Birds are the flowers of winter.
The bright red of the cardinals, the clear blue of the jays, the soft fawn coats of the doves, the bright white breasts of the juncos and the multi-patterned sparrows and woodpeckers – they are colorful blossoms in the snow. Living blooms with feathered petals.
The winter season always seems to bring out the “pushy” side in the wild birds that live around us. Even before our eggs are scrambled and bacon fried in the morning, the wild birds are demanding their breakfast. They seem to have forgotten that they are “independent” creatures as they perch on the window boxes just outside the kitchen windows and peek in at us with wistful gazes. Those who don’t use the boxes cling to the branches of the silver lace vine which grows on the lattice at the edge of the patio while others line-up on the deck rail just under the windows.
We hurry out in robe and slippers to spread wild bird food under the lilac bush and add seed to the various feeders. If available, we add stale bread or cake chunks to the feed and a handful of in-the-shell peanuts for our blue jays. Doughnuts hung by strings from the lilac bush branches are a special treat that the birds thoroughly enjoy when we have them and suet feeders on our big, old pear tree keep the woodpeckers and nuthatches content.
A gardener friend gets free suet from a meat cutting shop and she places strips in wire feeder cages to hang from her sugar maple. She attracts a steady stream of suet-feeding visitors. Her sugar maple grows just outside the windows of her sun porch and, on cold, wintry, days, she can sit and enjoy the birds while she does her reading or computer work.
What a mild winter it has been. In my sheltered beds, I have tulips and narcissus that are up about an inch and other gardeners in the area have snowdrops that are already blooming. This is unusual since they normally do not make an appearance until March.
Snowdrops grow from bulbs and are one of the early bloomers in our spring gardens but late January and early February is very early to see them.
Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis are also called “milk flowers” because, when in bloom, they look like three drops of milk hanging from a stem. Blooming in early spring, they grow on a stiff, slender stalk to four to six inches with two or three narrow leaves at the base. The single snowdrop bloom is bell-shaped with three nodding lobes. They prefer partial shade and can be grown under trees and shrubs as well as in front of borders and in rock gardens. Since they are a small, delicate flower, most growers plant them in masses or among other early blooming flowers.
In countries around the world, it seems that snowdrops have become a new plant craze.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, February marks the time of year when snowdrop fanciers (better known as galanthophiles) from all over gather to attend a growing number of workshops, special events, and the annual Snowdrop gala in Devon, U.K. At the end of February, the largest snowdrop fancier event in the world meets in Germany. Tickets to these events sell out rapidly and visitors of all ages come from the U.K., Japan, Europe, Australia, and the U.S. to learn more about the tiny plant, learn about new varieties of snowdrops ( there are about 2000+ varieties) and buy plants to take home to their own personal gardens and collections. One new snowdrop cultivar recently sold to a collector from the U.K. for a record price of 360 pounds and collectors are now having to take special precautions to flower beds and gardens from “snowdrop thieves”.
Experts are not sure of what has sparked the appeal of snowdrops but collectors and fanciers from teenagers to growers in their nineties are flocking to the events, visiting websites, and bidding competitively for the myriad cultivars of the shy and delicate little “milk flower”.
February garden tip: If you are planning to order seeds or plants from garden catalogs for use in your beds this spring, February is a good time to order them to insure that you will be able to get what you want. If you have ever considered growing dahlias from seed, February is the month to start them and they should be ready to transplant into beds or containers by spring.