Crocus Prins Claus thrives in the coldest spring

April8

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I promised you I would show a picture of this gorgeous species Crocus when it was in flower – I love it. Prins Claus has dark purple staining on the base outside of the white petals, with bright yellow stamens on the inside. Here, it’s growing in an old, weathered terracotta pot. If I forget, remind me to order dozens more of this bulb this coming autumn. Thanks to everyone who has suggested good gardens I could visit in lower and upstate New York. Do you know of any good ones in western Massachusetts? Some that I have looked at do not open until mid-May, and I will be in the area the week of the 7th through 14th May.

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Crocus Prins Claus doesn’t mind the snow

March17

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This species crocus has not minded the cold March weather at all. You can just see the purple colour at the throat of the flower, which I expect to open up in the next few days, snow or no snow.

Another white crocus I planted — I think it was Ard Schenk – has suffered badly from slugs. I sat by one of them the other day and watched as it was warmed by the sun and promptly fell over, having been nibbled at the base. I love the delicacy of Prins Claus – I’ll try to share a picture soon of a pot of them growing on my steps, if springtime ever springs and they open up.

What crocus or other early flowers are pleasing you at the moment?

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In bulbs we trust

September6

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It’s not happened yet, but I can feel that the bulb lust will soon be upon me. I work my tiny garden intensively and only manage to get four season colour into the border by packing in bulbs among herbaceous perennials. It’s probably inconceivable for me to stuff any more tulips into the hall border near my office window, but for May through August interest, I’m planning for more alliums, more lilies and possibly my first camassias next year. I saw @lialeendertz ‘s piece in the Guardian about alliums and it underscores the most useful thing you’ll ever want to know about ornamental onions: if you don’t hide their tattered leaves with something, you’ll be sorry. I’ve just tucked mine in among astrantia, nepeta and delphiniums and I’m hoping for the best.

So yes, I’m renewing my commitment to summer flowering bulbs to squeeze maximum colour from my small space, but it’s the late winter and early spring flowering snowdrops, crocus, chionodoxa, narcissus and most of all tulips that cast the real spell over me — and my budget — every autumn.

Do you remember how the Catholic church got into a good bit of trouble some centuries ago for selling indulgences, advance absolution for future sins? Hell was big back then, and folks terrified of dying with unconfessed sins on their conscience paid big sums for indulgences, hoping to guarantee life after death by ensuring they’d die “clean”…or so the reasoning went. Spring flowering bulbs are a bit like indulgences: against reason, gardeners faced with the dying of the light invest too much every autumn, trying to guarantee life for their borders on the far side of winter’s chasm. For me, planting spring bulbs — especially those chestnut brown tulips, fat and perfect — is like casting a rope to the other side of January, where my friendly bulb vendor secures it and talks me across with comforting words about “brave crocus” and tulips “like a Dutch still life”. I can resist the crocus (they may be brave, but they get battered by day two), but the tulips will always have a hold on me.

Actually, my bulb vendor is very friendly; Anne and Jack Barnard at Rose Cottage Plants have never sent me tulips that failed to dazzle or, God forbid, were wrongly labeled, an experience I’ve had many times with other mail-order companies. The blackcurrant tinted late purple parrot “Muriel” they recommended last year was indeed stunning, and this year they’ve sourced “Happy Generation” for me, one of the many I saw in my Keukenhof tour this past April, but not usually available from Rose Cottage Plants, as Anne says her customers often avoid bi-coloured tulips. I’ve ordered 30; who knows where I’ll put them, but maybe in pots at the gate.

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If you’re trying to decide what tulips are worth buying, definitely ask your vendor, or see these two video tours of the Keukenhof tulip tents I made earlier this year. My voiceover rambles a bit, but you will get a sense of how many beautiful tulip varieties look, rather than relying on the hyperbolic catalog descriptions. You can also see still shots of the tulips and other parts of Keukenhof in my Flickr set.

I have scattered galanthus nivalis, a February flowering double snowdrop, among my hall border and would love to plant a short, black centred perennial like Rudbeckia, whose black eyes might hold on through the snowy months to give me a black-and-white effect in late winter. Any ideas? Rudbeckia “Goldsturm” looks good but seems a bit too tall.

Do you have a bulb addiction? Which tulips mean the most to you, and can you get away without lifting them annually?

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The small mercy of snowdrops and other survivors

January21

Click for larger imageMassive snow melt and rising rivers have come with the big thaw, now that our deep snowfall has turned liquid. Watching our local river rise 5 feet, it made me think about how snow locks up water the way trees lock up carbon dioxide. Gardening hard, as I’ve done the last few seasons, has done this to me — make me watch every aspect of the changing seasons and think about what it might mean for my garden. My poor, pummelled garden, now free of that heavy snow but looking squashed, like a flower flattened between the pages of an encyclopedia.

Which is why I felt my mouth fall open today when I saw a single snowdrop — Galanthus elwesii — white and perfect and definitely alive. I took a walk around and checked on the other signs of life which have been thrilling me out of all proportion to their size. A tuft of striped crocus leaves, 2 inches high? A few battered narcissus leaves breaking through the soil? I’ll take it — it’s January, and my standards and expectations for the garden are at their lowest.

The desk where I write gets sun for two hours in summer, and much less in winter when the sun can’t be bothered to rise very high. This time last year I wrote this poem during one of the sun’s rare appearances at my desk. Do you ever get poetic about your garden? If so, I’d love to hear some.

shine

The winter sun doesn’t mean it;
it cracks an eye over sodden ground –
the damp remains of brightest days,
the ceaseless hunt of birds,
the lilacs’ empty grasp –
and is unmoved.

It cannot be enough.
But braver things are in the earth
and they rise, swords first,
to take back the day
and call forth the legions
that come after.

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