Stillwater News Press

Garden

February 4, 2012

In the Garden 02-05-12

Many of you may have noticed last summer’s extreme heat sending trees, shrubs and flowers into dormancy.

I knew the physiological functions of the plants had ceased for the most part as flora struggled to stay alive, but did not see the full picture until I saw Bradford pears, lilacs and even my crocus blooming in October. I guess plants have one agenda, regardless of the season; when coming out of dormancy, bloom.

When I think of early flowering bulbs, crocuses are inevitably the first flower to come to mind — they bloom so early in fact, they are often pictured surrounded by melting snow. Whether I get to see a repeat performance from those that jumped the gun remains to be seen.

Crocus vernus (most garden varieties are of this species) is native to southern Europe, Asia and the Middle East; no known species hail from the Americas. Coming from the cradle of civilization, this bulb has been acknowledged in art and literature for thousands of years. Saffron, pollen from the stigmata of Crocus sativus, was and is an important commodity in many parts of the world.

Mythology cloaks crocus with a common theme of lost love and tragedy manifesting in flower form, but crocus bears another account concerning Valentine, a Christian physician of the third century, jailed for his religious beliefs. Valentine treated, befriended and loved the blind daughter of a jailer. Walking on pleasant days, they would pluck crocuses from the field to take to her father.

Being prepared for execution on Feb. 14, Valentine wrote a note to his beloved, adding a pressed crocus blossom to the message. When the girl opened the card, the flower fell out and miraculously her sight was restored. (This Valentine is only one of three men from which our modern celebrations of Feb. 14 may stem.)

While writers like Homer, Emily Bronte and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have honored this small, open-cupped flower in timeless verse, gardeners like you and me honor it by including it in our plantings. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-8, crocus is generally planted in fall. It is wonderful for naturalizing, but foliage should be allowed to naturally yellow (a six-week process) before cutting or mowing plantings.

In the language of flowers, crocus signifies the gladness of youth, mirth and hope; is that not how gardeners feel in spring? If you are a gardener and are not feeling the excitement of another season about to unfold, maybe you need to plant some crocus.

LeeAnn Barton, Stillwater, can be emailed at leeannbarton@sbcglobal.net.

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