Sunday, November 8, 2009

Season opener ... and closer

It may look like they're confused, but these crocus are blooming right on schedule in November.

It was just six months ago that I was trumpeting the arrival of spring's first crocus. Now, in November, I'm all agog over its fall-blooming cousins. Symmetry in the garden, whether through time or space, is a pleasing concept and the little crocus supplies it in a big way. How many other plants can herald the start of gardening season and announce its end as well?

To my eye, crocus are among the most graceful of flowers. They show up in spring when most of the rest of the world is still brown. And they show up in autumn, when much of the world is turning brown again. It's a perfect fit on either end of the seasonal spectrum. Most of us are so conditioned to crocus as a spring flower that seeing its familiar form in the fall is enough to turn heads. The first time I saw fall-blooming crocus was in Washington state. I was driving down a street in a tiny town near Fort Lewis when I saw a line of purple shooting up through fallen autumn leaves that were piling up against an iron fence. I had to stop the car and look -- such is the power of surprise in garden design.

I planted a few fall-blooming crocus some years back in a thicket of lingonberry and in a patch of low-growing, creeping veronica ('Waterperry blue'). They're beautiful, but really, I should have planted at least 20 times as many. Like many small bulbs, they show best when planted in large numbers.

This fall, I planted about 75 fall-blooming crocus -- some by the stairs to the deck in a bed of pussytoes and some by the reflecting pool. (I've nicknamed those by the pool as "doe crocus.") I thought I was planting purple Crocus speciosus, but now, after examining the blooms for several days, I'm wondering if the supplier mixed up the order and sent 'albus' instead. I'm not seeing any purple, and what I am seeing seems to fit the catalog description: "A pure white form of C. speciosus with pointed segments and a yellow throat." It's not a major issue -- they're still lovely and I'll simply order more of the purple fall-bloomers next year.

I planted some in the pussytoes by the deck stairs where they'll get plenty of sun and a chance to dry out in the summer.

A purple crocus pokes its head out of a patch of lingonberry. (The bronze-red plant is a hardy geranium seedling.)

A delicate close to the season.

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