The 2006 tulip season opened here today with Tulipa kaufmanniana. Although I've known or grown tulips under this name for as long as any, I've never been too sure what the original Tulipa kaufmanniana was. Books of over a century ago already mention yellow and red variants, presumably collected rather than hybridized in cultivation. The plant which has been sold as Tulipa kaufmanniana during my lifetime is evidently only one clone among many which might bear the name. During the last quarter century collections from the wild suggest that hybridization in the wild is common (or that our current nomenclature is much in need of revision). This commonly grown garden clone of Tulipa kauffmanniana - the one with white flowers with a pinkish red smudge on the exterior of the outer tepal - comes into bloom more quickly than any other tulip I know. You look at it one day, and you see foliage with maybe a bud deep down among the leaves. You look a bit later, and the bud has stretched up, but not enlarged much, and has started to show color. Wait a bit, and the still small bud has become greenish white with a vague pink blush and now overtops the foliage. If the day is warm, the bud, still small, will open. The next day the open flower will be a bit bigger, but not much. But throughout the day it will get bigger, until it reaches its full size and color. Each year, when I first see the tiny flower in its early stages, I think my stocks are becoming run down. It's a fascinating performance, and one which always surprises me. Lots of other tulips also show buds, but none seems close to bloom. Last year my tulips were hit hard by botrytis; I've got my eyes peeled for signs of it this year. I hope none of you was moved to envy by my weather report from yesterday. Yes, it was an exceptionally fine day. I sat out until late in the evening under the pergola reading and writing in my garden diary. The warm soft air was full of the scents of magnolias, sweet violets, new growth and the deeply moving scent of the soil itself. But today the theme will be misery likes company. Temperatures for the rest of the week are not predicted to go above the mid 50s F; and powerful winds are raking the garden and making work outside unpleasant. The good news is that the comparatively low temperatures will preserve any flowers now in bloom; the bad news is the possibility of overnight freezes. The star magnolias are in full bloom: they are a proven frost magnet. Many herbaceous peonies are well up: flower buds on Paeonia mascula are the size of a marble already. Lilium hansonii and its hybrids are well out of the ground. Cardiocrinium cordatum (but not C. giganteum) has expanded leaves up. Snowdrops and winter aconites are about over (except for Eranthis Guinea Gold which is always late here; one of its parents, E. cilicica is also in bloom). The early reticulate irises are taking a beating in the wind. Scilla and Chionodoxa are making patches of blue here and there, and garden hyacinths should be open soon. Gladiolus byzantinus (the name is dubious) is well up, and some Muscari already have fully formed inflorescences. Eremurus have new foliage a foot long, and near a wall Fritillaria bucharica has joined F. raddeana in bloom. Alberto, if you are reading this, be glad to know that your namesake Ipheion was sweetly scented yesterday. So in many cases we've already passed the point of no return. Bird song has increased dramatically during the last two weeks; and unlike plants, birds seem to pay little attention to the weather. At this time of year, rain or shine they sing. Cardinals, titmice, chickadees, song sparrows, robins, Carolina wrens, mourning doves, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks all have something to say at this time of year. In the background of all of this, woodpeckers can be heard chortling and tapping. A pileated woodpecker let loose with its staccato whoop yesterday. When I walk the dog in the morning - generally before 7 A.M. - we (the dog watches them, too) have been seeing and hearing Vs of geese in the sky. One the other day was very lopsided: about fifteen geese on one side and maybe fifty on the other: what an amazing sound! It's been glorious so far. Jim McKenney Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I think I heard a toad splashing around in the pond last night.