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Crocus focus for bright February

From her Vosges garden, Cathy Thompson goes cuckoo for this month’s flowers

This is the month of ‘lurve’, and the little ‘tommies’ (Crocus tommasinianus) on my lawn are powering away in the February sunshine.

This little crocus is a must-plant; not only the earliest crocus to flower – particularly in a warm, sunny position – but also one of the best to naturalise in grass on lawns. But you must not be a picky gardener; either that or you should plant it in a meadow setting, cut first in June when all the bulb foliage has died back.

My little crocus ‘lawn’ is mown as late, in April/early May, as I can bear to leave it. Cut too soon and you reduce flowering and spread.

There are some really fine tommy cultivars. ‘Whitwell Purple’, a silvery, washy violet, paler at its heart, is a great favourite of mine. For more depth of colour, try either reliable ‘Ruby Giant’ or ‘Barr’s Purple’. One of the pleasures of a sunny crocus lawn is seeing the bees zooming in on them at a time when little else is flowering – except, perhaps, for hellebores and pulmonarias (lungwort).

Don’t believe that double flowers are totally unattractive to bees – I watched a huge bee sleeping or supping from a double hellebore for well over half an hour one February. I thought it dead, so still was its furry little body – but half an hour later he was gone. Early pollinator-attracting plants are worth their weight in gold. For hellebores in scintillating colours (including the choicest apricot), try looking at the Promesse de Fleur website (www.promessedefleurs.com).

Save the red roses, if you are thinking of me at Valentine’s – just bring me a little posy of special snowdrops instead. But French nursery folk are not really offering a diversity of snowdrop varieties - for the most part you’ll have to purchase at one of the bulb nurseries in England, such as Broadleigh Bulbs or Avon Bulbs. Astonishingly, you can even buy them on eBay now, although you may find yourself overstretched as you try to outbid other galanthophiles.

The key features that differentiate varieties are the amount and placement of green on the inner and outer segments and an appealing yellow (instead of green colouring) on some varieties. Unfortunately these yellow forms, such as much sought-after ‘Wendy’s Gold’, are not cheap.

The good news is that this is one of the few bulbs that you can actually plant when you see it flowering this month.

Gardeners will always disagree, but the most famous English snowdrop gardens (such as Anglesey Abbey), follow the practice of planting ‘in the green’. There are two other species worth looking out for – Galanthus plicatus and Galanthus  elwesii. Galanthus elwesii, from northern Turkey, is probably not the best to plant in France unless you have good rainfall and woodland conditions. With delightful silvery-grey leaves, it detests drying out in summer. I’ve already lost it from a shaded spot on a southern slope, so if you garden further south, it is definitely not for you.

By contrast, Galanthus plicatus is super, with large, broad leaves of grey-blue that fold under (are ‘explicate’) on the margins and strong green marks on inner segments. This is sometimes called the Crimean snowdrop. Although it had been known in Europe since the sixteenth century, British soldiers in the Crimean War were astonished to see the battlefields covered in this snowdrop after a harsh winter and they took bulbs home with them.

The form ‘Warham’, which increases very well in my garden, was one of the bulbs they brought back. And Galanthus plicatus has gone on to be an important parent of many modern hybrids.

There are others worth purchasing – the best are ‘spreaders’, increasing as well for nursery folk as they do in your own garden, which makes their bulbs relatively cheap! I’ve already started shopping online – at the moment I have my eye on wild, double ‘Blewbury Tart’ (a bit like the snowdrop version of daffodil ‘Rip van Winkle’) and two more sweeties with green colouring or tips on the outer segments: ‘Angelina’ and ‘Greenfinch’.

 

MONTHLY TIPS

February is an excellent month to thoroughly clean your greenhouse (mine is new, so I’m spared for one year!): it helps prevent red spider mite and fungal infections. And make sure you don’t keep old pots below the greenhouse staging – you’re only providing a home for the wretched RSM.

Sow aubergines, early cabbage, peppers and antirrhinums under glass. Mostly I’m just going to be digging new borders this month … there’s too much to do in March!

 

OVER TO YOU
Do you have a favourite plant with a legend or some ‘people’ history attached to it? If you are also digging a new border, what is your
vision for it?  Email me at: editorial@connexionfrance.com.

You can read Cathy’s gardening blog at gardendreamingatchatillon.wordpress.com

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