PETAL PRETTY: When one is talking of signs of spring, specifically how and when they occur, and the stretch between San Diego and Los Angeles enters the equation, it can be impossible to not cite a certain bird and a certain mission and a certain date (okay, we'll 'fess up; we're talking about Capistrano's swallows, and their March return, but then you knew that). But very close up there with the swallows, on the signs-of-spring-along-that-stretch roster, are the Flower Fields of Carlsbad and their eye-popping rows of ranunculus. Even if you've never pulled off the 5 Freeway to visit the multi-acre gardens, you know them well if you've driven by in March, April, or May. Because there's probably nothing brighter on the planet. The reds, the pinks, the yellows are all super-sonic and oh-so-organic, seeing as how they're delivered via flowers. And if you've been longing for that sight again, hold tight; the Flower Fields open for 2012 on Thursday, March 1.
BIG NEWS: The headline out of the Flower Fields this year is that the garden whizzes "changed the color pattern" for "the first time in 15 years." You'll still find the same amazing buds, just in a different order. Of course, the Flower Fields also offer other pleasures besides staring at the ranunculuses (ranunculusi?), including a sweet pea maze and a greenhouse to stroll. If you want to see one of SoCal's -- or, let's be honest, Cal's -- most florid, eye-wowza sights, get to Carlsbad between March 1 and May 13. It's just after Mother's Day that all the gardens go bye-bye, sadly, for another year.