We wait for it with bated breath; counting the days 'til the vernal equinox. Then slowly, the light begins to change. Temperatures rise and the snow recedes, revealing tiny tips of green emerging from the soil. Spring has come at last. Already the forest surrounding my home is alive with the sound of birds, announcing the change of season. I look closely at the world around me on my morning walks, eagerly anticipating swollen buds and fleeting woodland wildflowers.


In springtime, North American deciduous forests go through a rapid and radical transformation. The magic begins with the arrival of spring's ephemeral wildflowers and early blooming trees and shrubs of the forest understory. As a garden designer, I find much to admire and emulate in the artful timing of mother nature's early show. By simply walking through the forest in springtime, there is much a gardener can learn about the design potential of native plants for shade. Some of the loveliest woodland wildflowers, including the early-blooming foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia); bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis); trout lily (Erythronium americanum); and later spring-blooming beauties like alum root (Heuchera americana); and cranesbill (Geranium maculatum); make attractive ground-covering plants for shady garden areas in any season. Native trees and shrubs of the forest understory tend to be most dramatic in spring, but they are also valuable additions to the garden throughout the year. Our native downy serviceberry (Amalanchier arborea); redbud (Cercis canadensis); and dogwood (Cornus alternifolia and C. florida); are as spectacular in domestic garden situations as they are along a woodland stream or mountainside.



Springtime is a great time to enjoy woodland flowers. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and fragrant wild phlox (Phlox divaricata), are two of my favorite early bloomers; what ephemerals are you eagerly anticipating this spring?




Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎03-11-2010 02:47 PM

Woodland wildflowers are my favorite first sign on spring! Once the snow melts and I can see them, that is.

by -Michaela- on ‎03-11-2010 07:15 PM

Hi Becke. I still have two feet of snow here in Vermont, but rain is on the way tomorrow. Things feel different now, and I know Winter will end soon.

Have a great weekend.


by Moderator becke_davis on ‎03-11-2010 09:49 PM

Ahh, so begins mud season!

by on ‎03-12-2010 12:15 AM

Saw my first one today. Some yellow three petaled thing. Course next week there be fields of them.

by -Michaela- on ‎03-12-2010 11:33 AM

Hi TiggerBear. I don't know where you live, but if you are located on the west coast, I wonder if you saw a Mariposa Lily, (Calochortus luteus)? I do love the dogtooth violet/ trout lily, an early golden bloomer here, (Erythronium americanum). These yellow flowered natives are common in my woodland, but they have more than three petals. In fact, they remind me of a wind-blown star.


And yes, Becke, mud season has arrived. My "dirt" road is now one long stretch of mud!


xo Michaela

by on ‎03-12-2010 05:59 PM

East Coast South, Virgina. (shrug) Something tiny, about the size of a lima, bright parot yellow, 3 leaves cupped like a tulip, petals extreamly soft on the outside. Didn't take it apart so only the outside exploration. Grows out of swamp mud. Every year I see hundreds before anything else blooms.


My yard, brown crab grass is beging to green, clover is sprouting, so are the wild onions in my compost, and if it ever stops raining perhaps the mud will dry up.

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Welcome to Garden Variety, a common ground for gardening enthusiasts in the B&N community. Each day, our resident experts, guest bloggers, and B&N staff produce articles on evergreen topics and growing trends in the realm of landscaping. From seasonal plants and edible gardens to book suggestions and landscape innovations, this is the place where ideas flourish.