Goblet of desire

Crocuses should flower well before more heralded spring bloomers such as daffodils and tulips If planted at the right time.

Crocuses should flower well before more heralded spring bloomers such as daffodils and tulips If planted at the right time.

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Another job done and all’s well with the world as December approaches. While most people are preparing for Christmas and all the trials and tribulation which that entails, quite a lot are looking farther ahead – that’s why they’ve spent the past few weeks getting ready for spring.

The task of planting early flowering bulbs should be done by now, although it’s sometimes possible to fill a few pots as late as early December and still have blooms appearing by the end of March. But I wouldn’t recommend it; best to plant bulbs at the best possible time to suit them.

Some bulbs are more loved than others. The bigger, the brighter, the better as far as most people are concerned. And while the smaller snowdrop is regarded fondly as the harbinger of spring, it’s normally the daffodils and tulips that steal the show.

But what about the versatile and reliable crocus? It can’t help being small, and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in shape and colour. It’s also capable of flowering well before many of the more grandiose varieties of spring bloomers.

And before you argue that crocuses come in just white, yellow and purple, take a look at the true colours of this goblet-shaped gem. They come in a huge variety of shades – from pale to vibrant, many with contrasting centres or eye-catching stamens. Pink, purple, violet, lemon, yellow, pure white... there are so many.

Most crocuses are also scented, producing faint but fascinating fragrances to perfume the cold winter air. Plant them in a rock garden or create drifts beneath trees and shrubs; naturalise them in grassland or fill pots and containers with a mixture of crocuses and other dwarf spring bulbs to get a succession of colour and shape from January till April.

As with the majority of spring-flowering bulbs, crocuses appreciate a spring feed once their flowers have faded. And don’t remove their foliage until it has died down naturally – the underground bulbs extract goodness from the dying leaves.

For some reason, house sparrows seem to delight in pecking furiously at the petals of yellow crocuses, but apart from that, these delightful little flowers tend to be able to withstand everything the world can throw at them.

Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron or naked lady, is a flower that resembles the true crocuses, but blooms in autumn. The flowers appear after the leaves have died back.

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