Even on cold grey days this time of year, the earth, as if suddenly tired of being barren, is sending us messages. If you see patches of acid yellow flowers, single flowers on short stems almost hugging the ground, they are winter aconite.
These seem to appear at winter's first thaw, and have a ruff of dainty green leaves beneath each buttercup flower. Botanically, they are members of the genus "Eranthis", Greek for spring flower.
The bulbs should be planted as early as possible in the fall. It's best to plant them in groups, light shade, and well-drained soil. They like moisture, and will spread if undisturbed. Often seen in older gardens, they make us think of the gardener who planted, probably just a few bulbs, one autumn day long ago and left a legacy of gold.
These miniature flowers, singly or en masse, perform each year for only a fleeting moment it is true, but the continuity and the recurrence of their performance year after year delights a succession of passers-by. Next fall, put some aconite bulbs in your garden and accumulate some gold that is priceless. Susan Hill, in her book "Through the Garden Gate" must have been thinking on such things when she wrote this:
"Of all human activities, apart from the procreation of children, gardening is the most optimistic and hopeful. The gardener is by definition one who plans for and believes and trusts in a future, whether in the short or the longer term."