February: On the way to spring


Some days, it’s hard to think of anything nice to say about February. There are things you’re expected to say, like “Crocuses are up!” or “Spring is coming!” But to anyone who’s lived through a few dark, wet, dismal Februarys, cheery remarks often fall flat.

As winter grinds on, the bare branches of trees look barer all the time. And that blanket of dead leaves, wet and rotting on the ground, look deader by the day.

People with time and money are jetting off to find sun in Mexico, Hawaii, or the Southwest.

Fortunately, those of us who stay home are often rewarded with a run of sunny weather while our friends are out of town. We look forward to telling them all about it.

That’s when we can finally find something nice to say about February. It only takes a little sunshine to light our pilot light – that little flame of spring inside us.

We start to notice that not everything is dormant. Even in winter, there’s a lot of growing going on. Crocuses are just one example. Most flowers that come from bulbs planted in the fall – daffodils, and tulips, for instance, are winter-growers. How else can they be ready to bloom in the spring? (And no, they will not be harmed by frost.)

There are other winter-growers that burst into bloom this month: witch hazel, forsythia, and an exquisitely fragrant little shrub called daphne. Except in exceptionally cold years, February and early March are their time of glory.

And early bloomers are only a fraction of the action. In the plant world, this month’s big show is buds. If you walk slowly enough and open your eyes wide enough you’ll see millions of them. Some – on our native wild spirea for instance – are tiny dots lined up along the stem. It’s fun to see them now, in this early stage, and then watch them develop and leaf out over the next few weeks. It seems to take an endlessly long time, and then it’s as if it happened really fast.

That’s true of so many plants, both wild and tame. The earlier you start looking, the longer the show, and the sweeter the spring climax when buds become leaves and flowers.

Insects, worms and other little critters are also ready to greet us. I met a tiny worm-like creature the other day that can stand upright on the tip of a cut stem and wave itself around. I have no idea what it is or what it was doing; it ultimately slid back down the stem and wiggled away. It inspired me to order a book about insects in the garden even though it wasn’t an insect. I still haven’t found a good book for all the non-insect little critters.

But here’s the most joyous February event – the one that makes people’s eyes light up when they talk about it: Pacific chorus frogs are singing at night. The weather has been just warm enough to make them burst into song in every wetland. For Pacific Northwesterners, singing frogs are the signature sound of spring – or, if not actual spring, the promise that spring is on its way.

Many people live close enough to a wet place to hear them singing; the rest of us have to find the nearest frog-friendly site to get the thrill of an a capella frog concert.

If the weather gets very cold again, the frogs will fall silent until warmer temperatures return.

If that happens, we know they will be back.

February can be frustrating, slow, and sometimes dismal, but it’s a month of growing momentum. Days are getting longer, buds are swelling, frogs are mating . . . and all of the action in the natural world is building towards what’s to come: another growing season, another spring and summer, another trip around the glorious sun.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • HPressley

    Jill, your tiny wormlike critter may well be an inchworm! Their legs are located at opposite ends of it's bofy (2 on one end, 4 on the other.) They can stand up holding thier 2-legged part in the air that's where the eyes and brain are too. Then they use the 2-legged part to flop over or walk towards its 4-legged nether parts.

    Alternatively, I could be terribly wrong and perhaps some kind soul will correct me!

    Saturday, February 3 Report this

  • JudithB

    Well done Jill! Yes, we must focus on the positive this month like you say: the frogs a croakin, the crocuses, the buds forming all over - and time to prune the roses soon, clean and sharpen the instruments and get out on days that aren’t pouring rain to pull the shot weed!

    Saturday, February 3 Report this

  • PegGerdes

    The frog serenade on Sable Lane drowned out an overhead hovering helicopter the other day! It was magnificent, and felt like a mini-metaphor. Thank you, Jill!

    Saturday, February 3 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    I agree about the inchworm! We used to play with them when I was small. But the best thing I noticed this sunny day was when I opened my back door and was hit by the most heady fragrance of orange blossoms! My little flowering holly shrub has the most glorious perfume! I'd never noticed it before, probably because it flowered when we had pouring down rain. The perfume is enough to knock my socks off!

    Saturday, February 3 Report this