Thursday 23 March 2017

Pretty crocus ahead of crowd with early show

Crocuses carry an outsize flower and are very decorative for such a small plant. The flower tube is taller than the leaves, at least initially, and weighs several times more than the leaves put together. Being a small plant, crocuses have to attract insects to pollinate the flowers and in early spring pollinators are few.

The relatively large flower and rich colours draw the attention of flying insects, which do not have great sight. On cold days, when flying insects are not in the air, the flowers close over to protect the delicate fertile parts of the flower, and they open fully on a sunny, warm day.

There are many kinds of crocuses, mostly native to the Mediterranean region, growing on scrubland, some in coastal areas. The areas where they are native tend to dry out in summer and the crocus gets its growing and flowering done early and withers back to dormancy in summer.

Although there has been some breeding of garden crocuses, in general they retain much of their original wild flower beauty and one of the most satisfying ways to grow crocuses is to naturalise them. Crocuses tolerate light shade and can be grown in thin grass that has been reduced in vigour by partial shading of tall trees or bushes. Start off crocuses in these locations by planting corms in autumn.

To create a good effect, depending on the area to be covered, a lot of crocus corms are needed but once the first ones are established they shed seeds and new plants spring up. In general, purple and white varieties are better for naturalising than the yellow or striped kinds. The early-flowering species, Crocus tommasinianus from Central Europe, is very reliable naturalised in light shade, with slender pink-purple flowers.

Crocuses look very well in flower beds and borders, especially near the front of a bed or the edge of a path. Grown in these positions, the corms bulk up in number and form a clump of flowers or a spread over an area, and this can be very pretty. Under these conditions, they do not suffer from competition of bigger plants and weeds or grass.

In natural conditions, many crocus species grow in rocky places and a rock garden suits them well. The small-flowered kinds are ideal. A few clumps can be very effective in bringing a touch of the new season to a rock garden or earthen bank. Crocuses look great in pots, too, and these can be planted in autumn to flower now, or they can be bought in flower now and later planted out in the garden when the flowers have faded.

Sunday Independent

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