Of course I'm quite aware that many who might be reading this live in places like Minnesota, so for them, even the question is absurd. I did my time too; I grew up in Iowa and remember the agony on my North Carolina-born mother's face when my grandmother in Charlotte would call around this time, and with mock surprise in her voice, say (Imagine a thick old-style southern accent here) "Oh, there's still snow on the ground there? Here the jonquils are in bloom, and the camellia's almost through, and the tulips are comin' up..." Later it would be the ripening figs (what my mom would do for a ripe fig in Iowa!).
But it's payback time (karma is so fickle, isn't it?) because I live in a mild zone now, so y'all can go eat your hearts out. My tulips are up, and yours aren't!
Well...actually they are up but they won't bloom this year because they've divided.
But my first snowdrops did bloom this year. The funny thing is, I have no idea where they came from. There are lots of wild ones around, including one that's endemic to the Istanbul area. I suspect mine may have come in with some primroses I brought from Belgrade forest last year. Wherever they came from, they're doing well and I hope they'll multiply.
The first calendula is also in bloom; there will be many more of those. An odd and somewhat useless fact: Here, they call calendulas "nergis," which means "narcissus." I don't know why; perhaps it's because they're both yellow (usually) and both come up in early spring, and someone got confused, and it stuck...? Some garden snobs might think of it as "pedestrian," but I love it for its timing if nothing else. I'm also going to try and get the local wild one going in the wilder areas of the garden.
Another old standby, and a plant that I've grown infinitely more appreciative of since coming here is Geranium macrorrhizum.
The Bulgarians know it as "zdravets," and use it in a variety of ways that are supposed to be very, very good for you. One website provides this bit of herbal knowledge:
Zdravets essential oil has antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-allergic, astringent and capillary strengthening qualities. It lowers the blood pressure in hypertension sufferers, due to its flavonoid content. It can also lower the level of blood sugar in diabetics. In addition, zdravets oil can relieve menopause symptoms, stimulate the blood vessels and relieve insomnia and fatigue. Used on the skin, zdravets oil is helpful against itching, skin lesions, furuncles and hemorrhoids.
I'll remember that if I ever find myself with a furuncle. I probably wouldn't joke about it if I knew what a furuncle was; I certainly know better than to joke about hemerrhoids. Personally I find the smell a bit off-putting, not as bad as "Stinking Robert" (G. robertianum) but close. My newfound appreciation of it has nothing to do with its health-giving properties, but with its sheer hardiness. The plant that spawned the one in the picture is growing in an incredibly crowded pot, where it's undoubtedly thrived for years and years. Each year it produces a profusion of bloom, and though I doubt there's much of anything resembling soil left in that pot, it hardly flags even in the hottest of weather. To list it as one of the first flowers of spring is almost misleading, because the truth is that it never quite stopped! It does produce a full flush of bloom when the weather warms a bit, but from fall until the weather really gets hot, it always throws out a few flowers here and there. I really should get myself some of the other varieties of it.
Besides finding out what did or did not survive the winter, spring is also when you get an idea of how far your invasive species have progressed! Here we have white yarrow (Achillea millefolium) happily sending up new sprouts a couple of feet from where it was originally planted. Honestly I don't know why I chose the white one, but I did and it's here to stay. Unless, of course, it is outcompeted by Verbena bonariensis, a plant of which is coming up at the right. V. bonariensis is a funny thing, it can be rampant but never has been for me; in my Seattle garden I never even managed to get it to grow even though some friends were tearing it, and their hair, out in handfuls trying to contain it. Here I get four or five seedlings a year; I can deal with that.
I also got some surprises this year. Right at the entrance of the upper garden is a clump of Iris foetidissima, a plant I've always loved for its brilliant red seeds in the fall. In Seattle it used to always seed around, but though the plant here was an old one, i never found a seedling. I suspect that's because the area around it was never cleared; this spring a poke around the base revealed lots of seedlings coming up. My friend Ayfer gets first dibs, the rest are up for grabs!
Another pleasant surprise was that the "Matucana" sweet peas I grew last year managed to ripen and scatter some seed before I was able to collect it, and they came up in the fall. I was a bit worried that they might get zapped in the cold snap, but they've obviously come through it just fine. This prompted me to go ahead and sow some more out there in the same area. If you want a really, REALLY fragrant sweet pea, this one to grow; it's purportedly the closest to the wild species which grows in Sicily. I grew it together with "Cupani," a lighter bicolor pink, which was also incredibly fragrant, a few of these brought in the house produced enough scent to be noticeable all the way across the living room. This year I'm trying several more; sweet peas are another plant that I never had much luck with in Seattle but grow well here.
The final "eat your heart out" picture is this - the first flowering stalk of the freesias that came two years ago from the garden of my friend Peggy in Berkely, CA. They were a perfect "gardenwarming" present. In California (and I suspect, here as well) they can get to be a bit weedy, but there could be worse weeds. Especially if you're one of those poor souls who live in Minnesota. (On the other hand, you get to grow brilliant rhubarb, and great peonies.) Now in Turkey they believe in the nazar, or evil eye, which means that coveting something is believed to be injurious to the object of the covetousness. I used to think it was silly. Then I watched a beautiful stand of Kalanchoe growing in a shop, which I'd stand and admire every time I'd go by it, become decimated by fungus. Obviously it was all my fault. ;) So by encouraging all this eating out of hearts, I might easily provoke a case of nazar, and come out one morning to find all of my freesias cut down by snails, or my snowdrops dug up by cats and replaced by...well, you know what cats leave you when they get to digging! It will be y'all's fault as well if I do!