shoots to capture sunlight. To the rear of the bed, daffodils are in bloom and, in front of them, the early daylily greens have appeared from nowhere, a pale green fuzz that grows an inch a day.
All this from one bed.

Tete-a-tete's and hellebores
In another bed, the lime-green emergent flower stalks of three alien-appearing petasites (bog rhubarb) have appeared, seemingly overnight. In a month, their shiny, yellow-spotted leaves will share this space with an entire rogue’s gallery of damp-ground-loving plants. For now, these six-in-high sentinels are all that mark the site.

These are the signs that winter is in full retreat. I’ve been around here long enough to know that we don’t get through April unscathed; that sometime between now and when the lilacs bloom, there will likely be at one more snowfall. But I’m taking great pleasure in these small harbingers of more colorful days ahead.

Neal Sanders is a frequent contributor to the Leaflet. We encourage you to read his contributions to our In the Gardens Blog where he focuses on interesting cultivars that can found in the Elm Bank gardens. Neal's first novel, Murder Imperfect, has been published. You can learn more about it here or order it through