Sunday, March 27, 2011


What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia, first daffodil flowers are shorter than usual; new leaves on weeping and globe willows, Japanese honeysuckle, village ditch meeting today.

Outside the walls and fences: Buds forming on cottonwoods; new leaves on Siberian elm seedlings, winterfat, alfilerillo, cheese mallow; first pigweed seedlings up; sooner or later all conversations turn to juniper allergies.

In my yard: Oxalis, dandelion; buds on hyacinth; cherry buds expanding, outer skin splitting to show green; Madonna lily leaves turning green; new leaves on Persian rose, large and small leaved soapworts, blue flax; new raspberries, pasture roses and daylilies coming up.

Inside: Pomegranate; new growth and buds on zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit; ants are back, black and red, big and little.

Weather: Clouds at daybreak, winds in afternoon; snow lingers in Sangre de Cristo; last rain 3/8/11; 12:29 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Every year, my one, still tightly buttoned up crocus pokes through and decides, like a good Church of Christ congregant, that this world is not its home. It retreats to life underground, producing only the leaves necessary to feed the new corm. It never wastes any energy on flowers.

While Christians know their treasures are being “laid up somewhere beyond the blue,” the home of Crocus vernus is more obscure.

The species grows in mountainous areas of Europe from Spain to Albania and north into Poland. Researchers in Italy found the plants appeared most often with a tall bunch grass, Nardetea stricta.

French scientists wondered about the association of some plants, like the mat grass and early blooming crocus, with soils containing silicon, rather than lime, and concluded the soil was less important than the fact that limestone absorbs more water than the underlying gneiss, and thus leaves less for the roots.

The actual home of the cultivar I planted in 2006 is a strip of siliceous sand dunes bordering the North sea in Nord-Holland. W. J. Elderly founded his nursery there in Overveen in 1853. It introduced my silvery purple Grand Maître in 1924, the purple Remembrance in 1925, the white flowered Jeanne d’Arc in 1943, and soon after the purple and white stripped Pickwick.

In 1880, the nursery had introduced King of the Stripped.

The bulb trade is generally associated with Haarlem to the east. After the end of the Napoleonic wars, demand increased while the planting regimes had been somewhat disrupted. Growers began looking for new, less valuable land to use to grow bulbs for the first years before they were large to plant in Haarlem to impress the market buyers.

They had the best success in areas where light sand lay over a water table 15 to 30 inches below. Those grounds at Overveen had been used by Flemish linen bleachers, but that trade had been in decline and men there were looking for new sources of income.

Gerrett Eldering was one of the more successful local growers. In 1817, he was still bleaching linen, but had also begun to grow the lucrative hyacinth, tulip and narcissus which so depleted the fragile soil, they could only be grown every two or three years. In the intervening seasons, he planted market vegetables. Crocuses required so little time in the ground, he could get a crop of potatoes the same year.

Even with the vegetable layer dug into the sand, Eldering added a coating of manure diluted in water. His fields were bounded by hedges which stopped the wind from removing the soil and shredding the leaves necessary to the bulbs’ maturation.

Field rotation was still in use in 1909, when Una Silberrad visited them. The vagaries of climate were controlled by layers of straw which were put down before winter, then removed and replaced when temperatures warmed in the spring to keep the bulbs cool in the ground.

Nature, of course, uses those bunch grasses for the same effect. The dead litter covers the bulbs in winter. Some try to reproduce that effect by planting their corms in lawns, but J. N. Garard warned they probably would be crowded out by the grass in a few years.

Sandy Snyder had better success in Littleton, Colorado, where she planted bulbs in a tufted buffalo grass yard that was still brown in spring when the bulbs needed the water. Unlike Gerrett Eldering, who employed a crew of men and boys to remove the soil, carefully lay the bulbs on the flat, open ground, then cover them with sand from the next bed to be planted, she used her family. One created the hole, the second dropped the bulb, and the third filled the hole.

He, of course, had to pay his men, while she probably only needed to feed her helpers. Poor Christians in the song are satisfied with assured, delayed payments where they’ll live eternally with the “saints on every hand.”

Notes: “This World Is Not My Home,” is an old Church of Christ gospel song recorded by many with variants copyrighted by many, including Albert E. Brumley. Kristen Hamilton discussed the song’s history on the HomeschoolBlogger website on 16 July 2009.

Costanzo, Emanuele, Francesco Furnari, and Valeria Tomaselli. “A Phytosociological Survey of the Main Plant Community Types of Alpine and Sub-alpine Belt in the Sibillini Mountains (Central Apennines, Italy),” Lazaroa 30: 219-250:2009.

Garard, J. N. "Crocus" in Liberty Hyde Bailey, The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, volume 2, 1914.

Loudon, John Claudius. An Encyclopædia of Gardening, volume 1, 1835, describes an article by Knight published by The Garden.

Michalet, Richard, Cécile Gandoy, Didier Joud and Jean-Philippe Pagès. “Plant Community Composition and Biomass on Calcareous and Siliceous Substrates in the Northern French Alps: Comparative Effects of Soil Chemistry and Water Status,” Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 34:102-113:2002.

Neill, Patrick. Journal of a Horticultural Tour Through Parts of Flanders, Holland, and the North of France in the Autumn of 1817, 1823.

Silberrad, Una Lucy and Sophie Lyall. Dutch Bulbs and Gardens, 1909, illustrations by Mina Nixon.

Snyder, Sandy. “Splendor in the Grass,” Fine Gardening 24-28:May/June 1990; she planted other crocus species than vernus.

Zwollo, Tonny. “Oldenhove,” in Blue Is My Colour, Designing as an Answer to Nature, 2005, on the history of Overneen.

Photograph: Grand Maître crocus, 21 March 2011.

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