Saffron and bulbs in an English garden

Jim McKenney
Tue, 01 Nov 2005 17:48:09 PST
I think I have finally taken off my saffron tinted glasses and cleared my
saffron besotted mind and am ready to look around and see what else is
happening in the world. Don't be fooled by the subject line.

On October 31st John Grimshaw posted a nice bouquet of comments on events in
his garden - if you have not yet read this, take a look. I was particularly
intrigued by his mention of a form of Crocus medius with the scent of
violets. This is a nice coincidence because I have just added a fat dozen
forms of Viola odorata (including several so-called Parma violets) to the
garden (the Parma types will be in a cold frame). And there are other forms
of Viola odorata blooming here in the Washington, D.C. area now. I've never
noticed a violet scent in Crocus medius, and I'm usually pretty well aware
of scents. 

John also mentions the large flowered newly collected forms of this species.
I happened to be browsing the SRGC site recently and saw some of these.
These newly collected large-flowered forms answer a question which must have
been in the minds of anyone who has seen both the typical commercial form of
Crocus medius (and nothing else in the Crocus medius line) and also had seen
the reproduction in Mathew's The Crocus of Chazal's 1832 plate of Crocus
medius: this old illustration seems to show a much better and much-to-be
desired form of Crocus medius.

Please take good care of those, John, and maybe you will have some extras to
toss to the crowds in the future.

Huge thanks to Brian Mathew for including those reproductions of old plates
in his The Crocus.  

I can't match your list from my own garden, but the Acis/Leucojum were
blooming here a few weeks ago. Cyclamen now blooming here in the DC area
include C. hederifolium and C. coum fatrense. The latter was new to me this
year: it's in a friend's garden and at first glance I would not have made it
a form of C. coum. The friend is originally from Czechoslovakia, so I'm not
going to challenge his identification. Another friend has wonderfully
floriferous (and fragrant) old plants of Cyclamen hederifolium thick with
tightly packed flowers in white and rose. 

Your crocus seem much earlier than mine. For instance, the three forms of
Crocus serotinus growing here have yet to bloom, and C. laevigatus has never
bloomed here this early. I have yet to grow C. capsicus, nor do I have
Cambessedes' crocus. 

Colchicum baytopiorum is still in bloom here. This I had from Jane McGary
and it is a very ornamental form with broad, substantial tepals. Sternbergia
are still in full bloom here - I noticed S. lutea and S. greuteri in bloom
yesterday, and S. sicula is on the way. Galanthus reginae-olgae has yet to
appear here. Jane is well represented in my garden!

I envy your Nerine, and it seems doubtful that there will ever come a time
when I write from here "Most bulbous colour came from nerines" (and I don't
mean that I will spell color colour). A big pot thick with foliage of N.
bowdenii shows not one scape; a sarniensis type which bloomed last year is
evidently not going to bloom this year; but a newly received 'Corusca Major'
is glorious. Tonight I had the bright idea of photographing this flower
under incandescent light in order to get a photo for the wiki illustrating
the "diamond-dusted" effect. I thought I would be very smart and announce it
with the subject line "Coruscation". It's not to be: the diamond-dusted
effect has escaped my camera. I just don't see it in the digital images. Any
camera buffs out there with an idea why?

Mary Sue said she would  send some Nerine seed of summer growing species if
I would get off my saffron jag - just kidding, she has already sent the
seeds. She thinks that these will prove to be a better choice in our

Those Israeli Cyclamen persicum sound nice - tell us more. I think it was in
one of the books of Gerald Durrell that I read a description of either Corfu
or Crete in the spring with an abundance of Cyclamen persicum. It's a
strange world: for the life of me I can't understand why the elegant,
deliciously fragrant wild forms of Cyclamen persicum have been supplanted by
those scentless, plasticized giants. Are those Israeli Cyclamen persicum
suited to garden culture or do they require the protection of an alpine
house? Is the autumnal bloom usual, or do they usually bloom in late winter?

Moraea is a genus I have yet to grow. Moraea were first grown here in
eastern North America almost two hundred years ago: Thomas Jefferson
mentions them in his garden diaries. When I was a child, the Moraea with
white flowers with a peacock-blue blotch was commonly advertised in
catalogs. I remember this as Moraea pavonia, but I think the name has been
changed.  Moraea experts, which one is that, M. neopavonia? 

As you no doubt know, alpine houses are almost non-existent here in the
middle Atlantic states. Our climate makes them more trouble than they are
worth. One of the wonderful things about our winters is the brilliant
sunshine, brilliant sunshine which turns the un-attended alpine house into
an oven. The other thing about our winters, cold much more severe and
persistent that anything experienced much to the north in coastal western
Europe, makes heaters necessary. The unheated alpine house is a familiar
amenity in the UK; the unheated alpine house here is an ice house.

Some photos or commentary from you on the Wisley Cyclamen display this year
might get some embers glowing on this side of the pond, too. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where John and Angelo are not
the only ones enjoying a little spring.  

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