Sticks and snow

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) began to bloom at the end of October, just as our fall rains started up.

I like how they waited until we were having pouring rain, so that most of them ended up as limp, water-soaked petals matted onto the black basalt gravel (sarcasm). Reminds of the tissue paper collages we would make as kids, where we would glue little pieces of colorful tissue paper down onto a larger piece of regular paper to make art.

At least I got to enjoy a few of the flowers, which looked nice for a day or two in between rains.

In many ways, fall-blooming crocus are a perfect counterpart to the spring-blooming species, which also happen bloom at the perfect time to be mashed down by our spring rains. This is a shame, because I have a special fondness for crocus. I’ve considered putting up little cocktail umbrellas for them to keep the rain off. Festive and tacky, but I bet it would work.

In addition to blooming at inopportune times, crocus were one of the hardest bulbs to maintain long-term in our garden. Planting them is like putting out free candy. They tend to disappear quickly under an onslaught of rodents. Years ago, I would find clumps of wilting and discolored crocus encircled by a series of mole tunnels. A gentle tug, and each little plant would pop right out with a partially consumed corm dangling below. Now, I know that moles are not rodents. Nor are they herbivores. But, either the experts are wrong, and some moles happen to like munching on crocus corms, or perhaps there are other critters inside the tunnels who do like eating the corms that the moles uncover during their excavations. A little poking around on the internet suggests that the latter might be true. Apparently, mice and voles often use these tunnels to move undetected underground.

I think I’ve largely solved this problem by planting my crocus in holes layered with basalt gravel. Here, I’ve planted five corms of Crocus corsicus on top of a 2 inch layer of gravel. I added another 2 inch layer of gravel on top, and then covered that with soil and mulch. I’ve used this method for about 7 years now, and so far so good. No more chewed up crocus corms.

Last time, I mentioned that I have a couple strategies to help me remember where my bulbs are planted so that I don’t accidentally slice through them later in summary while they lie dormant underground. After the flowers and leaves have withered away, they leave such tempting, open spots in the garden that just beg to be planted .

Method 1 is to mark their location with a stick.

This method uses a resource that we have in abundance: branches, twigs, and sticks. I use more robust sticks for plants I want to mark more permanently (above) and more flimsy ones as temporary markers to show where things are for a shorter period of time (below). Nothing says “something is planted here!” to me more than a stick stuck vertically into the soil. And, to my eye, the sticks are much less obtrusive than plastic or metal tags because they sort of fade into the mulchy, natural background. For example, there are five sticks marking plants in the photo below.

Here are two of them.

This one is more vertical and easier to detect
A flimsy stick marking the location of a bulb
This one was bent over and looks more like a fallen twig

If you take a second look at the saffron crocus pictures up above, you’ll also notice there are some shorter sticks to mark their location.

Here is another part of the new rock garden with sticks jabbed in everywhere to mark where I have planted bulbs this fall. They also help me more easily see where things are in relation to each other spatially.

While I was in that part of the rock garden, the spiral arrangement of the leaves on the Euphorbia rigida merited some extra attention.

Method 2, is much more subtle than method 1. Basically, the premise is to simply not have space open up in the garden after the bulb dies down. To accomplish this, I plant bulbs next to an already established perennial that will occupy the same spot as the bulb. As the perennials grow up during the spring and summer, they naturally fill in the empty spot. You can see this method in the top photo, where I planted saffron crocus right next to a cactus (Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’), which in hindsight, maybe wasn’t such a good idea if I want to harvest saffron in the future. You can also see this in the fourth picture down, where there is a stick on the left side (in front of the rhubarb), where I planted some narcissus bulbs next to a narrow-leaved evening primrose (Oenothera fruticosa ‘Fireworks’). If all goes according to plan, the leaves of the evening primrose will grow up in the spring and cover the the  leaves of the narcissus as they start to die after flowering. Sidenote: Incidently, that evening primrose also has a Norwegian cultivar name, ‘Fyrverkeri’. Oenothera fruticosa is native to North America, so this looks like one of those examples where the Europeans are better at finding cultivars of our native plants than we are.

Another version of method 2. Here, I planted this low-growing Dianthus ‘White Crown’ over the top of some Narcissus bulbicodium.

I was going to post this next picture for Halloween, but for various reasons it didn’t happen. This was an evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) that I planted in late September thinking that the fall rains would soon water it in. I forgot about it, the rains were late, and, well, here is the result. It’s a shame, because it was one of the larger plants that I had grown from several cuttings, and not to mention that evergreen huckleberries are fairly drought tolerant once established. Oh well, I’ll just have to propagate more. Our yard is littered with the corpses of plants gone by.

The last picture for today’s post documents the snow that briefly fell on November 6th. Our first snow of the season, but it didn’t stick. We actually had less snow than Corvallis, which is unusual because we are higher in elevation. Lately, it has been cold and dry. I’ve not been very good at keeping up with the weather record keeping for the blog as I intended. I was hoping to track it so that I could get a better sense of our actual rainfall throughout the year to better plan future garden adventures. Somehow, life became more complicated and that priority dissipated like mist in the hills.

Can you believe that this was supposed to be a short post? I kept adding more detail, running out to take more photos, and then reworking the words for flow. All of which takes a fair bit of time. I’d say this post probably took 4 hours all said to patch together. It might make an interesting challenge to see if I can post something shorter in content and in prep time. Another thing that that I’ve noticed is how much my writing can change in style from day to day. It’s was interesting to note that last time it was very important to me to capitalize the seasons. This time, not so much. Oh well, time to see what pastries L has bought for a breakfast treat this fine, sunny, Saturday morning. I’m sure they will pair well with a nice cardamom latte.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kris P

    As I frequently manage to put a shovel through bulbs, having forgotten about them entirely, I should try your stick approach, especially given the sheer number of bulbs I planted this year. I’ve tried to factor in the growth of nearby plants to provide cover when the bulbs have died back but, given how I squeeze plants in everywhere, that hasn’t always worked for me.

    I’ve noted that my blog posts grew longer over the years too. It’s not a bad thing when you’re also using the blog posts as a garden diary. I hope you enjoyed a splendid breakfast!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      I think it is inevitable that we inadvertently smash, slice, or dice something while gardening. It just seems a little bit sadder when it’s our own fault and not due to the vagaries of nature.

      You’re absolutely right about using the posts as a diary. I keep forgetting that aspect – that it is as much about me remembering things, and learning, as it is anything else. The pastries were good! Though I can never get a photo that makes them look as appetizing as they are in real life.

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