Once upon a time, a harbinger of spring was a bunch of violets given or sent to a friend or loved one. Spring arrived yesterday and, so far as we could detect, there wasn't a single bouquet of violets to be had in Washington.

We were tipped to this seasonal tale by writer Joseph J. Accardo Jr., who wanted to send a bouquet of violets to his longtime friend, Lizanne Siccardi, just returned from a traveling mission to a desk assignment at the Air Transport Association.

Joe called Phil Caruso, whose floral shop is across Rhode Island Avenue NW from St. Matthew's Cathedral. But Caruso, after trying perhaps eight or 10 local suppliers, struck out; the closest supply of violets was in California.

Violets, Caruso told Metro Scene, are now "the worst flower to get in Washington," since elderly local growers have died and outside suppliers, including the Netherlands, are not shipping them in.

"I can remember when a corsage of violets was the harbinger of spring and Easter," said Caruso. "A yellow rose and a pink rose in the center of eight or 10 violets."

Caruso, a lifelong Washingtonian, sighed. "It's been about five years now" since violets have disappeared from the market.

Also disappearing, he said, are forget-me-nots and gardenias. Caruso trailed off into nostalgia, recalling the days of his youth -- "that was about 50 years ago," he said -- when gardenias were sold for 15 cents each on F Street, outside Woodward & Lothrop, and were favorites for high school students on dates. Spring Blooms, Tra La!

Speaking of flora, we haven't done a broad survey, but saw some daffodils blossoming, tulip tree flowers emerging and forsythia buds on the verge of bursting yesterday on Sixth Street and on E Street SE, on Capitol Hill.

Spring, that all-too-brief but lovely season in Washington, began amid some of the last bursts of frigid air yesterday. Ain't the anticipation lovely? %Ford Embraces Gadfly

Evelyn Y. Davis of Washington is usually publicized as a corporate gadfly who drives corporate CEOs up the wall with her questions at stockholders' meetings. She also publishes a newsletter, Highlights and Lowlights.

So it was startling to receive a press release yesterday from the Ford Motor Co. spotlighting Davis in, from Ford's viewpoint, a highly favorable light. Davis, it seems, bought the first air-bag-equipped 1986 Mercury Topaz that was offered for public sale, trading in her unbagged '84, which, she said, is a wonderful car.

Ford is going all out for publicity because it is the only American car manufacturer offering air bags as optional equipment on most of its standard models.

Davis bought the new car from Jack Jonas of Brown Lincoln-Mercury in Fairfax, but only if it would be delivered personally by Donald E. Petersen, chairman of Ford Motor. He'll deliver it, according to Ford's press announcement, "at 10 a.m. Sunday . . . at the Jefferson Memorial on the Washington Mall." Given that address, we hope they don't get lost looking for the Jefferson Memorial.