An Ode to the First Signs of Spring in a Garden

The signs of spring are easy to spot when you look, listen, and observe the world around you more closely.

A child's hand reaching towards springtime snowdrops growing in a back yard.
Elva Etienne / Getty Images

As February wears on, winter can sometimes seem to drag. But throughout this time of the year, we begin to see here and there the first signs of spring and know that brighter days and warmer weather are on their way.

One of the things that I always try to do, as a keen gardener and nature lover, is remain vigilant to the small changes that I see in the natural world around me, no matter the time of year. But seeing the signs of spring in late winter is one of the times when I find it most important to be attuned to those changes.

No matter whether we have had a cold winter or a mild one, I am sure that I am not alone in feeling very glad when spring rolls round once more. I love all the seasons, but the darkness of winter and the very long nights of Scotland always leave me glad for the light and freshness of spring.

The signs of spring are easy to spot when you look, listen, and observe the world around you more closely. The lengthening days are not the only thing that herald the sunnier days to come. Here are just some of the small things that are among the first signs of spring in my garden:

Snowdrops in the Woodland

Snowdrops in rays of light
By Anna Rostova / Getty Images

For us, one of the first signs of spring are the snowdrops, which glimmer in the shade of the wood like little stars. Before we see any of the other spring bulbs these little beauties appear, while winter is still mostly very much in full control. Crocuses follow, before wood anemones and bluebells bloom sometime in March.

Green Buds Breaking Up the Muted Tones of the Winter Garden

Fresh buds in Spring
Thomas Winz / Getty Images

A growing band of buds on trees and shrubs begin to show, with fresh green dashes that contrast with the more muted colors of much of the winter garden. Of course, some buds come much sooner than others, and while the order may change a little year on year, you can begin to anticipate the formation of buds and the order of leaf burst where you live.

Early Flowering Shrubs

Beginning Springtime Flourish: Forsythia Bush Yellow Flowers bursting against a yellow defocussed natural backdrop

Keith Getter / Getty Images

Other early flowers are seen on a forsythia and a flowering current, which are among the most vivid colors of the season – in zingy yellow and a glossy deep pink. In some years not emerging until March, in others appearing in later February, these shrubs flower profusely at a key time of year and draw in many insects that are beginning to awaken in my garden.

Pollinators Begin to Emerge

Close-up of bee on white flower,Lviv,Ukraine
Mykhailo Hladchenko / 500px / Getty Images

When these shrubs flower, I know for sure that before too long I will see the first, huge, queen bumblebees out and about, and can expect a range of pollinators to begin to arrive. Looking almost too large to fly, these bumblebees drone loudly, bringing the noises of the growing season before very much is actually in active growth.

Some butterflies also emerge early in around late February or early March before many of their cousins arrive later in the spring.

Birds Bearing Twigs

Close-up of bluetit perching on plant,Dortmund,Germany
Andreas Hofmann / 500px / Getty Images

As winter loosens its grip, another heartwarming sign are birds like blackbirds and blue tits carrying twigs and other nesting material in their beaks, and other birds performing courtship displays. Though many of our favorite summer visitors will not arrive for some time, there are signs everywhere that new life will soon be on its way.

Before too long, I know that other spring bulbs will emerge and the buds on the daffodils really will make it feel like spring is on its way. And the daffodils open the floodgates for a raucous cacophony of flowering as spring truly begins.

Look closely at your garden or the area around you and you will soon see that even when winter still seems to have a firm hold, there are typically quite a few signs that spring is on its way. When you look for the little things, the transition to spring does not seem as sudden, and you can appreciate the many wonders of the natural world as things slowly change throughout the year.