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A Hillside of Spring Flowers

April 28, 2017

hillside of crocus bloomsAs I create the new front garden for my house (a large, multi-year landscaping project), I have been trying to design for an extended garden season. To that end, after I finished planting shrubs and perennials on the large slope by my driveway in late summer (see The Side Slope: Mission Accomplished), I ordered more than 300 crocus bulbs to tuck in among the perennials. My goals were to have early spring growth to help hold the sandy soil in place on the hillside and (most importantly) to have flowers to enjoy while waiting for perennials to emerge in the spring.

I ordered my bulbs from Fedco, a Maine coop specializing in seeds and plants for our cold climate. I chose three types of crocus bulbs from their catalog: 200 bulbs of Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’, 100 bulbs of a species crocus mix (mostly Crocus chrysanthus, combined with some other small crocus varieties), and 50 bulbs of the jumbo Crocus vernus variety ‘Pickwick.’ About half the ‘Pickwick’ bulbs went at the top of the side slope, near the walkway to the front door; the other half went in by the foundation near both the front and back doors. I planted my crocus bulbs in late October, putting five in each hole. (I should note that digging holes for planting is an easy task for those of us with sandy soil). I followed Fedco’s advice to sprinkle ground cloves on top of the planting holes to deter rodents (chipmunks, squirrels, voles, mice) from sniffing out, digging up and eating the bulbs.

pickwick in bloomI have been delighted with the results. The ground cloves were a success, since all 70 clumps of bulbs have emerged. The first flower came in late March on a clump of ‘Pickwick’ planted in a protected spot by the foundation near the south corner of the house. (To understand what a big deal it is to have flowers in my Maine garden in March, you need to know that most spring ephemeral wildflowers don’t bloom here until late April or early-mid May.) In early April, clumps of crocus foliage began to emerge from beneath the melting snow on the side slope hillside. By mid-April, these had begun to flower. Each day since has brought more crocus flowers blooming on this hillside, and there are still a few clumps that have not yet begun to bloom. This means that my hillside display of spring flowers will last well into May. By the time the crocus blooms have finished, perennial foliage will have grown up around them and the floral display of summer will begin.

Ruby Giant2 I have very much enjoyed the showy striped blooms of Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick,’ but I am also charmed by the more delicate flowers of Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant.’ My favorites, however, have turned out to be the mixed species flowers. I love their many combinations of purple, white, blue, and soft yellow blooms.
crocus vernus mix2 crocus vernus mix1 crocus vernus mix3
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26 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2017 9:22 pm

    The softer yellows are definitely my favourites! (With the stripy ones a close second.)

    My own garden bears the hallmark of when it was created in the 1960’s; not much was available then, so I have orange and purple crocus – which is also nice, of course.

    • May 7, 2017 5:27 pm

      Soren, I had planted yellow crocuses once before, about 10 years ago, and they were a very brassy gold; I was pleasantly surprised by the soft yellow of these. I wouldn’t want just soft yellows, because I like strong colors at this time of year after all that winter white; but these blend beautifully with the other colors.

      • May 8, 2017 5:07 pm

        The classic colours of orange and purple-blue crocuses are just… Well, it’s a violent contrast! The softer colours are pretty on their own, but also just brilliant for mediating between the brighter hues. I want light and brightness in spring flowers, but ideally nothing that hurts my eyes…

        (The golden-orange crocuses can look spectacular on their own; it’s just the contrast with their complementary colour that I struggle with.)

  2. April 28, 2017 10:26 pm

    That’s a lovely sow of crocus, Jean, and blooming at a time that only northern gardeners like us can appreciate. I hope the crocus return next year.

    • May 7, 2017 5:28 pm

      Pat, I’m already planning to sprinkle my hillside with ground cloves again this fall, to disrupt the rodents’ ability to sniff out and eat the crocus bulbs.

  3. April 28, 2017 10:30 pm

    Hi Jean,
    Your crocuses are lovely, I like the white, blue and soft yellow blooms.
    I’m excited to see the hillside full of blooming crocuses.:)

    We’ve never tried planting crocus, are they easy to grow?

    • May 7, 2017 5:31 pm

      Rachel, It seems to be unanimous that the white/blue/soft yellow mix are favorites. I suppose whether or not crocuses are easy to grow depends on your growing conditions. I would rate them as similar to daffodils; if daffodils are easy for you, then crocuses would probably also be easy.

  4. April 29, 2017 7:53 pm

    Ground cloves! That’s the first time I’ve heard that tip. I wonder if that would put off raccoons and skunks? Your crocus are lovely! I’ve always loved thoese flowers but the bulbs are very short-lived here. I expect we just don’t get cold enough during the winter months to keep them happy.

    • May 7, 2017 5:33 pm

      Kris, It was the first time I had heard this tip, too, and I’m really impressed with how well it worked. I’m already planning to sprinkle the hillside with cloves again next fall. I guess whether it would work for raccoons and skunks would depend on how much they rely on their sense of smell to suss out food sources. It’s worth a try.

  5. April 30, 2017 3:14 am

    What a good idea the ground cloves are! And also – the fact that you have planted the crocus corms in clumps – I must try that! My tiny crocus lawn is a great joy in February/March. Slightly irritating at the moment, because I have to wait a bit before I can cut the grass. Lovely bank Jean – and thanks for sharing your tips and the pictures of the results.

    • May 7, 2017 5:35 pm

      Cathy, The first time I ever planted bulbs (tulips), I lined them up in rows like a regiment of soldiers 😐 It took me a while to learn to plant in clumps. With bulbs, planting in clumps has the added advantage that you don’t need to dig as many holes.

      • May 8, 2017 5:11 am

        So true! I never plant in lines, but I never thought of the clumps!

  6. April 30, 2017 2:32 pm

    Hello Jean, it’s fantastic that we both did an autumn bulb planting of 300 crocus bulbs of three different types – snap! I like the mixed species the best. I hope both our plantings of crocus grow and spread over the years to fully cover the respective borders they’re planted in!

    • May 7, 2017 5:37 pm

      Sunil, I didn’t realize that you had done a crocus planting, too. What a lovely bit of gardening synchronicity. I agree that the mixed species are the best; if I had known, I would have planted more of those and fewer Ruby Giant.

  7. debsgarden permalink
    April 30, 2017 11:13 pm

    How lovely! I really like the purple, white, blue and yellow combination. Imagine what your hillside will look like when these 300 start multiplying!

    • May 7, 2017 5:39 pm

      Deb, I hope your vision of these crocuses multiplying pans out. In the past, my bulb plantings have tended more to peter out (especially the small ones that the rodents love). We’ll see if the cloves reduce that problem.

  8. May 1, 2017 3:52 pm

    Another FEDCO fan! I always want one of each. Your hillside planting sounds gorgeous!

  9. May 1, 2017 10:42 pm

    Glad to hear you’re seeing some spring color too. You can’t go wrong with crocus and you surely can’t have too many!
    I also love the mixed species. At first I thought they’d look like too much of a hodgepodge mess but once they started opening I also decided they were my favorites.

    • May 7, 2017 5:44 pm

      Bittster, That exactly captures my attitude shift about the mixed species crocus — I only got 100 because I worried they’d look like a hodgepodge, but instead they’re much lovelier than I ever imagined. The crocus are all done now and I’m waiting not-very-patiently for spring perennials to begin blooming.

  10. May 4, 2017 8:25 am

    How beautifully your new garden is growing. We are planting a new garden, too. Designing is Not as easy and one expects/hopes.

    • May 7, 2017 7:41 pm

      Pat, I’m now beginning year 3 of my 5-year new front garden project. At this point, I have the shapes of the plantings all laid out (the hard part of design for me), and I just have to prepare the soil (a big project on my glacial sand) and choose plants. I worry less about plant choices than about the bones of the design; the plants can be more easily changed if they don’t work out.

  11. May 5, 2017 2:01 pm

    The species crocuses are lovely! This was my first year to try them. Crocuses seem to me like a “minor” bulb most of the year, but they sure are important in early spring! I hope to plant more this fall!

    • May 7, 2017 7:42 pm

      Yes, Crocus bulbs are the difference between having blooms in March and not having my first blooms until May. So satisfying to have flowers as soon as the snow melts.

  12. May 5, 2017 4:46 pm

    It must be SO exciting to see the leaves coming thru the snow!
    I miss crocus from Swiss walking in the forest days.

    • May 7, 2017 7:44 pm

      Diana, Seeing greenery coming up through the snow kept me going while I waited not-very-patiently for it to melt. The last of the snow melted about a week ago and the plants are now growing by leaps and bounds.

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