Spring has returned, just as it has every year since that first precocious fish dragged itself from the muck and decided it liked the view.
I’m noticing spring everywhere: in the crocuses and daffodils pushing up proudly from the earth. In the daubs of green on tree branches. In the crepe-paperesque flowers bristling on redbuds. Even so, when it comes to springtime, I’m an amateur. I decided to consult the pros.
“I have a great view from my office right now,” said Richard Olsen, director of the U.S. National Arboretum, when I reached him on the phone. He was looking at a blooming cherry tree, the First Lady cultivar (variety) created by the National Arboretum.
Cherry blossoms get all the attention around Washington, but Richard said let’s not forget other participants in the spring parade. He’s partial to flowering apricots, which put forth flowers from white to deep pink.
He’s also fond of winter hazels, which blossom with pendulous little flowers in a soft yellow. “Right now, around the Capitol columns, we have a lot of what we call cornelian cherries, which are not true cherries at all but actually a type of dogwood,” he said.
Richard has been under the weather and only got out into the garden of his Greenbelt, Md., home last weekend. “I got dirt under my fingernails,” he said. “I smelled the flowers. I just enjoyed being immersed in the verdure: the signs of the upcoming greenery, the swelling buds. You just sort of say, ‘This is part of my human nature.’ It’s so restorative to be able to get out and garden.”
Ahhh, restorative. But also: itchy.
“In my house, it’s popping Claritin, that’s a big sign of spring,” said Sylvia Schmeichel, horticulturist at River Farm, the verdant Alexandria, Va., headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. “I was talking to some of my colleagues at different institutions, and we always laugh that even though we work outside, in spring a lot of us get allergies.”
That’s why Jackie Eghrari-Sabet doesn’t need a calendar to know when spring starts. She’s an allergy doctor with Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Montgomery County, Md. Spring doesn’t start, Jackie said, “till you see the reds of their eyes. . . . It’s the wheezers and the sneezers: They beat a path to my door.”
The stampede has already started. Trees have been dropping pollen for weeks. “Then the grasses come next, in April,” Jackie said.
Global warming means more aggravation, Jackie said. Trees disperse their pollen earlier. More varieties of trees take hold, too, subjecting our sinuses to fresh indignities.
“And because there are more greenhouse gases, there’s more carbon dioxide,” Jackie said. “That’s plant food. More carbon dioxide means more plants are gorging at the buffet. It’s like a Brazilian barbecue for them. It never stops.”
It’s a busy time for Stephanie Mason, too. On Sunday night, the senior naturalist at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., led a dozen people to Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg, Md., to observe the mating display of the woodcock.
The long-beaked woodland shorebird starts by buzzing like an insect, then flies in circles to a height of 300 feet. It floats down like a falling leaf and warbles.
“It happens at dusk,” Stephanie said. “There is that mystery of darkness and sound, and what it all means for the change of the season. It is one of the pretty incredible rites of spring.”
Other birds are active, too, and have been for weeks, including the cardinal. “Usually around the end of January the male cardinals in my neighborhood start singing: what-cheer, what-cheer, what-cheer!” Stephanie said. “I know the days are starting to get longer and spring is eventually going to arrive.”
Spring is here now, appearing in a park or a back yard near you.
And coming down the pike: summer. Sylvia, the manager of River Farm, has a few markers for when that sultry season starts. It’s when her summer interns arrive. It’s when gardeners are able to wear short sleeves as they putter outside.
Sylvia has a more horticultural indicator, too: “We have a huge carpet of Virginia bluebells,” she said. “When they’re done and the foliage dies back, that to me means summer’s about to start.”
Here are a few more area reunions:
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1966 — June 24 and 25. Visit www.BCC1966.net.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1976 — June 11. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mount Vernon High Class of 1966 — June 17 and 18. Email Steve Heyroth at email@example.com or search “Mount Vernon High School Class of 1966 50th Reunion” on Facebook.
JEB Stuart High Class of 1966 — May 19-22. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yorktown High (Arlington) Class of 1966 — May 13-15. E-mail Betsy Thompson Brady at email@example.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.