Spring finally blooms, better late than never

crocus April 5, 2013

April 5, 2013. Winter was less cruel couple of years ago and spring sprang when it was supposed to.  Many patches of crocus and early bulbous iris (at top left) appeared in my front yard garden from early March into April.

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.”

no crocus, April 2, 2015

The same view on April 2, 2015. A frigid winter can make a lot of difference–just one lonely little crocus is making an appearance. Are the others still shivering underground, or are they kaput?  Gardeners should be more patient, says Dugald Cameron. They just need a little warmth.

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).

snowdrops 2015

This spring the  snowdrops were still in bud April 2.  Fully open blooms  usually brighten the  garden at the end of February. But I was grateful to see them, even late–they were the only sign of spring..

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.

dead-looking heather 2015

More than early bulbs were affected by the frigid winter. My heather on April 1 this year, above, looked quite dead.

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.


heather in bloom,

On April 5 two years ago it looked like this.

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,



One thought on “Spring finally blooms, better late than never

  1. Hello Liz,
    You might remember the visit you made to the “frugal gardener” in Edmonton. Your magazine of the time made a movie here, and you were inspirational in transforming my front yard into an oasis of geraniums.
    How are you?
    Things have changed drastically here; in 2013 my dear wife Alice passed away and since that time I am still “holding out” at 115street.
    I am blessed with the love for growing things and for companionship and constant amazement there are with me here 2 felines (not females) and one rescue dog from Mexico.
    This past summer has been spectacular gardening-wise. Caused by warm sunny weather and rain the humidity was higher than usual and everything was just beautiful. Surprises too; the Henry Kelsey that never bloomed and actually was replaced by a climbing honeysuckle all of a sudden produced a new shoot in 2015. Imagine my surprise that after a mild winter it was blooming abundantly this Spring!
    Anyway, I hope you are well and remember the old Dutchman out in the West!
    Greetings and best wishes,
    Sid de Haan sr.

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