Exhausting the crocus

I know, I talked about crocuses two posts ago, but there’s not much happening in the garden this time of year.  And when these small bulbs do happen, you’ve really got to celebrate them.

Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

My Dutch crocus have had a pretty hard time of it, as I explained elsewhere, but despite that, they’re doing OK.  (Of course one can’t stop the brain leaping to – ‘yeah, but imagine how many more you’d have had if you’d managed to etc etc’.  Gardening nurtures optimism (or pre-supposes it), giving me the power to delete those voices).

They’ve been in long enough now – perhaps five years – to start to see a clear difference in performance between the three different sorts that usually make up such a mix.

The previously discussed ‘Pickwick’ has remained a solitary bulb in every case.

The same for the white ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (above)

But the straight purple – I don’t know that it has a varietal name – has in every case clumped up.  The best of these clumps has produced about eight flowers.  There’s clearly no self-sowing going on, which is hardly a surprise, given the stripping of the flowers by the cockies.  And they’re hardly been in long enough, come to think of it.

Any ideas as to why?  Anyone shared this experience?

I know, when I go to buy more, which one I’ll be buying!


  1. Hi Michael,

    All these are commercial clones and the reason they are is that they perform. So its something you are doing that’s holding them back. Some thoughts are: Are they fertilized correctly or enough, are they planted in the best site, are they planted into a favourable soil, is there too much competition from grass, etc. once the flowers finish, are the leaves removed (from mowing) too early, are they lifted an reset occasionally?

    Cheers, Marcus

    1. Marcus. They’re not fertilized at all (or I’m afraid the grasses would go mental), they’re not planted in the best site, they’re probably not in favourable soil, there would certainly be too much competition from grasses, they’re never lifted and reset. How many wrong things is that?
      It’s just curious that, given those circumstances, two forms are just treading water, and the other is sprinting. Obviously just a marginal difference in tolerances..

    2. Interesting Michael, I personally have found “Pickwick” the stayer in relatively neglected situations. So the levels of tolerance vary according to circumstances. Jeanne D’Arc seems to do better in lighter soils. Have you tried the tommasinianus hybrids like “Yalta”, “Vanguard” or “Ruby Giant”? Cheers, Marcus

    3. That’s just what I’d expect – that different clones have different competitive advantages in different conditions. I haven’t tried any of the toms you suggest, but I do have C. tommasinianus ‘Pictus’ and a white one, both of which are holding their own, but no more (though its probably too soon to expect anything self-sown). All that aside, I find the tommasinianus forms just a little too modest in grass, until there’s hundreds of them. Just a few of the Dutch hybrids can make something of an impact, but you need a lot more tommasinianus to be worth looking at.

    4. Hi Michael,

      Check out the ones I suggested. These are crosses between vernus and tommasinianus which have the heft of the former and the fecundity of the latter. Some gardeners give these grass dwellers a better chance by lightly mulching over them in the early winter to prevent too much grass growth too early. If one is not averse to chemicals – a pre-emergent herbicide will do the same trick.
      Cheers, Marcus

    5. PS The point I am labouring to make here is:

      These plants originate from climates where snow is covering the ground all the winter. This has the effect of heavily checking grass growth (competition), providing optimum water to the roots and enabling nutrient percolation at a critical growth point. Gardeners should attempt to mimic these conditions. Its not very helpful just to plant them and forget about the extra help.

      I fear I may have said too much already on this topic so I will take my leave!

    6. I get your point entirely, Marcus. But I’m only interested in growing them so as to serve the bigger picture. That means they either grow in the prevailing conditions or don’t grow at all. This, I’m all to aware, is not the mind or heart of a passionate collector

  2. I’ve discovered that the Swamp Wallaby, who lives in next door’s garden, loves our crocuses and freesias. We knew about the freesias from last year and I was resigned to losing those – as long as he didn’t eat more precious things. Fortunately he’s only eaten the old Dutch yellow crocuses and I can live with that. The crocuses from Marcus were planted in a more secluded spot under a Banksia and two Grevilleas – the C. tommasiniansis are just beautiful and I was so delighted to see the little ‘Dorothy’ show her pretty yellow head. I do hope ours clump up! The border was well fertilised with cow manure before we planted. What astonished me was the speed with which the C. goulimyi and C. kotschyanus flowered in autumn – within three weeks of planting – and they were stunning.

    1. OK, I get that in a horticultural equivalent of Sophie’s Choice, I’d let the Dutch crocus go also. But I’ve gotta say, you’re displaying exemplary levels of tolerance under the circs.

  3. If I make a comment about autumn crocus? The reason why these things seem to have almost instantaneous flowers is because the little flower bud that lies nestled inside the corm is just waiting for the right humidity and day length signals to leap into action. No root growth and in most case no leaf growth is required. This is because they have evolved in places where water is scarce and usually too unreliable in spring to enable the plants to produce a crop of seed so they choose autumn and winter as the safest bet. And they have to be quick to take advantage of the conditions. Cheers, Marcus

    1. Thanks for that Marcus. Now please, please get on and start your own blog so we can access info/wisdom like this on a daily basis. (meanwhile, I’m more than happy to be the privileged vector)

  4. Hi Michael,

    My advice is not for growing collectibles. It is about getting the most out of your garden investment. You wouldn’t, for example, plant hellebores in a desert or not seriously contemplate siting and preparation prior to planting a major tree or shrub. So why not do the same for your crocus or any bulb for that matter? You originally asked for ideas as to why you were getting differential performance and how to improve it . I thought that I had given sound advice.

    Cheers, Marcus

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