When I first visited this house, before I even bought it or thought seriously about doing so, I was stunned by some small blue flowers which spread over part of the lawn.
I couldn’t get a close look – well, not without being rude – but I really liked what I glimpsed. I’ve always had a bit of a blind spot about small blue spring flowers, in that I have a slight tendency to call everything a grape hyacinth whether it is or isn’t. Of course, these weren’t.
They were chionodoxas – squills, I now tend to call them – and I still don’t know which particular variety they are. Even specialists have problems differentiating between them, so what hope does someone like me, the Muscari / grape hyacinth queen, have of telling the difference?
They’re closely related to Scillas and Puschinias, but they have diddly-squat (well, I exaggerate – and note my easy grasp of technical language – they are all Lilaceae after all, but it’s a huge family) to do with Muscari. Which is probably just as well; I’ve got quite enough Muscari elsewhere. Hyacinths are also in the same botanical family, and you can see that reflected in the chhionodoxa’s flowers.
I start scanning the lawn by the house and the base of the Rosa rugosa hedges in mid January, because when they start they really start, and you don’t want to wreck their chances by inappropriate ripping out of couch grass / careless stomping.
As soon as the first one starts to open I begin to get excited – it means that winter is almost over, spring is on the way and I had better get things sorted out in preparation for the onslaught.
Maybe I should view them with some dread, then, as spring is a somewhat exhausting, but I don’t. Chionodoxa = spring, and that’s just dandy.
And they do well here, even though they don’t exactly live up to their English name of Glory of the Snow (it comes from the botanical name, chion – snow; doxa – glory); Glory of the Depressing Low Cloud would be more appropriate in my garden. The name reflects their situation in the region where they’re native: the eastern Med – Turkey, Crete, Cyprus – where they grow high up, often in poor soil. Kew have lots, also naturalised, and their are Chionodoxa siehei, from eastern Turkey.
So I start with one or two. Then a few more.
And then they suddenly start springing up everywhere.
They flourish under deciduous trees or shrubs and I have visions of them under a magnolia rather than a flipping R. rugosa hedge, but my magnolia is a) too late, and b) in too shady a place. Chionodoxas do need light in growth, though they don’t like it too hot later in the season (perfect for me, ho ho).
And, according to one commentator, ‘they don’t like competition from grass’.
I don’t think that commentator (who will remain anonymous) can have seen the astonishing chionodoxa carpets at Kew. Mine are lovely, but Kew’s are amazing.
Mine manage just fine in grass too, if on a rather smaller scale – and they’re spreading, as well, so they must be happy. But then I’ve not tried planting any as bulbs.
Just about now, the meadow grass does begin to start growing up and obscuring them, but this happens as they are beginning to die back. I could speculate about which comes first, but I know in my heart that it’s just a coincidence. After all, Kew grows them so spectacularly well as naturalised bulbs in grass, so coincidence it is. And they are spectacular here too, allowing for the (ever so slight) difference in scale and spread. Not that I have anything to do with it, mind – they do their own thing, and all I have to do is resist the urge to interfere.
And avoid too much careless stomping, of course.