I must spend a bit more time featuring the fabulous Crocus tommasinianus, which is a mainstay of our spring garden. Named in honour of a Hungarian botanist Muzio de Tommasini, it’s native to parts of Hungary, Bulgaria and the old Yugoslavia, where it thrives in deciduous woods, on shady banks, and amongst rocks between 1,000 and 1500 metres, flowering early, as soon as the snow melts.
We’ve been growing it for nearly 30 years, attracted by both its early flowering, subtle colour variations, and ability to bulk up quickly, partly through the generation of new cormlets at the base of the older corms, but also by prolific seed production.
As we started to grow a few other colour specific hybrid crocus, and I became more interested in the insect appeal of various flowers, I realised that many hybrid crocuses produce limited or zero pollen, and may be sterile. So these are only ever going to bulk up by planting, or lifting and splitting. Great for nurserymen, but not so good for ageing gardeners.
It’s remarkable that such a fabulous early season flower which is also the pollen and nectar flower preference for our first emerging bumblebee queens, seems to be unavailable as seed in the UK. There’s no question that this is the easiest and cheapest way of creating big drifts with visual impact – particularly for us where any bulb planting on our stony ground is now a two-person affair, using a digging bar.
It’s also surprising that some view this crocus as a potential garden weed, such is its vigour and ability to spread through a garden by ant moved seed – the ants are attracted by a sugary seed appendage, or caruncle, and can cart the seed fair distances.
But for us, chance seed moved crocus have given us, and are still giving us, potential ‘planting ideas’. What about a purple fringe to the cottage wall base where they would grow amongst sand and lime just away from the roof drip line, like the one below? And add plant interest before the native sea campion established in the same site, and thriving in equally impoverished conditions, takes up the baton in April?
I showed the tyre below, in the blog a couple of years ago, after I’d sown selected tommasinianus seed in it. Last year a few corms flowered, so in the summer I dug out all the corms and spread them along our ‘daffodil walk’, since I’ve by now realised that a band of only bright yellow Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête was a bit too brash. This is what it’s starting to look like this year, with some added G. nivalis and the leaves of Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’.
But this is the same tyre, which I thought I’d emptied 12 months ago, this year.
Weed? Well maybe, but I’d rather have Crocus tommasinianus than hairy bittercress or creeping buttercup, any day. And why does such a vigorous plant have such a relatively narrow indigenous range?
As I commented on in another excellent garden blog I look at, garden visitors and any critical comments about our cherished patch always initially rile me. But usually, they have at least an element of validity. So, Andrew’s comment perceiving that we seem to grow just purple or blue forms of crocus got me thinking.
As you can see we do grow some hybrid white, and cream forms of crocus, but the larger yellow and striped Dutch crocus hybrids have always struck me as limitingly garish.
A bit of research led me to acquiring “Crocuses – A Complete Guide to the Genus” by Latvian based Crocus expert Janis Ruksans. Click here for details. I’m sure I’ll refer to this again in subsequent years, but initial reading proves it to be a mine of interesting information and anecdotes, and in particular a reference to all those other crocus species which potentially should thrive in our upland wet, but free draining environment, and more specifically seed around as enthusiastically as our favourite Toms. Janis Ruksans includes a really handy appendix with 3 simple but different growing conditions categories to allow you to narrow down to a selection of potentially successful species.
And I also discovered here that some cultivars of C. tommasinianus like ‘Ruby Giant’ are sterile and, even worse, many are afflicted with viruses.But at least growing from seed seems to cleanse your stock of such afflictions. Nothing in gardening, or life, ever seems as straightforward as you first think? So, we’re pleased that in our latest planting of 1500 tommasinianus in our terrace garden we opted for 3 varieties placed in a varied grid pattern – ‘Ruby Giant’, ‘Barr’s Purple’ and ‘Whitewell Purple’.
Hang on you may say, what about all this sowing from seed?
Well, at the same time I scattered saved seed from our existing crocus over the entire central terrace area, but I’m afraid the march of time and years seem to be making even this patient gardener a bit more twitchy for speedy results. 1500 corms may seem a lot, and indeed we were fed up after planting them all, though delighted this spring that we did, but even so, this number only allowed us to cover about two thirds of the allocated area. So, some more will be needed this autumn.
Fiona has already picked up two practical tips from the Ruksans book.
Firstly, try to plant them by August, and certainly before October, or next year’s flowering will suffer a bit – we only managed late September/early October for the above terrace plantings, and secondly if you plant them deeper then you’ll get bigger flowers, but they’ll multiply more slowly, whereas if planted nearer the surface the flowers will be smaller but they’ll form more cormlets quickly.
For us, issues with water logging and corm rotting can be problems if planted too deeply, but plant too shallow, and we feel there is a higher risk of rodent predation. Ruksans cites this as the biggest problem with crocus growing. He regularly leaves tubes of rodenticide around his plot. This year before planting we mixed all the corms with cayenne pepper (you can buy it in bulk) and red vinegar, before ramming in the digging bar for individual planting holes and backfilling after planting with compost.
Squirrels can be discouraged with either my favourite deterrent, selectively applied by watering can, or by scattering with blood fish and bone meal (apparently), or feeding nuts in a different part of the garden just before planting and for a period afterwards, as a distraction.
Rodent damage around flowering, and seed capsule emergence requires quick action to mitigate potentially big losses – either use a live trap, or limited selected and well-hidden rodenticide, depending on your preference. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, our rodent predation always arises very shortly after new plantings are made, then around flowering, and finally as seed capsules emerge in mid-June. This year the tell-tale leaves, chomped through at the base, and also fallen flower stems, started to be noticeable around Valentine’s day.
Continuing the ‘Tom’ theme, I belatedly got round to sowing some of the many tomato seeds saved from the varieties I grew last year, and from a few purchased fruit, all carefully kept in folded parcels of kitchen towel in a cool cupboard.
Since our kitchen now seems to hold a warm 20 degree C plus temperature, for most of the day, they were pre-germinated on moist kitchen towel on our slate casserole rack, then potted up. Within 10 days we have a surfeit of seedlings growing on under split pop bottle cloches, ready for pricking out soon, and moving on into the greenhouse.
And in here, the third ‘Tom’ is performing well to considerable relief. The 2 Tomcot (cool growing apricots) which hardly flowered at all in their second year, formed fat red buds quickly opening to lovely white blossom.
Picking up on a tip gleaned from tomato and spring bulb flower pollination I now try to hand pollinate them about every couple of days, around midday when the sun is out. Fat chance for most of this year, but basically choosing a warmer, drier moment probably helps with pollen transfer and mobility.
And my Miscanthus and turkey feather pollinating brush moved into its second season, allowing me to reach those high up flowers with ease. By the time I’m finished, the feathers are yellow with pollen.
And this finally links nicely with the fourth ‘Tom’ of this contrived series. Known as stags in the UK, Americans call male turkeys ‘Toms’, and our new Ronquières Tom (Dirk the Turk) has already shown that he is up to the task. Interestingly the turkey hens began laying almost exactly a year after the date they began last year, although the weather could not have been more different (freezing and dry last year, wet and mild this). So, their biological triggers seem to be much more light or daylength dependent, than many of our bulbs whose flowering times are significantly different and later than last season.
All the rain, winds and internal works meant that I’d not got round to constructing a new sheltered nest area for them. They’re natural tree roosters, but the hens lay in nests on the ground. So I managed to complete this working in a gale and the omnipresent mud which has been a permanent feature for the poultry over the last 6 weeks, the morning after the first egg appeared, in the middle of the muddiest area of their whole large run.
It takes the turkeys a couple of days familiarising themselves with anything new created by me for them, to suss it out and deem it safe (which is perhaps understandable), so another egg was laid outside by one of ‘not guilty, gov.’ hens on the right.
Before they got the hang of things.
Other intriguing and inappropriate egg laying has also been discovered in the last fortnight.
Frog spawn and crocus in the copse, hundreds of yards from the nearest pond.
At last we have reclaimed our kitchen after 2 months of squeezing between furniture pushed into the centre of the room, and some horrible weeks when all the moisture from drying lime hemp plaster made doors swell, and required multiple dehumidifiers and fans to remove it from the already water laden Gelli atmosphere.
Abandoning caution we chose ‘STRONG RED’ lime wash for the remaining exposed stone surrounding our Esse stove.
And who better to apply it than Fiona. I came in one day after the morning stock feed to this colourful scene.
We’ve spent much of our married life working through DIY projects in a number of locations, and Fiona remembered this week that our first efforts together at my father’s cottage not very far from here, were accompanied by music from ‘Atlantic 252’, a long wave radio station, beamed across the Irish Sea, but providing good reception in the remote Welsh uplands. It no longer exists. In particular Roxy Music’s “Oh Yeah” is forever linked with this first bout of bathroom decorating. Click below.
A step back in time of some 34 years. It also confirmed for us the date of this memory, the year after our wedding.
Now, most music comes from our JB7, and as another tribute to this machine’s aid to our sanity through this long winter, a rediscovered piece of music which we heard performed live, years ago by Andras Schiff in Bristol. Click here for a discussion by Schiff on the background to the composition of the last 3 great Beethoven Piano Sonatas, (Part 8 of those listed), or click below, and close the door and your eyes to be reminded of this sublime 11 minute exploration of themes by the ageing deaf composer.
It seems ‘TheZombiepianist’ who uploaded this You Tube, of Mitsuko Uchida playing it, agrees with me that it is one of the most beautiful pieces of piano music encapsulating life, and memories, in just 11 minutes.
The two photos above demonstrate the inspiration for creating the ‘Gelli Dawn’ colour on most of the ‘new/old’ wall finishes in the kitchen.
That curious mix of grey and rosy pink which occasionally illuminates an otherwise gloomy sky, but only around either dawn or dusk. After 5 attempts at something we liked, we managed it by mixing a little ‘Strong Red’ with ‘Ynys Mon Tint’ and straight lime putty, all sourced from local Ty Mawr Lime. Click here for details. And then wrote down the formula for the next time we need to apply it! And what does the finished appearance look like? Well you’ll have to come and visit the garden and have a look.
In the week that we at last managed to entice some NGS garden visitors here at this fabulous time, and I was able to share some of my galanthomania with someone other than Fiona, the sun shone and we nearly managed a day with no rain in a 24 hour period for them to enjoy it all.
The morning greeted us with a fabulous quilted sunrise, which morphed into golden mists. And as a change from splitting and moving snowdrops in the rain at dusk, waiting until the whoosh of starling flocks leaving their gathering tree and heading off West for the night time roost, reminds me that it’s time for me to stop. So the snowdrops seized the sunny moment and spread their petals, or more correctly tepals, for any serious botanists, wide to soak up the rays. But this year there are no honeybees around to do any pollinating, (they have appeared en masse 3 hours after posting this!) and until yesterday, no bumblebees either.
So, I was out with the special snowdrops, and my pollinating brush. And as a result, found something I’ve not seen before which links nicely with this being my birthday blog post, 3 years after the journey began with me wondering whether snowdrops are thermogenic.
A caterpillar. Neatly curled around the centre of this snowdrop flower.
Had it entered the flower for food? Though snowdrops are poisonous to most animals, some cultivars seem to suffer occasional slug damage with us.
Or maybe like the moths I’ve noticed resting inside snowdrop blooms, was it there simply because the flower provided a nice dry and warmer daytime sanctuary?
How many more might be lurking in the garden in these snowy white sanctuaries?
Probably not that many since several google searches to find any other similar images on line failed completely. Finally a few more snowdrop images to show how the garden looks at the end of our 3rd week of the NGS snowdrop garden period.
Thank you for a wonderful start to my Sunday! Loved looking at all your fantastic spring flower photos and reading all about your DIY, seed growing and other projects. Take care Fiona up that chimney!
I’m sure the rest of your Sunday was even better. What a glorious day. So much of interest in the garden today, it really feels like spring, even if it only lasts for a few days. You’ll be pleased to hear that F has moved on to safer tasks now, weaving willow plant supports, and potting up plants, Thanks for the comment,
Such a lot of wonderful photographs and I love the header! I appreciate the information about the crocus as I was hoping to try and add some to the bottom of our garden. I now know to look out for the ones that will be fertile. I know some of ours are as I’ve found them in strange places. Amelia
Thanks for that. I seem to be getting better flower pics since I switched to an old wider angle lens (20mm) about 9 months ago. Otherwise I was finding it difficult to capture big flower groupings of smaller flowers terribly well.
Re The Crocus, I also found a good link to an RHS trial on successful spring Crocus cultivars, which is a helpful resource, though it doesn’t mention whether or not they set seed. The link follows to the PDF:
Click to access Crocus%20(spring%20flowering)%202009.pdf
Very interesting. I often use the RHS site when I want to know more about a plant, I never thought about how they arrived at their conclusions or awarded a merit. I must think more about my crocus planting as I will have more of a chance of success if I choose the ones most suited to the garden.