Crocus: February’s Favourite Bulb

The mild weather continues, the bees are out, and we’re even beginning to be blessed with the odd glimpse of sunshine – it’s safe to say we’re finally on the cusp of a bright new season. To my mind, one early-flowering plant in particular act as the heralds of spring: Crocus. Seeing their stunning bold colours littering turf across the gardens signifies the beginning of the end of those harsh, dreary, winter months. They fill the gap between Snowdrops and Daffodils and come in a fantastic colour range that contrasts really well with the white and golden hues of the aforementioned.

Purple crocus flowering in the garden next to Aberglasney's yellow grade II listed mansion
Crocus vanguard flowering in the Cloister Gardens

Crocus steal the show at Aberglasney in early spring before the Daffodils arrive and, this year in particular, the new plantings are looking really good. Crocus are very easy to grow, relatively cheap to buy, have a multitude of uses in the garden, and can be grown in borders, tubs, rock gardens, under trees, or even in grass. They come in a superb variety of colour and there are spring and autumn flowering types available – both are equally good.

Lilac Crocus vanguard flowering in the Cloister Garden
Crocus ‘Vanguard’ in the Cloisters

Care and Planting Tips

Personally, I think using them in grass is the most effective way to grow them as they add a special interest to a lawn without causing any problems with mowing. They’ve a strong advantage over other bulbs in that they have a short growing season and flower very early. In the earlier parts of the season grass grows slowly, so you won’t have to wait too long for the Crocus tops to die down before you can mow your lawns again. A short gap allows you to get the lawn back to its best quickly, and there’s no need to wait around for tatty old leaves to die down. I find growing Crocus in lawns works especially well under trees as the grass grows even slower, allowing you to have at least two seasons of interest in that part of the garden: one for the Crocus and another for the tree.

The trick to growing them in grass is to give them a nice sunny spot and to resist mowing until they’ve died back and seeded. A high cut for the first few mows will also avoid collecting up the seeds that’ll become future generations of flower.

A clutch of purple Crocus flowering in grass
Crocus tomasinianus flowering in grass

Crocus also do well in rock gardens and small borders as they’re over early in the season giving way for something else to take their place. They’ve been used in tubs as late winter interest for many years. The great thing about this is their reliability in all but the very coldest winters, and even then they’ll just flower a little later than usual.

Lilac coloured Crocus flowers poking through the grass in Aberglasney's Cloister Garden
Crocus ‘Vanguard’ flowering in Aberglasney’s Cloister Garden

Another very important quality is that bees and other pollinators absolutely love them – especially at this early stage in the season when other flowers are generally in short supply.

Crocus flowers having its pollen harvested by a bee
A bee harvesting pollen from Crocus at Aberglasney

Variety Recommendations

Crocus tomasinianus ‘Barrs Purple’

These are doing really well at Aberglasney currently. There’s two drifts with a total of five thousand bulbs in that that’re looking excellent. They’re a lavender/purple colour and stand out wonderfully against grass, especially in the late afternoon with low sunlight on them.

Lilac Crocus tomasinianus flowering in grass with a bee on its petals
Crocus tomasinianus being visited by a friendly pollinator in the late afternoon sunshine

Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’

A more striking variety that look great in rock gardens are Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’ which is a reddish-purple colour and quite tall. They look particularly brilliant next to early flowering Narcissi or Cyclamen.

Purple crocus in flower
Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’

Crocus flavus

Another firm favourite of mine. They’re bright yellow with slender petals that look great even when there’s no sunshine.

Crocus vernus ‘Vanguard’

These are some of the most impressive. They’re a large, flowered type’ which has glorious striped lilac flowers and is pretty easy to establish. We’ve grown it in their thousands in our Cloister Garden for many years now.

Purple crocus flowering in Aberglasney's Cloister Garden with parapet walk in the background
Crocus ‘Vanguard’ flowering in the Cloister Garden

Summary

Overall, there’s a wide choice of Crocus available and they’re relatively cheap making it easier to add to the display in future to keep it looking fresh. If you’re growing wild types then it’s often a good idea to add some seed-grown bulbs too as there will help them naturalise and set seed a little better. That said, with good management and the right spot, they’ll settle in really well and create a fantastic display that’s guaranteed to brighten up winter’s last stand.

Purple Crocus and yellow Primrose in bloom together
Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’ and Primrose

Tips for the Week:

  1. Start weeding: they’re out in force really early!
  2. Plant up Dahlia and keep them in a glass house (don’t soak them after potting as this can increase the chances of rot)
  3. Cut back evergreen ground cover like Epimedium to allow young foliage to get going and show off flowers
  4. Sow early vegetables
  5. Hellebores can have their old leaves cut back to show off flowers
  6. Force Rhubarb
  7. Take hard wood cuttings (its often worth trying something different, plants can be very surprising)

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