This winter in the Northwest was a particularly wet, cold (for us), and nasty affair, and even as spring proceeded on schedule, the weather has seemed resolute on remaining wintry. Even as I write this, rain is beating on the windows. Yet despite frosty nights and windy, rainy days, the plants have persisted in getting ahead of the longer days that promise warmth and sunshine to come.
Two native plants in my garden that I especially enjoy this time of year are red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) and osoberry (A.K.A. Indian plum, Oemleria cerasiformis), which wake up early with the crocuses and daffodils to herald the new season even before it has officially arrived. The elderberry’s flower buds emerge a beautiful purple-red, fading as they grow until they emerge fully in the coming months into panicles of creamy white. Put your nose to the osoberry’s early flowers, and you will be treated to a sugary-sweet, vanilla scent—though some say they turn sour as they age. Best of all are the way the leaves glow whenever backlit by the morning or evening sun, reassuring us of the summer that will come, no matter how much the cold rain tries to convince us otherwise.
Other wonderful surprises this time of year are the re-emergence of those summer-dormant plants that I perhaps planted the spring before and then forgot all about after they hid away in the ground by July. Old garden favorites such as bleeding heart or windflower, and less common faces such as Dodecatheon meadia f. album, the white shooting star.
And then there are those who I thought maybe perished in the ceaseless dry heat of the northwestern summer, despite my best efforts. I begin watching them daily in February, and am gladdened when I see the smallest of green begin to emerge from the husk of last year’s body.
Some people like to put on a show when they come back to life, making them that much more endearing. This anise hyssop is a flat green most of the year, but emerges in the most amazing gradients of golden green and purple:
*From a Tom Waits song of the same name, appearing on 2006’s Orphans.