The jewels of January: Early blooming crocus are the gems that bring winter cheer
- This month crocus will bloom in your gardens creating beds full of colour
- Snowdrops will also start to peak above the surface of the soil in late January
- There are about 19 species, almost all winter-flowering and are easy to grow
What joy to see the year’s first snowdrops. Whether in gardens or carpeting woodland, their dazzling whiteness cannot fail to lift your spirits.
But snowdrops are not winter’s only gems. My first yellow aconites opened a week before any snowdrops.
But even those weren’t the earliest. That honour goes to Crocus imperati whose first purple and beige flower opened on November 20. That same clump is still producing blooms.
Other winter charmers include reticulate irises. Those flower from late January and team well with snowdrops. There are a couple of winter scillas, too. Butthose lack the charisma of spring-blooming Scilla siberica and related chionodoxas.
First peek: Feel the spirit soar as early Crocus chrysanthus come into bloom
You can buy snowdrops and winter aconites ‘in the green’ at this time of year. But it’s unnatural for either to be out of the ground when in growth.
So plant those or pot them up the moment you receive them.
Dwarf winter bulbs will grow happily in containers, soon developing into generous clumps. Large Alpine pans work best but conventional plant pots are fine, too. After two or three seasons, expanded clumps will need dividing.
Yellow aconites are sometimes cursed for being invasive. But the cheerful little blooms bring joy to the year’s dullest period.
By mid-May they will have seeded before rapidly dying away and disappearing.
The common species, Eranthis hyemalis self-seeds copiously, developing golden carpets in sun or partial shade. For tiny gardens and for collectors, there are several interesting varieties.
I grow E. Schwefelglanz, whose flowers are pale lemon yellow. Orange Glow has marmalade petals and Grünspecht (German for green woodpecker) has curious semi-double flowers in green and yellow.
Snowdrops (pictured) will also start to peak above the surface of the soil in late January
Fancy aconite varieties are slow to bulk up. That makes them scarce, sought-after and expensive. The common variety, in contrast is prolific, reliable and cheap as chips.
Crocus tommasinianus and C. chrysanthus multiply rapidly and thrive on neglect. They come in various colours, including purple, blue, yellow, white and striped.
Flowers appear from February. By contrast, my beige and purple C. imperati is not a spreader. A single corm takes several years to form a clump, so it’s excellent for containers.
PURE AS SNOW
Of all winter bulbs, snowdrops are surely the most loved. Symbols of purity and motherhood, the botanical name Galanthus means milk flower. There are about 19 species, almost all winter-flowering.
Common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis is the easiest to grow and has single or double flowers.
From the Balkans, G. elwesii is taller, has broader leaves and is an excellent spreader.
For enthusiasts or galanthophiles, varieties run to thousands — avonbulbs.co.uk has a good range.
Sturdy Atkinsii has longish flowers. Fragrant S. Arnott grows 20cm high. Among double-flowers come neat-looking Ophelia and charmingly dishevelled Lady Beatrix Stanley.
After chatting to a local galanthophile, I’ve ordered Diggory, whose flowers resemble tiny, crinolines and Godfrey Owen. That has six outer-petals rather than three.
My two bulbs cost £57 — more than I paid for 200 tulips last autumn!