Well, here I go again. This is the third year I’ve complained about the crocuses being late, and I’m not alone. My neighbours and friends, including a few Twitter buddies, have been wondering whether the crocuses and snowdrops were actually dead, kiilled by a cruel Jack Frost.
Apart from many years of gardening experience I’m no botanical expert, so I consulted my friend Dugald Cameron, former owner of bulb specialist GardenImport, now sadly out of business. After a meaningful pause he replied : “I’ve found that concerns about late flowering of bulbs are really about a lack of patience.”
He didn’t add “on the part of the gardener”, but he didn’t have to. I got the message. The facts are that after a long and frigid winter, this past February was the coldest on record–in these parts, away– and the frost went deeper, keeping all those usually early bulbs dormant for a longer period. Then along came a cold March. By the end of March my snowdrops, usually in bloom in February, were showing only tightly closed buds, and the early yellow crocus (Crocus anccyrensis) were nonexistent, not even a shoot. In past years these crocus bloomed about March 11 (I know because I marked the date on my calendars).
Strangely, the tulips were thrusting their shoots out of the ground, but there was no sign of the daffodils, which usually show earlier than the tulips. Nature seemed all out of whack.
So what was going on here? “The utter lack of science behind plant and bulb hardiness is profound,” said Dugald. “There are many factors, many of them localized, that determine hardiness. An excellent example is Eremurus [foxtail lily] which depends as much on baking summer heat and winter drainage as on winter temperatures. This is why they don’t grow well in some parts of the balmy west coast while thriving in sunny Saskatoon.
“Besides, plants and bulbs don’t read the books,” he added slyly.
A few days after my conversation with Dugald, on a suddenly springlike day with lots of sun following a few days when temperatures had reached above 8C for more than a couple of hours, the early yellow crocus burst into bloom. They must have sent up their shoots and opened their flowers overnight.
The next day was positively balmy, and the next was decent too. Suddenly, the later purple crocus showed, and the heather bloomed brightly pink. The bed of winter aconite in the backyard–usually well over by this time–became a carpet of gold, Shoots of daffodils appeared! In the back, ‘Jelena’ witch hazel, a lovely rusty red, was flowering strongly, six weeks after it normally does.
Spring had sprung, a bit late, to be sure. But it was happening. Dugald was right.
In thinking later about deep frost and erratic plant behaviour, I theorized that the crocus and snowdrops and winter aconite, because they’re planted only a couple of inches deep, had been chilled to their figurative bones by the unrelenting deep frost. The sun might have been over the equator, but they simply couldn’t get going. On the other hand, the tulips were planted deeper and perhaps didn’t become superchlled.
Were they able to follow a more normal routine? This doesn’t explain the daffodils, but maybe other factors, as Dugald suggests above, affected them.
Does this sound reasonable to you? Tell me what happened in your garden this year, and whether you have any explanations,