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Flowers can help with the winter blues too: Here’s the first bulbs which bloom in the cold and always lift the spirits


We may not have any snow in the south of England, but our lawn is covered with snow crocuses (Crocus sieberi).

Individually these slender lilac blooms are insignificant, but en masse they are spectacular and in the sun, they open up to reveal tiny orange stamens.

Crocuses are one of the oldest cultivated flowers. Records of the autumn-flowering C. sativus, prized for producing saffron, date back to Minoan Crete. The name crocus comes from the ancient Sanskrit word for the spice.

ANCIENT ORIGINS

The Romans brought the saffron crocus to Britain, but we had to wait a while longer for the ornamental winter-­flowering bulbs. These grow in the wild all the way from the Balkans and Turkey to the Mediterranean.

Purple reign: Tiny early flowers of Crocus sieberi naturalise in lawns or under trees. Stock image used

Purple reign: Tiny early flowers of Crocus sieberi naturalise in lawns or under trees. Stock image used

It was not until 1753 that Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus formally identified the genus. A member of the iris family, crocuses are dwarf perennials growing from corms, with diminutive goblet-shaped flowers in shades of white, yellow, and purple. They are easy to naturalise in lawns, or grow in containers or rockeries, preferring a sunny spot with well-drained soil.

The spring crocus, C. vernus, is one of the best for planting under lawns. Lift a small patch of grass in the autumn and plant the corms to a depth of at least 5cm, then replace the turf. Also good is C. tommasinianus although some gardeners find it a vigorous self sower. It is also a great early source of nectar for bees. Good cultivars for naturalising include ‘Ruby Giant’ with reddish purple blooms and ‘Whitewell Purple’ with silvery, purple tones.

The Dutch yellow C. flavus is a small, bright gold early flowering variety, while C. x luteus ‘Golden Yellow’ is similar with Purple reign: Tiny early flowers of Crocus sieberi naturalise in lawns or under trees larger, showier flowers that look good in a container. The slightly later flowering C. chrysanthus cultivars are good for rockeries or stone troughs. C. ‘Snow Bunting’ is a fragrant creamy white with a yellow throat and a honey scent.

LAYER IT UP

Plant winter flowering crocuses in the autumn, with a top layer of gravel or vermiculite to ensure the soil doesn’t become too damp. If you are using them as part of a bulb lasagne, make them the top layer as they are small and early flowering. Autumn flowering crocuses are usually planted in September, slightly earlier than other bulbs, meaning they may flower later in their first year.

The Tuscan crocus, C. etruscus has violet flowers with flame like stamens and is good in a rockery or raised bed. C. sativus has three orange red stigmas which are the saffron. These can be harvested using tweezers. Crocuses in containers might need extra water in dry periods.

Once they have flowered, leave the foliage to die back down. For naturalised lawns, hold off mowing for as long as possible. Corms in containers can be dug up and stored somewhere dry to be replanted the following autumn.



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