Snowdrops. Crocuses. Glory-of-the-Snows. I love these plucky flowers that defy winter and burst through piles of dwindling snow or otherwise weather the cool early spring temperatures in Chicago. But spring truly arrives for me when I see the brilliant violet-blue Scilla blanketing the glacial ridge that looms over Longwood Drive in my childhood neighborhoods of Beverly/Morgan Park on the far south side of Chicago. It feels like that almost overnight the dull yellow grass and muddy flowerbeds come alive with riotous crowds of violet-blue. These cheerful flowers are a ubiquitous presence and, when they appear, I know that the long see-saw battle between the armies of winter and spring is over. Spring has finally vanquished the often dark, depressing, cold days of winter and my sometimes-gloomy moods—at least for a time.
When I first glimpse these violet-blue flowers it’s almost as if I had only been able to see in black and white during the cold winter months and my sight has been restored. I usually find an excuse to leave my mom’s house during a visit and walk below the ridge (sometimes with my young son, but often alone), marveling at the wash of violet-blue, taking a photo or two, and probably lingering long enough on the sidewalk in front of the big Beverly mansions to worry the occupants a bit. Don’t worry, I’m just here for your flowers.
One of my favorite spots to view the flowers is at the Givins’ Irish Castle at 103rd and Longwood. The medieval-looking, three-story castle was built from limestone quarried near Joliet in 1886–87. It looms over the gently sloping green grass and violet-blue and white wash of Scilla and Alyssum (another spring favorite) like a proud old man who has seen a lot in his lifetime and had many adventures, but is content to just rest and watch the world go by. Scilla is native to the woodlands, subalpine meadows, and seashores of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and, as you contemplate the castle, grass, and flowers, it’s easy to feel as if you’re in Ireland or another far-flung locale. (Oddly enough, the hills below the castle are not covered in Scilla this spring. Maybe in a few more weeks.)
Each spring, the Scilla spread their beauty further in all directions, and I dream of entire neighborhoods and then the entire city swathed in violet-blue flowers that might make others as happy as I am at that moment. Studies show that nature has a calming effect on humans. I’m tempted to dig up a few of the delicate bulbs and help nature spread the word. But I learned long ago what a mess humans make when they try to control nature, so I let the violet-blue blossoms discover their own path. (And in some circles, Scilla is considered invasive, but that’s another discussion.)
Spring is here—and summer is not far behind. Things can only get better in the natural world from now on. Multicolored bursts of flowers are just weeks away. The trees will grow heavy with leaves. The grass will become thick and deep green. The songbirds will return. People will till the soil, plant seeds, and dream of monster tomatoes and succulent peppers. On Memorial Day weekend in Beverly/Morgan Park, some homes will be bedecked with commemorative bunting, and we’ll gather for a parade and foot races. And in the weeks following, we’ll celebrate 4th of July and the Beverly Hills Cycling Classic. The days will gradually lengthen, people will linger on their patios and front porches with old friends, and children will play outdoors until the stars emerge and the night is lit by fireflies.
Whether you’re a fan of vivid violet-blue Scilla or some other spring flower, I hope you have a favorite that tells you winter is over, spring is in the air, and the joys of summer are on the way.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes