First Flowers


It’s barely past the spring equinox, but I already have flowers blooming in my yard—in spite of living at 7,100 feet in Colorado. Our average last frost date is months away, snow is predicted for tonight, and I have yet to see a bee (or other pollinator) this spring, but that doesn’t stop these stalwart beauties.

Crocus_COS-CO_LAH_2410Crocuses are known as being early bloomers, as they often spread their petals even with snow on the ground. This grape-purple flower was grown from an inexpensive bag of the typical Crocus species, C. vernus, that I picked up at my local big box store. The assortment also contained flowers in  golden yellow and white, creating a classic spring display. I loved seeing the flowers—and the rabbits loved eating them.

There are other cultivars—and even species—that you won’t find at Lowe’s or Home Depot. For instance, I love the creamy yellow flowers of Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’. C. tommasini ‘Ruby Giant’ is fuschia-purple. C. sieberi sublimis ‘Tricolor’ features flowers in purple, white, and yellow, all on reddish stems. And C. olivieri balansae ‘Orange Monarch’ defies all expectations with bright orange petals enclosed by maroon sepals! All these are available online, or you could check your local garden center come fall.

Many crocus species are resistant to deer and rabbits, and C. tommasini is supposedly squirrel resistant as well, although I haven’t verified that in my own garden. However, while these are hardy to zone 5 or lower, don’t assume all species will survive a Colorado winter. Be sure to check before buying.

Scilla mischtschenkoana_Squill_COS-CO_LAH_2404Striped Squill, Puschkinia scilloides, is another very early bloomer. I planted a dozen bulbs on the southeastern corner of our house, and the flowers appeared on the first day of spring. Looking at them now, I wish I had planted far more—and I will, come fall. Or, perhaps I’ll just let them propagate themselves, as they both self-seed and produce bulb offsets. Puschkinia does best in sandy or gritty soil and full sun to part shade.

Both these bulbs look lovely naturalized under a deciduous tree or planting in front of other landscaping, where they will be noticed and appreciated. The foliage fades by late spring, leaving space for slow-to-emerge perennials.

If you want these early flowers in your yard, you have to plant the bulbs in the fall. Take time now to decide where you want them to go, and mark the spot (or take photos). Then go ahead and place your order ahead of time for the best selection. Just don’t do what I did—I ordered over 100 bulbs, and then totally forgot where I intended for them to go—and now I’ll be surprised all over again, as I also forgot where I planted them!

viola-corsica-bloomThere’s one more flower currently blooming in my yard—and it’s not a bulb. Corsican violets (Viola corsica) manage to stay green all winter, even under the snow, and the flowers appeared as soon as the snow subsided. It makes me wonder if they were already there, just waiting to surprise us.

The plants look delicate but they’re amazingly tough. The flowers just keep coming despite heat, cold, or drought. Although not in the least invasive (unlike some other violet species), my plants have self-seeded to some extent. They’re welcome no matter where they pop up.

With some careful planning, we can have flowers blooming for eight months of the year, in spite of our harsh climate and curtailed growing season. While the first flowers of the year are always a treat, this year in particular they’re exactly the boost my feelings need.

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