On Monday, Libby Lausch was on the hunt for sunflower seeds and heirloom tomato seeds at Caras Nursery.

"I am looking for some flower seeds and seeing if there's anything interesting," said Lausch, of Alberton. "And this is just a fun place to browse."

The recent springlike sunshine has Lausch and other gardeners feeling ready to dig earlier than usual. At Caras, she was among 11 customers who had picked up seeds on the Presidents' Day holiday by early afternoon.

Owner Bill Caras said he's seeing flowers blooming early around town, but he believes winter hasn't finished up in western Montana. Despite the bees buzzing around the nursery's pink and purple pansies, it's still a bit early for most outdoor gardening.

"The soil is still really cold. I think we're going to get cold again," Caras said.

Still, anxious gardeners already are picking up the hearty pansies and primroses from the nursery. The flowers can go in window boxes and in pots that can easily be set indoors if a cold front hits, but pansies can withstand some chill.

"Pansies aren't pansies," Caras quipped.

The nursery's Amy Keil said if frost damages the pansy plant, it has the ability to make more flowers. And the plants stay strong through a soft frost.

Onions and herbs also are popular early in the season. Keil said people are picking up rosemary, thyme and sage, the heartier varieties.

"Those are good ones if someone wanted to do an herb bowl," Keil said.


In Alberton, Lausch also is seeing flowers come up earlier than usual.

"My tulips and daffodils are probably up this high," Lausch said, putting one hand above the other about six inches.

Usually, they'd be just starting to poke out of the ground. Her trees and bushes are starting to bud out, too, and if winter returns, the plants could have a rough spring.

This sunny Monday, though, Lausch was feeling optimistic about gardening. She said a good type of bacteria exists in the soil and functions as an antidepressant.

"Right after Christmas, I start wanting to play in my dirt," Lausch said. "It's very therapeutic for me."

Others who want a whiff of greenery can head to Caras Nursery this weekend. From 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, the Five Valley Orchid Society is hosting a free workshop at Caras, and anyone can bring in their orchid to be identified.

"Anytime you get sunshine in February, many people have had it with winter, so they want to see something" like colorful blooms, Caras said.

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