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"The groundflame of the crocus breaks the mould,THE CROCUS AND OTHER EARLY BULBS
Fair Spring slides hither o'er the Southern sea."
LET me begin by presenting these "ruminations," as he calls them, from the pen of the Reverend Joseph Jacob, of England, whose name is known wherever two or three daffodils or as many tulips are gathered together.." Was there ever a time," writes he, "when bulbs were not popular? Probably not. At all events, there is not much doubt about it at the present time. Every horticultural firm which considers itself at all `up' in the world considers one of its annual necessities the issuing of a bulb-list. Contrariwise, the reception and perusal of these lists are among the perennial pleasures of every one who has a garden. Bulbs are wonderfully accommodating things. I have a tortoise which we call Timmie, and for the last three months he has been fast asleep under some nice dry leaves in the cellar. Just now, with a little careful packing, he could very easily undertake a long journey.
"Bulbous plants are the rimmies' of the vegetable kingdom. When they have retired into their shells, they can be sent about so readily and so safely that if they lived to about ten times the age of Methuselah, I should not be surprised to find that, if it is really true what botanists tell about dispersion and propagation being the two things that plants worry themselves most about, then all well-brought-up plantlets would be taught, just as we teach the 'three R's' to-day, how to take on a bulbous state as an essential part of their life cycle."
With Mr. Jacob's whimsical wish I heartily agree, more particularly as I recall the few choice aubrietias by post from Ireland, the glories in delphinium from England in the same manner, all of which, when opened, were found to be exhausted by their journey.
Now, before rushing toward before leaping to our main flower, the crocus, may I pay a word of tribute to the tribe of muscari, the grape hyacinth? While these small bits of perfection in flowers, in blue flowers yes, a true blue in some forms are wonderful in color, they must, in my experience, be packed closely together in planting for any really good effect. While several flowers come from each crocus bulb set in earth, from Muscari azureum, the small and early sky-blue, I usually have but two, and the tiny things seem not to spread, to multiply, as the crocus does.
Of the other grape hyacinths, a delightful color picture is seen each May on either side of my little brick walk. The late muscari Heavenly Blue clusters below the pale-yellow lily-like heads of Tulipa retrgilexa, and below the grape hyacinth (whose strong dark-blue has a metallic quality) quantities of fine myosotis plants are blooming at the same moment.
The earliest muscari are true crocus companions azureum in dense companies, with crocus Mont Blanc (cut facing page 86) or with such a lavender as Madame Mina a most unusual color combination may be made.
Since the spring of 1912 I have felt that I must take up my pen for the crocus, to introduce it in a few of its newer and less-known varieties to those who have never grown those at all.
The desire to get "something for nothing" is quite as noticeable among the guild of amateur gardeners as among those who find joy in bargain sales. And in the crocus we have first of all a bargain. Thousands for a few dollars, hundreds for some cents. Next in cheapness to seeds they are; and have a habit, when not bothered by a nervous or too transplanting owner, of multiplying in a fashion comforting to see. In the nine years in which I have been growing the crocus on our small piece of ground, I cannot now remember having lost any except in cases where the growth of overhanging or overhungry shrubbery has eaten up the little things at its feet.
One of my first plantings before the bare east wall of brick of a then new house was of the crocus Reine Blanche, a fine white, in groups now dense, now more open, with hosts of Scilla Sibirica crowding among them, and that first glory of the tulip family, Kaufmanniana, holding outspread back of and above the little blue-and-white multitude its lilylike flowers flowers which only open to the sun. Tulipa Kaufmanniana is costly, I admit, and growing more so, but, as in the case of Darwin and May-flowering tulips, many of which are rapidly increasing in value, delays are dangerous. Therefore, buy now if possible. I must have often described it before its general color within the flower a rich cream, running into clear yellow toward the centre of the bloom; on the outside of each petal a broad band of dull reddish-rose. To myself I called it a water-lily long before I read that it had been often described as the water-lily tulip. In warm corners it has opened with me (latitude of Boston) as early as March 25, though its usual flowering time in our climate is mid-April.
Among the florists' varieties of crocus, the one with true magnificence of form and color is Crocus purpureus, var. grandiflorus. Magnificent is a large adjective to apply to a low-growing flower; ordinarily one should reserve it for the altheas, or the finer gladioli, sensational in their beauty. But it is a fact that people unaccustomed to the sight of so large and fine a crocus as this can sometimes not be persuaded that it is a crocus; therefore, the word may be permitted. And when close-growing numbers of this particular beauty are near other close colonies of Scilla Sibirica, there is then a spring effect worth going far to see. Maximilian, a clear light-lavender, is a favorite with me. Madame Mina, white with rich lavender stripes the length of its fine petals, is a beauteous flower; and Reine Blanche, of which mention has just been made, one of the loveliest imaginable whites. Mont Blanc, white, is also very fine. In these whites, and in Madame Mina as well, the rich orange stigma gives a very glowing effect as one looks down into the crocus cup. As for the yellow crocuses, I never look at them if I can help it! I have a few remnants of them from misguided purchases of years gone by, but I am always meaning to clear them out and always forgetting to do it till their small squat flowers are gone and the track of the position of the bulbs is lost. This antipathy to the yellow florists' crocus, which, let me add, does not extend in my case to the yellow of the species crocus, may be the prejudice of ignorance, for of varieties other than Cloth of Gold and Large Yellow I know nothing. In these the yellow is the crude yellow of the dandelion (a flower I hate with all my might)! Mr. E. A. Bowles, of Waltham Cross, England, tells us that the more delicate and subtle tones of yellow are to be found in several varieties of crocus species; it is to these that I plan to turn my attention with great ardor another season.
Few of these species crocus do I already know in my own borders only half a dozen and as I believe readers will rejoice as I have done in some of Mr. Bowles's enthusiastic comments on or descriptions of these flowers, I offer no apology for quoting from him, as I mention the flowers of which he knows so much, through years of collecting, growing, and study.
Now, in spite of my aversion to the large yellow florists' crocus, I do like Crocus susianus, which is one of the bright-yellows before mentioned (Color chart, Cadmium yellow, No. 1). But Crocus susianus, blooming as early as April 9, planted very thickly, gave in my border the interesting impression of a large-flowering yellow Phlox subulata practically no green leaf visible below the masses of bloom. Five to seven flowers appear in small, tight bunches from one bulb; and back of and among this flowering mass of yellow I had colonies of the white crocus Mont Blanc. Let me commend this very simple and unstudied arrangement. C. susianus is much dwarfer than Mont Blanc, therefore have it mainly to the front.
Crocus Sieberi I call a warm pinkish-lavender (Color chart, Violet mauve, No. 1). Six to eight flowers come from a bulb, and the bright-orange stigmata within give a glowing centre to the little flower. This is very small and low. Mr. Bowles calls it a "crocus for every garden" and adds that it "seeds freely and soon spreads in any sunny border."
"Crocus Korolkowi," to quote Mr. Bowles again, "from the far East, has two good points it flowers early and is of a peculiarly brilliant form of yellow." This little crocus I have grown for a few years myself, and it always surprises me by appearing practically with the snowdrop.
Crocus biflorus, the "Scotch crocus," is white, with pencillings of grayish mauve on its three outer petals. The markings are exquisite and the early blooming of this crocus marks it as a specially necessary one.
My prime favorite among all these species crocus is Crocus Tommasinianus. It is tall, slender, delicate, with narrow, pointed petals, of a lovely lavender, slightly bluer than Sieberi. An orange pistil within it is like a vivid star. It has great height of stem, and tapering form of flower. It is the one which most delights me as a novice in crocus-collecting; and last spring, in a limited space where the ground runs up into a rather steepish slope for a few feet, which slope is covered by a thick group of the little tree known as the garland thorn, there beneath the small tree stems I hope to see next spring hundreds of little candles, lavender candles of Crocus Tommasinianus running up the tiny hillside, and racing along beside them a company of Galanthus Elwesii, their companions in time of bloom. "I have found," writes Mr. Bowles, "C. Tommasinianus so far to prove the most satisfactory of the wild species for spreading and holding its own when planted in grass."
Several beautiful new seedling crocuses have come within a few years from Holland May and Dorothea the latter a "soft, pale lavender-mauve," May "a beautiful white of fine form." These two I have; not, however, Kathleen Par-low, said to be an extra-fine white, with wonderful orange anthers, nor Distinction, the nearest approach to a pink color in crocus.
The beauty of tulip Kaufmanniana was never, I fancy, better set forth in a photograph than in that which is shown on page 98. To the kindness of Mr. Bowles himself I owe this picture of perfect spring loveliness, and to the kindness of the distinguished Scottish amateur Mr. S. Arnott the picture of the blue grape hyacinth, Hyacinthus lineatus (mums. This flowered in Mr. Arnott's garden in February, 1912, and is, I believe, a rare variety.
To my eyes it is so charming a picture of the type that its inclusion here will surely give pleasure to those to whom these "small and early" things are objects of interest.
HYACINTHUS LINEATUS, Var. AZUREUS