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Precocious Beauties

By Ken Druse

Deck your garden with late-winter-blooming plants — vivid, fragrant glories of the snow.

In late winter, crocus buds push up through the soil and pierce the brown leaves that fell last autumn. Then, suddenly, the first flower opens, and that is a cause for celebration. You walk out of your way every day to see the first flower, another, and their growing community; you might even take a friend to visit them too. The petals close on cloudy days, in rain, or in snow. Their natural antifreeze keeps crocuses unfazed by freezing temperatures or a chance snowfall; when the sun tells them it is safe to open again, they shine even more brightly against the fallen snow.

Puschkinia scilloides

Spring-flowering tulips and daffodils are lovely, but winter flowers expand the garden season by one or two months. The humble flowers that meant so much last winter and spring would go unnoticed if they bloomed in summer amongst the competitors in that season’s garden, and in fall it is easy to forget the minor bulbs when scarlet-orange sugar maples set the hillsides of southern New England ablaze. But fall is when these bulbs must be planted. Unfortunately, I can barely remember the plants I saw six months ago and thought I could not live without. So last February I began keeping a flower-bulb journal to note the earliest-blossoming plants, to help me when the catalogues arrived. When I visited public and private gardens, I copied the names off labels, or asked my hosts for the names of the most comely flowers.

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