Crocus crocus

Height 7.5-10cm (3-4in)

Planting distance: 5-13cm (2-5in) full sun or partial shade

Features flowers winter-spring/autumn

Soil: well-drained

Type: corm

Crocuses come from mountainous regions of southern and eastern Europe, so they are remarkably hardy. In gardens they provide some of the earliest colour at ground level in late winter and early spring, although there are several species that flower in autumn instead.

Most species stand about 7.5cm (3in) high; the Dutch hybrids are slightly taller at 10-13cm (4-5in). The flowers come in shades of yellow, blue, purple, lilac and white-in single and bi-colours, as well as in stripes. All have thin, green leaves with a faint white stripe. The leaves of spring-flowering crocuses appear with the flowers.

Crocuses are happy in full sun or dappled shade. They are best grown in clumps in rock gardens or sink gardens, but they also look attractive edging flower or shrub borders. The more robust species are ideal for naturalizing in short grass, provided it is not mown before the leaves turn yellow in late spring.

Try planting autumn-flowering crocuses among low ground cover. True autumn crocuses should not be confused with colchicums, whose common name is autumn crocus.

Popular species and varieties:

Crocus ancyrensis, often listed as Crocus chrysattthus “E. A. Bowles’ & Crocus chrvsantbus ‘Ladvkiller’ ‘Golden Bunch’, has 6cm (21/2in) high, rich yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. Crocus chrysanthus has 7.5cm (3in) high, golden yellow flowers in late winter. It is suitable for rock gardens, borders and containers. Popular varieties:

include ‘Advance’ (a curious shade of yellow with a mauve staining outside), ‘Blue Bird’ (soft pastel blue, whitish inside), ‘Blue Pearl’ (soft blue with a bronze base), ‘Cream Beauty’ (cream), ‘E. A. Bowles’ (yellow with a bronze base), ‘Eyecatcher’ (plum-purple and white), ‘Gipsy Girl’ (gold), ‘Ladykiller’ (white with a purple outside), ‘Princess Beatrix’ (clear blue with a yellow base), ‘Snow Bunting’ (white), ‘Snow White’ (white), ‘Zenith’ (violet) and ‘Zwanenburg Bronze’ (yellow shaded bronze on the outside). Crocus imperati has 7.5- 10cm (3-4in) high flowers with buff outer petals streaked purple, and bright

Crocus medius purple, satiny inner petals. It is an early-flowering species, appearing in mid to late winter.

Crocus medius has 7.5cm (3in) high, lightly scented, lilac blooms with striking, deep orange stigmas. It is one of the autumn-flowering species. Grow it in a sunny spot. Crocus sieberi has 7.5cm (3in) high, pale mauve flowers with yellow bases. These appear in late winter and early spring. Garden hybrids include ‘Elubert Edelsten’ (rose-lilac flowers marked with purple) and ‘Violet Queen’ (violet-blue). Crocus s()eciosus has 10-13cm (4-5in) high flowers. They are bright lilac-blue with yellow anthers and red stigmas, and open in mid autumn. This species multiplies freely, making it the most popular autumn-flowering crocus. Varieties include ‘Albus’ (white flowers), ‘Conqueror’ (deep sky-blue) and ‘Oxonian’ (dark blue). Crocus susianus (syn. C. augustifolius) has star-shaped flowers standing 5-7.5cm (2-3in) high. They are bronze outside and yellow inside, and appear in late winter. It is one of the oldest crocuses in cultivation.

Crocus tommasimanus has lilac flowers that appear in late winter, 7.5cm (3in) above the ground. For a deeper mauve try ‘Whitewell Purple’ – one of the best crocuses for naturalizing in grass. Crocus vermis is a variable species with flowers from white to deep purple. It is this which has given rise to the most beautiful garden hybrids. Dutch hybrids provide the gardener with large, robust flowers in an

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’ enormous range of colours. The flowers are goblet-shaped, stand 10-13cm (4-5in) high, and come out in early spring. Plant them in rough grass or a border where, left undisturbed, they develop into dense clumps. Well-known varieties include ‘Enchantress’ (purple flowers), “Jeanne d’Arc’ (syn. ‘Joan of Arc’; white), ‘Pickwick’ (purple stripes), ‘Purpurcus Grandifiorus’ (purple-blue), ‘Queen of the Blues’ (rich violet-blue), ‘Remembrance’ (shiny, dark violet-blue), ‘Striped Beauty’ (deep mauve, striped silvery white) and ‘Vanguard’ (soft lilac-blue).

Cultivation

Plant winter- and spring-flowering crocuses as soon as the conns are available in early autumn. If space is limited, the Dutch hybrids can wait until late autumn. Plant autumn-flowering crocuses in mid to late summer. Choose a sunny or partially shaded site with well-drained soil.

Dutch hybrid crocus ‘Pickwick’

Set the corms 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep and 7.5-10cm (3-4in) apart. They look best arranged in small clumps dotted here and there in the garden.

When the flowers are over, do not deadhead. And avoid the temptation to remove the leaves – wait until they are yellow and can be pulled off easily without disturbing the corms in the soil.

Propagation: When the leaves die-down, lift the corms, remove any small cormlets and replant them. Under good conditions, C. tommasinianus and the Dutch hybrids multiply naturally.

Pests and diseases: Mice and leather jackets sometimes eat corms in the soil. Watch out for birds pecking at young flowerbuds; yellow species and varieties seem to be their favourites and are nearly always attacked first.

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