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(HOST) About this time every year, New England dwellers begin to look around for the first signs of spring, and commentator Henry Homeyer reports that he’s found one – his snowdrops are up.

(HOMEYER) Spring is here. Yes, you heard me correctly. Spring is here. I may have heard a red-winged blackbird, but I’m not sure. But I know that spring is here because my snowdrops are up and showing their dainty white buds. When I bring them inside, they’ll open. This year, they’ve been up since before Valentine’s Day.

Snowdrops are not big and flashy like tulips. They don’t come in fourteen different categories of blossoms like daffodils. But, like mail carriers, they are reliable. Every spring snowdrops are the first of my flowers to bloom, and almost always I pick some the first week in March.

I planted our snowdrops twenty years ago on a south-facing slope near the house, and they’ve multiplied nicely. I dig them up and divide clumps in spring after they’ve bloomed. The site is sunny in spring, so the snow there melts off first. Later, once the big sugar maple wakes up and dons its leaves, it gets shady. But that doesn’t matter to our snowdrops. By then the spring sun has recharged their metaphorical batteries. They’ve built up enough stored energy to sleep all summer, fall and winter. And enough energy to beat every other flower for the distinction of “first to bloom in spring.”

Winter aconite is another very early bloomer, but less well known than snowdrops. Their cheery blossoms are an inch or so across, and bright yellow. When open, they look straight up at the sky – or perhaps to meet my eye. They’ll first open up their blossoms on a warm day while their stems are still short. They’ll bloom while huddled in a layer of fall leaves. Later, they might stand up six inches tall.

Scilla and Glory of the Snow are tiny deep purple or blue low-growing flowers. They’ll be along in a few weeks. I like Glory of the Snow better because their blossoms look up at me, seeming to wink with a light-colored eye in the middle of each blossom. Scilla look downward, and seem a bit furtive. I like flowers – and people – that will look me right in the eye.

Now, for the sake of truth in reporting, I must admit that most years I shovel snow off the snowdrop bed in late winter – so they’ll be ready to bloom in early March. But even so, snowdrops push through soil that is frozen solid. This year mine have seen temperatures near zero after they came up, but that won’t daunt them. They’ll be blooming on their own soon, not just in my vase. As for me? I’m looking forward to all the spring bulbs. But for now, I’m happy to be able to pick a few snowdrops to bring inside on a gray spring – that’s right – spring afternoon.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, NH.

Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.

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