The first flowers of spring poke through in winter
In my garden, spring began the last week of February. The snow crocuses were blooming! They are hardly bigger than a minute, 2 to 8 inches tall, their impact out of all proportion to their size. Softest cream to buttercup yellow, bronze-yellow to orange-gold, ice-white to palest pastel blue, lavender to rich purple and every shade and hue in between. They are all enchanting. Don’t count on them to cheer you up on a gloomy day, though, because like the tulips that bracket the other end of the spring bulb parade, they close up when the sun isn’t shining on them. Some snow crocuses look as if the earth itself is blooming, with stemless flowers scarcely clearing the soil preceding the leaves. Others send up their glass-like foliage in advance, while some emerge in tandem. Some species have blooms shaped like perfectly proportioned Lilliputian goblets, some are cup-shaped and some open like stars. Often they are subtly striped, veined, tinged or shaded. They may have stamens and pistils more showy than the blooms. You have to get down close to fully appreciate them.My first crocuses appear along the street, between a boulder retaining wall and a sidewalk, which were installed by the town of Basalt during some public works project or other (thank you!), and technically belong to it, not to me. However, since I have been planting and tending this ribbon of dirt for years without being evicted, I carry on as though it were mine. It’s a stingy border, more than 100 feet long but zero to about 12 inches wide. Summer sun bakes it, winter cold freezes it. When the walk is cleared, bits of soil and plants get scraped up with the snow. Bicycles and strollers run over it, feet trample it, deer graze on it, hungry rodents root around in it. Sounds like the perfect place for a row of dainty crocuses, doesn’t it?One fall I had the bright idea of systematically comparing dozens of species of crocuses and extravagantly ordered several of every variety my catalogs offered. I made nifty color-coded labels with Popsicle sticks left over from some long-abandoned crafts project. The bulbs arrived on time, but by the time I got around to planting them, the mix of dirt and gravel was frozen. The rule of thumb for planting bulbs is three times three: Using your bulb as the unit of measurement, you plant three units deep and space three units apart. In my experience, it depends on whose thumb is doing the planting and how hard it is to dig . I gouged holes with my digger as best I could and stuffed the wizened things in every which way. Since the corms were about the size of a desiccated cherry, I managed to bury most of them. Laboriously I wedged in the tidy labels, congratulating myself on my cleverness. When I went out a few days later to admire them, they were nowhere to be found. Every single label had disappeared! All or them! The great crocus label mystery!That January my crocus “border” looked so battered and bedraggled, I doubted anything would come up. In early March, to my astonishment, beautiful flowers poked through the brown spent leaves and clotted debris of winter. Identification was unnecessary because almost every corm I planted grew. Although they multiply generously, I purchase more of them every year to fill any gaps that appear and expand the planting. It seems the harsh conditions were just what they prefer!It’s the first week of May now, and the Roaring Fork Valley is an extravaganza of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips. The task of making new corms for the next year is almost complete and the masses of crocus leaves are drying up. Were they blooming now, the little snow crocuses would garner scarcely a glance. But In the midst of winter’s grungy residue, when the longing for spring was most intense, they were thrilling. Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie. She is happy when other people get excited about the first crocus, too. She’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
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