Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The other autumn crocus

The pleasure one derives from one's garden is often lopsided: I can look calmly over a vista with hundreds of showy mounds and mats in the border or rock garden, but when Crocus banaticus (above) produces a single lonely flower, I get really excited. I have grown it several years so far, and keep hoping to see signs that it really does spread and propagate freely as the books promise. It is a rare denizen of eastern Europe where dozens of distinct color forms including white and deep violet have been selected. What a pleasure it must be to tread the Danubian forests where this is said to grow by the million. I am sure that would be thrilling, but so too is seeing this fluted blossom with its iris like form (hinting broadly as to the family affiliation)...

I have grown Crocus nudiflorus for nearly three decades. It would appear and reappear every few years in the Rock Alpine Garden, but my frequent planting and replanting there probably led to its demise. A few years ago Jane McGary provided me with several corms and these seem to be happy in their new home: no sign yet of their sending out runners and proliferating. I recall seeing a picture of a moist meadow in the Pyrenees once with thousands of these goblets. A half dozen in my rock garden are every bit as delightful to my eyes. Its rich violet-blue color is a sight for sore eyes in the autumn: it has been sending up fresh flowers for most of the last month with no end in sight despite light frosts. Don't you love the way the stigma casts a shadow both inside and outside the floral segments?

Denver Botanic Gardens has impressive stands of Crocus speciosus, C. goulimyi and C. pulchellus this time of year: they have proliferated there over the decades, and have inspired a lot of home owners to incorporate these indispensible autumn flowers into their gardens. Unlike most of the larger Colchicums, their grassy foliage is not much of a nuisance when it emerges in the spring. And their luminous flowers light up the fall. A half dozen other species are gradually acclimating to this or that corner in my garden, but thus far, these two distinctive species provide me with pleasure utterly out of scale with their diminutive size. Speaking of diminutive, the tiny cranesbill at the base of C. nudiflorus came to me from Mary Hegedus as Geranium aff. nanum: know anything about that? It is cuter than the proverbial button! Aaaah. With little treasures springing up around me through the year, life is very sweet!

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