I’ve had a lot of enjoyment choosing spring crocus and putting together colour combinations for planting this fall. There are so many variations among the small crocus bulbs that bloom in shades of purple, blue, yellow and gold. Their colour palate coordinates beautifully for a cheery early spring display, creating a wonderful tapestry of colours, which I get to see come to life when the snow melts. In zone 3, where the growing season is so short, I like to start it with a big pop of crocus colour.
Since crocus need a sunny area to open their flowers, mine are planted where they get sunshine before the maple tree and lilac gets their leaves. The photo above shows a group under my lilac. The small Crocus flowers look best in larger groups to have more of an impact. There are a few hundred little Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus), backed by a few hundred larger Crocus vernus (Dutch crocus) to make a colourful display.
I have a small group of 10 white Crocus chrysanthus “Snowbunting’, that were surprise extras thrown in for free on a bulb order 3 years ago. They didn’t fit my original plan for this area, so I planted them on their own across the path, but the tiny group tends to disappear in the garden. Despite their isolation, the ‘Snowbunting’ bloom cheerfully on their own, often popping up right at the receding edge of melting snow. I’ve been meaning to give them some companions for a while, so I decided to add some more small crocus bulbs around them, and ended up planting 362 crocus in this bed, both large and small.
There are some large Crocus vernus (Dutch crocus) already planted a little ways behind the group, so I also added 122 more Crocus vernus, extending the group to touch the new planting of small crocus. The smaller crocus produce flowers first, followed by the larger Dutch crocus afterwards, giving up to 4 weeks of charming little blooms.
I arranged the Crocus packages on my floor in the combinations I wanted, with one colour leading to the next. The already established white Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snowbunting’ will be off the the left side, while to their right will be the ‘Prins Claus’ (Prince Claus), which are mostly white with some purple. Next to the ‘Prins Claus’ comes the ‘Tricolor’, which are mainly purple with some white and gold. This leads to the ‘Gipsy Girl’ on their right, which are yellow gold with small maroon purple stripes. It should make a nice progression of colours, with the most intense purple in the middle, spreading out to the lighter colours. Behind the ‘Prins Claus’ are the two toned light and dark purple ‘Whitwall Purple’, and in front are the lavender and white ‘Firefly’. The early crocus, C. sieberi, C. tommasinianus, and C. chrysanthus bloom around the same time, before C. vernus, so I grouped the early types together.
When I took the crocus out to the garden, I changed the plan a little, due to running out of space on this side of the path. The 60 ‘Gipsy Girl’ got moved to the other side of the path, extending a group that was already there. I also planted 60 more C. chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’ on the other side. It is a more delicate looking crocus with a pale butter colour that is the first to flower in my garden.
The smaller bulbs like Crocus, Scilla (squills), Puschkinia (striped squills), Muscari and Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) are easy to plant, as I just dig holes with my shovel between the perennials, and place 10 to 20 of them randomly in each hole.
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Prins Claus’ have brilliant white petals with dark purple patches on the outside of the petals. When closed they show a white rim all around each petal and purple central marks. When open, you see the bright white interior. Since this area will get a bit of shade at times, it’s nice that the colourful exterior will be visible when the petals fold up. I’m planting 40 of the corms in between some new Campanula ‘Birch Hybrid’ (a bellflower cross), visible in the picture above.
There are 40 Crocus sieberi subsp sublimus ‘Tricolor’ in the middle of the crocus display. When closed, ‘Tricolor’ have a banded pattern, with a base of yellow, a thin line of white, and a top of purple. When open the petals are purple, showing the golden yellow centre, surrounded by a white separation band.
Crocus sieberi subsp atticus ‘Firefly’ have a light purple colour with a golden middle. There are 60 ‘Firefly’ weaving between the ‘Birch Hybrid’ perennials, too.
Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple” have a two-toned effect of pale and dark purple. 60 of these are behind the ‘Tricolor’, and just in front of some 36 Crocus ‘Vanguard’, which is a large, early crocus that might flower at the same time as them.
I added 40 more Crocus chrysanthus ‘Fuscotinctus’. I have a number of ‘Fuscotinctus across the path from here. They are a medium, sunny yellow, with darker maroon stripes.
Here are the ‘Fuscotinctus” in bloom last spring. As they mature and when the sun is bright, they open all the way to goblet shape, and those petals just about touch. When the sun is not shining on them, or when it snows, they close up, displaying the snazzy looking stripes. I used to think that I wasn’t a striped flower kind of gardener, but after a long barren winter of neutral colours, these zippy little stripes are just the thing to cheer you up.
After I took this photo, I noticed that the ‘Fuscotinctus’ bulbs were too close together, so I spread them out more, and dug a second hole next to it for the overflow.
After planting all of the other crocus, I decided to add 40 more ‘Snowbunting’, since there were only 10 of them and the other groups had 40 to 60 of each type, so they would have looked out of proportion. The only space adjacent to the original group was under some Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower). It is a somewhat weedy type of bellflower that spreads to form a thick mat.
The picture above shows the 10 Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snowbunting’ that motivated me to start this new crocus planting. It was taken last spring, and you can see that the bulbs grow right through the mat of C. glomerata. Those wide green leaves are the C. glomerata, while you hardly notice the narrow straps of crocus leaves.
So rather than planting between the perennials, like I usually do when adding bulbs, I simply dug up a large clump of the bellflowers, placed the crocus corms underneath, and put the clump back on top. I think it should work fine. It definitely won’t hurt the super hardy clustered bellflowers, which would probably even flower if I left the clump on top of the cardboard on the sidewalk, and the bulbs don’t seem to mind the bellflowers’ close company, as you can see from the previous photo. Judging by the way the crocus spear-like foliage stabs through old tree leaves in spring, they should make their way through the Campanula okay. They flower before the C. glomerata gets tall and blocks the light, while the short basal leaves of the bellflower make a nice background to show off the pretty crocus flowers.
Here is a composite picture I made showing the 2 larger crocus, ‘Yellow Mammoth’ and C. chrysanthus ‘Pickwick’ from earlier in spring. I am planting the larger ‘Yellow Mammoth’ to the right of the smaller crocus, extending the group of ‘Yellow Mammoth’ that was already there. These are the last of my crocus to bloom, but overlap the flowering time of the C. vernus. I also planted some Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’, a perky little light purple flower with dark purple stripes. They will make a great combinations with the other purple and gold Crocus vernus behind.
To the back, next to the rest of the C. vernus, I planted some Crocus vernus ‘Vanguard’. This one gets the larger C. vernus flowers, but earlier on. It should overlap the time of the little crocus flowers, so I placed it just behind them. It has purple and silvery grey petals.
Here is a photo of the crocus corms, showing the little growing tip on the right. If you are digging up a mixture of true bulbs and corms, you can tell the corms because they have a sort of netted appearance on the outside, unlike bulbs that have a smoother surface to their outer tunic. Plus the bulbs are in layers, which you don’t notice as much, unless your shovel slices right through one as you’re planting perennials in fall. The corms will whither away each year, and a new one grows on top. You can see how small these C. chrysanthus corms are. The flowers are smaller than C. vernus, too, but in compensation they usually have more flowers per plant.
Another reason to plant crocus, is that they are a source of food for the early pollinators. They are often buzzing with visitors who are fun to watch.
Fall bulb planting time is one of my favourite seasons in the garden. I can’t wait to get home everyday and go plant some more bulbs. I’ve added 446 crocus in these 2 garden areas on either side of a narrow path, but I still have a number of bulbs to go in other garden beds, as well as the lawn. The majority of the combinations are small bubs, but a few include tulips. Pretty soon the fun will end, when the snow covers the ground, but for now there is still warm soil, sunny skies, bags of bulbs, and the gentle flutter of fall leaves dropping on me as I bury the treasure. In Alberta, its great to know that hardy treasure lays under the snow, ready to be discovered after the long winter.
Here are pictures of the new crocus combinations flowering the next spring.