Sunday 23 April 2017

In the Garden: Bright and breezy spring beauty

All kinds of everything — crocuses are multi-purpose little bloomers
All kinds of everything — crocuses are multi-purpose little bloomers

Gerry Daly

One of the most satisfying ways to grow crocuses is to naturalise them in grass. Crocuses tolerate some shade and can be grown under tall trees that allow the light to pass under the branches or in thin grass that has been reduced in vigour by partial shading by neighbouring trees. This means the grass is weakened by partial shading and by the tree roots underground. Start off crocuses in these locations by planting corms in autumn. In general, purple and white varieties tolerate this treatment better than the yellow or striped kinds.

Many kinds find the cultivated conditions of a flower bed or border more to their liking. Under these conditions, they can be protected from competition of bigger plants and weeds or grass. Any variety sold in garden shops can be used in this setting and this includes a wide range or large and small-flowered kinds. They are best used in clumps to create spots of colour, not dotted about too much.

The groups should be located towards the front of a bed or border, but could be placed in the middle if there is space when bigger flowers die down and have their stems removed by the time the crocuses flower.

By growing crocuses in good-sized clumps, it is easier to manage them when the foliage has disappeared by mid-summer and there are no surface signs to avoid digging them up when tending to other plants.

In natural conditions, many crocus species grow in rocky places and a location on a rock garden suits many kinds. These ones generally need really good drainage and while most of them are for specialist bulb enthusiasts, the ordinary kinds can be used too.

The very pretty small-flowered kinds, striped and beautifully rounded in shape are ideal for this kind of setting.

Crocuses flower in early spring when there is not much happening in the rock garden and a few clumps can be very effective in bringing a touch of the new season. If there is no rock garden available, crocuses can look very good on a bank too.

Crocus corms are quite small relative to the size of the flowers and a great deal of flower power can be fitted into a pot or bowl.

Some kinds have more than one flower per corm. While they can be used with other spring bulbs very effectively in pots, a truly stunning effect can be created by planting up a broad shallow bowl with about 50 corms and nothing else.

These can then be planted in flower beds in clumps to last for many years.

Q What kind of trees would grow in marly soil?

M Gillespie, Co Mayo

A Marly soil is heavy and retains water, often preventing drainage, or slowing it down in the wetter months and even in summer. The two best kinds of trees for wet ground are willow and alder. Both of these are native trees and have adapted to cope with wet soil. The bark of willow can be very decorative, with yellow or orange colour in winter, and they have pussy willow catkins in spring. There is also the grey sally, which often self-sows on wet ground. Alder can be the main choice as it eventually makes a fine woodland if there is space. It has greenish yellow catkins in spring.

Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie. Questions can only be answered on this page.

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