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signs of spring

In Toronto we have a habit of acting as though March means springtimeCLAYTON HANMER

In Toronto we have a habit of acting as though March means springtime. It doesn't, of course; the March 20th equinox is a soft launch, at best. But Jack Frost's resilience doesn't stop the good people of this city from swapping their toques for Blue Jays caps or donning filmy pastel garments beneath Canada Goose coats anyway. As sure as feigned surprise over April snow, here are some classic signs of the informal, in-between season that is Toronto spring.

Outdoor grillers
Who says you have to wait until the May long weekend to fire up the Weber? For barbecue enthusiast Ryan Mills, the grilling season starts in mid-March, as soon as the temperature passes zero."Our winters and even early springs can be harsh, so when we get sunshine and any hint of milder weather, we welcome it with open arms," he says. Mr. Mills thinks Toronto spring makes sense as an optimistic coping mechanism for that final push through winter, though he won't deny its endearing silliness. "I think it's funny how we complain about it being 5 C in the fall, but we're out in T-shirts when it's 5 C in spring."

Premature patio drinkers
Torontonians love drinking on patios. What we don't love is waiting for the weather to get warm enough to do it comfortably. Rachel Conduit, owner of Kensington Market watering hole Handlebar, entertains patio drinking patrons all year long ("mostly they're smokers," she concedes) but has lately observed increased numbers of well-bundled imbibers taking refuge on her neighbouring bars' patios, too. "Everyone seems to want to buy a cheap bottle of wine and smash it over the hull of their favourite patio to christen the 2013 season," she jokes. "Everybody loves the spring."

Shorts-wearing joggers

While some people might think shorts-wearing March joggers are surely high on something stronger than endorphins, the fact is, it isn't so uncommon. According to Bryan Smith, Toronto Central area manager at the Running Room, "any hint of a positive temperature and some sunshine" is enough to convince many outdoor athletes to dispense with their winter layers.

"Everyone that's coming in to shop lately wants lightweight stuff," says a representative from the Eaton Centre's Nike Running store, who sheepishly admits to being "the kind of guy who runs in shorts, cold or warm."

Gun-jumping gardeners

Mother's Day weekend is widely regarded as the unofficial start of gardening season in these northern climes, but the temptation of that first above-freezing day is too much for some anxious, green-thumbed Hogtowners to handle.

"If the weather's above zero for two or three days, there's a big demand for things like pansies," says Judy Clark, manager at the East End Garden Centre.

According to Ms. Clark, March's first blip of warm weather guarantees phone calls to the shop asking whether it's appropriate to plant grass seed.

"Once you see a little bit of snow fall down on the ground, you know you can't do it," she advises. For the truly impatient – mostly real estate agents giving March showings – Ms. Clark recommends potted tulips.

"You sit them out the doors in the daytime when it's above zero, and then put them back in in the nighttime when the temperature drops down."

Springtime mani-getters

Nikki Renaud of Pinky's Nails in Cabbagetown reports that, within the past month, customers have been opting for springy pastel manicures and – for the truly optimistic – neons ("even though that's more for summer"), instead of winter's moody shades. And, while it may be too cold outside for actual flowers to pop out of their beds, she's gotten many requests for floral nail art.

Toronto spring is all about compromise.