Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 5, Issue 5
   October 2010
   A Fascination with Crocuses

From my childhood days growing up in Poland, I have developed a strong emotional attachment to crocuses. I can still remember the city lawns covered with these tiny beauties. The stunning show started in late February, when the Polish winters usually came to an end. As a girl, I believed there was a crocus conspiracy; I often wondered how to explain the amazing coincidence that all the crocuses bloomed for my birthday in early March.

One autumn in Canada, I enthusiastically planted more than 100 crocus corms in our garden (American zone 4, Canadian zone 5a). They were carefully arranged in color groups clustered together in a large drift. As a novice gardener, I couldn't wait to see my crocuses in bloom.

The following spring, I watched squirrels voraciously feeding on the sprouting crocuses. One particularly bold squirrel used to enjoy its snack while sitting on our fence staring at me. None of the deterrents I tried worked, so only a few survived. I cherished the survivors, but didn't plant any more bulbs for years.

Tomasini's crocus   Tomasini's crocus (Crocus tomasinianus 'Ruby Giant') is the author's favorite critter-resistant variety.
Tomasini's crocus (Crocus tomasinianus 'Ruby Giant') is one of the author's favorites.

My love affair with crocuses was rekindled when I received a dozen little corms as a housewarming gift. I planted them in our garden a few years ago in the fall. To my surprise, they all sprouted and bloomed beautifully, and I was hooked again.

The secret to my success was simple: I planted a critter-resistant variety. Unlike other crocuses, those species belonging to the group known as snow crocuses, Tomasini's crocus (Crocus tomasinianus), golden crocus (C. chrysanthus), Sieber's crocus (C. Sieberi) and the so-called Dutch giant hybrids (C. vernus), usually bloom ahead of spring and are reputed to be squirrel and mouse proof. And they really are, at least in my garden.

In particular, Tomasini's crocus successfully combines exceptional hardiness and stunning beauty. This species is an early riser and blooms before most of its cousins, including Dutch crocuses. Among several cultivars, 'Ruby Giant' is my favorite. Flowers come in traditional shades of lilac to purple, complemented nicely by orange-yellow stigmas, and occasionally have a touch of violet.

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