Thinking Spring: The First Of The Small Flowering Bulbs

first crocusThe first spring flower in my garden is always a snowdrop, but the crocus are never far behind. This year, they are early. I suppose an unusually mild winter and a decent string of warmish days account for that. Last year, spring begrudging arrived in late April.  My crocus had barely been in bloom a day before one bitterly cold late April night knocked them to the ground. A gardener’s life is much about moments – some of which are very brief. I am more than a week into the crocus blooming-this is a good year for them. This first crocus is blooming through the remains of an old clump of lady’s mantle. I only do the most rudimentary of fall cleanups. I like a garden to have a winter blanket. Still, that crocus bloom pushing its way up through the matted mess of roots and decaying leaves, is a testament to the persistence of life.

FullSizeRender (5)My crocus do not seem mind the thicket of baltic ivy that covers the ground where they emerge every spring.  There is more to this than meets the eye.  Baltic ivy on the surface is a tangled mess of vines.  But underground the roots are stout and unbelievably thick. If you have ever tried to remove a patch of Baltic ivy, I am sure you threw aside your trowel for a sharp bladed trenching shovel. A mature stand of ivy slated for removal takes the sharpest and biggest tool, a steely amount of determination, and a will to overcome. Add to this a lot of sweat and time, and you will get the picture.  My crocus does not mind the ivy. They thrive, in spite of it.

IMG_0144They push through what is underground, and emerge above ground-effortlessly. Gracefully. They manage their life with equal parts of grace and tenacity. It could be that my most favorite part of the crocus blooming is how they make me get down on the ground to see them. Being close to ground level is an experience of nature like no other. Ground level in a garden is an experience of a living city that is thriving. That experience is what keeps me gardening.

FullSizeRender (3)The story of the earth, and all of the life teeming just below and just above the surface, is a tale that delights each and every gardener. I am sure that what makes gardeners such a close but equally diverse group is their respect for the miracle that is nature. Everyone experiences gardening differently. Those differences make for lots of stories that get passed around.  The respect that every gardener feels for that incredible force that we call nature is what glues us all together. On the flip side, I am just about unglued waiting for our winter to end. The crocus is making that easier to bear.

IMG_2853So my story, this 23rd of March, is that I have crocus in full bloom. Crocus are incredibly beautiful. They are a member of the iris family.  The white stripe at the center of the leaves is typical. Crocus bulbs are planted in the fall. The corms are small, and not very expensive. They take next to no effort to get them planted 3 inches below ground. Even on a cold November day, planting crocus is doable.

DApril-16a-2013SC_0040-9-620x416When they bloom, there is an explosion of color. The blooms are large and showy. They populate an area readily and without any intervention from me. I have never done anything to them, except plant and enjoy. I greatly admire how they shrug off the late winter weather. The coming of the crocus tell me that spring is on the way.

IMG_2856The beginning of spring is not always so easy to detect. One spring day, the birds start singing. That is my first sign. The dormant garden has nothing much to say, but for the crocus.  The crocus emerge and go on to bloom during that time when nature is not entirely sure it is ready to swing in to spring. If you are a gardener, transitional blooming early spring bulbs might jump start your spring.

crocusCrocus are not native to North America. The first species crocus bulbs reputedly made their way to the Netherlands in the mid 16th century from Turkey. This photograph of crocus tommasinianus blooming, via Wikipedia, provides ample evidence that the species crocus are just as lovely as the more readily available giant Dutch hybrids –  derived from the species crocus vernus. Crocus_longiflorus5 from wikipediaCrocus longiflorus, photograph from Wikipedia

crocus blue pearlCrocus chrysanthus Blue Pearl  blooming around a fence post, from Wikipedia. It is a gardening moment that stops me dead in my tracks. How enchanting is this? Happy spring to you.


Sure Signs Of Spring

snowdrops.jpgI have had some signs of our very early spring. Piles of snow in April.  Hellebores encased in ice.  Yews whose foliage is bright orange from  exposure to cold, wind and salt.  White leaved tips on boxwood tell the same tale.  Broken and smashed boxwood-those people plowing snow for days and months on end hardly knew where to start or end their efforts.  Every rhododendron I have seen has damage of one sort or another.  But there are some signs of spring that are as right as rain.

crocus.jpgI had no idea what my crocus would do, considering the length and the severity of our winter.  Would they come up in March, sense the three feet of snow overhead, and give up?  Would they bloom late, pout about a season that did not favor them, and peter out overnight?  Would they stay put below ground, in anticipation of a better spring next year?

crocus.jpgMy worries were unfounded.  Lots of my worries about the garden have much more to do with me, than how nature responds to challenging conditions.  This early spring has made clear that the smartest move I could make as a gardener is to carefully observe natural phenomena.  And take comfort in the fact that nature is eminently able to handle trouble. I may have been laid low by this winter, but today I have crocus in bloom better than I have ever had them. When I got home from work tonight, I was astonished.  My field of crocus-a sure sign of spring.

crocus.jpgThe crocus are very low to the ground. I would recommend that you take the effort to get down and take a few moments to appreciate them.  I am making a very special effort, as they are the first sign of spring in my garden.  These Pickwick crocus are gorgeous today.

crocus.jpgThe life of the gardener is not convenient, predictable, or easy. That said, I would say that every plant in my garden has had a hell of a winter.  Their troubles are much more trying than mine. Any plant that managed to survive the winter we have just lived through deserves my recognition.

crocus.jpgThe crocus wide open in the sun the second week of April- hear hear.  Well done.  Thank you.  So glad to see you.

crocus.jpg The crocus blooming is a sure sign of spring.  These tiny plants blooming big bring me a substantial sigh of relief.  The coming of the crocus in my zone means that spring cannot be far behind. So incredibly beautiful, the crocus in early spring.  Every gardener that I know appreciates the little treasures.  They have a sure idea about what constitutes a big treasure.  The big treasure are those small moments.  Gardeners one and all, I am happy to know you.  Having a crocus moment?  Write me.  Thanks, Deborah


The Crocus

budded-crocus.jpgI’ve been told that our spring season is lagging behind the norm a good 3 weeks.  Every gardener I talk to is sick and tired of the winter that will not let go.  I was dressed to the nines today-meaning my winter coat, hat, and gloves.  Last year, at this time, we were 4 weeks ahead of the norm.  Who knew April 29th the overnight temperature would be 24 degrees.  What conclusion can be drawn from the fact that April 21 this year is 7 weeks behind April 21 of last year?  In my opinion drawing a conclusion does not change the facts.  But at least my crocus made an appearance

The lengthy and late April freeze last year was dramatically destructive.  The magnolias failed to bloom. The crabapples-no one heard a peep out of them. The flowers of apples, cherries and pears froze, and dropped.   Disastrously late frosts dealt a killing blow to gardens, and fruit farmers. 2012-the spring that wasn’t.  But those frosts came after a long hot spell.  My crocus came up, and promptly passed out and melted in the heat.

crocus.jpgLast year’s spring disaster has had me on edge.  I have been watching the April weather as if I had nothing else to do.  Once my crocus appeared, I was sure the spring would be long, temperate, and rewarding.  Why so?  Crocus emerge from the ground early.  Though they look delicate, they are tough.  They emerge at that time when the transition from winter to spring is a big fluid situation.  They thrive on the conflict-or so I thought.

crocus-Pickwick.jpgThe hybrid crocus known as Pickwick is as beautiful as it is vigorous.  Crocus bulbs are small; you could hold 50 in one hand, in the fall.  Those fifty bulbs can light up an early spring garden.  A little package that contains a great gift-the small flowering spring bulbs.  Our spring has been very very cold and equally as gray.  It seems like I waited forever for a mild and sunny day to come along.

A great garden is all about an experience. That day when the crocus are open wide is a really good day.

purple-crocus.jpgThis cluster of crocus predates  my ownership of my property.  In a good year, I will have them a week.  In a bad year, not at all.

April-snow.jpgTwo nights ago-we had night temperatures right around 28 degrees.  And snow.  What could I do about it?  Nothing.

below-freezing.jpgEvery beautiful moment in the garden is just that-a moment.  My crocus this year-I had one half hour of one day to enjoy them.  Would I give up on the crocus?  Absolutely not.  That one moment of great beauty makes for a memory that will stay with me.  Was I disappointed?  terribly so.

Breaking The Ice


I am sure you can spot the dismay on Howard’s face-he had just discovered that his favorite water dish/fountain was iced over a couple days ago.  This shocked him-but he did go ahead and break the ice.  There are those spring plants that brave the vagaries of Michigan weather, including waking up to the ice.  Those tiny corms one plants by the twenty-fives or hundreds in the fall have a persistence in the spring that belies their small size; the crocus is one of the best known harbingers of spring. 

Last spring came in fits and starts.  These crocus “Pickwick” had sent up leaves and then flowers-only to have to endure the above weather.  The crocus season can be short or long; the weather calls the shots. Both the leaves and the flowers are covered in a waxy cuticle-that protects them from a late winter blast.  The species crocus-my favorite is crocus sieberi- are less robust in their form than the crocus vernus hybrids, but equally as weather tolerant.

I have a modest patch that came with the house fifteen years ago.  They thrive and increase slowly-via seeding, I am sure-and really demand nothing from me.  Like most gardeners, when they finally appear, I wonder why I did not plant scads more the previous fall.  Maybe this coming fall I will do better. 

Of the large flowered hybrids, Pickwick is my favorite.  The stripes are great; the intensely orange stamens are even better.  In a great spring, I will have them the better part of two weeks, maybe more. 

Their small flowers make planting them en masse a good idea.  This area of my garden has other spring flowers to come-like phlox divaricata, and a planting of European ginger that seems finally to be taking hold.  Later in the year, the hostas hold forth into the fall.  The crocus do not seem to be deterred by the companionship to come.  It seems fitting that a perennial as ephemeral as this would ask nothing in the way of care.  They just show up to the party every year, regular as rain.

The grassy foliage is distinguised by a white stripe down the center.  You really do have to get down on the ground to fully appreciate how beautiful a plant they are. I have not put my new knee to the kneeling test yet-but maybe tonight.  My weather forecast-81 degrees today, and 32 degrees overnight.  Can you hear me sighing?  If not tonight, I may need to wait until next year to get as close as I would like. I am sure my PT would approve of the gesture-he is determined to get me down on that knee.

However, crocus are not at all bad from overhead, either.  It is important to place them where they can be properly appreciated. I leave this part of the garden cleanup until after all of my spring plants have come and gone.  I think they like all the debris that seems to appear in spring, no matter how well I clean up in the fall.  Part of their charm is how jewel like they are, laying in their compost bed.

Should you have no crocus, or any of the small spring bloomers from eranthis to muscari, snowdrops and chionodoxa, now is the time to decide where to plant them come fall.  I will take pictures of some spots, and hope for a small bulb plant fest come October.  Should you think of it, will you try to remind me?

So many beautiful things are coming my way; the crocus are only the beginning.