The Greening Time

By Judy Funderburk, Extension Master Gardener

Flowering Quince ( Chaenomeles speciosa) close-up

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Photo © Elaine Mills

Though the arrival of spring, the vernal equinox, when day and night are equal, officially occurs on Sunday, March 20, 2021 at 5:37a.m., the earth begins waking up from her long winter’s nap much earlier. As sap rises in trees and shrubs, flowering quince branches can be cut and brought inside, forcing tight buds to open into coral-pink blossoms, brightening our indoor living spaces. But the best way to get in touch with what is greening is to take a walk outside. The six demonstration gardens maintained by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia in Arlington and Alexandria* are open to the public, so visitors can go and observe the varying stages of new spring growth. Throughout our area, trees are budding, birds are returning or passing in migration, opossums and salamanders are reviving from their winter’s sleep.
Walking through the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden in my neighborhood, I notice the daffodils pushing upward. Early bulbs like common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and starflowers (Ipheion) are spilling forth their picture-perfect flowers. Pansies, moss phlox, lungwort, and crocus already have or soon will come into bloom. The Christmas rose hellebores (Helleborus niger) have been sporting cream-colored bell-shaped flowers in the Shade Garden since January.

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As the days lengthen, purple crested iris (Iris cristata) bloom in the four corners of the Herb Garden. In the back Fence Garden, primrose (Primula ssp.) flower in shades of purple and pink, and in the Woodland/Shade Garden, blue/pink lungwort (Pulmonaria ssp.) bring delight with their colorful petals. Epimediums are not only a great groundcover for dry shade with their semi-evergreen leaves, but also have beautiful spring flowers that often bloom before the new leaves spring up. The Library Garden has two varieties, Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ (bicolor barrenwort) with its tiny orchid-like yellow flowers in the Asian Garden, and Epimedium rubrum (sometimes called ‘Fairy Wings’) with its reddish pink blossoms and deep red foliage, located in front of the Community Garden sign as you enter from 3rd Street. Take time to bend down and look closely. You’ll be rewarded with seeing their winged yellow or deep pink blossoms.

Gardens, like life, are all about seasons, each with their own beauty and teachings. I once heard the month of March described as a pivotal time when, after what may have felt like too long in “the great dark,” days grow longer, winter loses its grip on the land, and we can begin to experience “the great bursting forth.”  A suggestion: If you are still in the clutches of the winter blues, take a walk through the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden or any garden or into a park to witness the many examples of spring green bursting forth in the annual cycle of renewal.

Photo © Judy Funderburk

In this time when daily losses of life and livelihood threaten our sense of well-being, it is helpful to have spaces where we can experience nature’s resilience and new growth. With the season so palpably alive, a spirit of gratitude, and perhaps even delight, are possible. The greening of planet Earth provides many wonderful metaphors for living. It might even put a “spring” in your step and the warmth of rainbow-painted love-notes in your heart.

* See spectacular photos from each of the teaching gardens in a variety of seasons, learn about their mission, focus, and plant varieties, and find maps of locations.

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