Chionodoxa cheerfulness


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.

So gorgeous…

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.


22 Comments Add yours

  1. A lovely little plant and an amazing colour – they definitely look better en masse – I just have the odd one here and there – they don’t seem keen on spreading in my garden.

    1. kate says:

      It’s the first time I’ve been lucky with them, so I do sympathise. My mother couldn’t get them to grow either, but then she did have lots of Pratia in her lawn later on so she did get her blue/grass combo. Now I can’t get them going here – it’s all swings and roundabouts…

  2. Christina says:

    Lovely, joyful post! I have lots of Muscari and was thinking I could grow these too until you said they didn’t like heat later on, I could try them under the Mulberry but I think it would still be too hot. Lovely images. Christina

    1. kate says:

      They’re so cheerful – such pretty shining faces. I think it probably would be a bit hot with you, but then they do grow in Crete and that can get pretty hot – though of course the blue cuties come from high up. Maybe it’s worth trying?

  3. thenewstreet says:

    I love these little flowers! And muscari, and scilla, and and and… My garden is in the planning/just starting to plant stage, and I’ve got a lovely magnolia tree on a lawn whose days are numbered… (The lawn that is, not the magnolia tree!) It is quite a warm part of the garden, but I might go and ‘borrow’ some of my mum’s chionodoxa and see how they do… Thank you for the good idea!

    1. kate says:

      Ooooooo, yes, yes, yes – my dream chionodoxa location, and you could do it! Keep us posted!

  4. paulinemulligan says:

    Love chionodoxa, they are such early cheerful little bulbs, we only have a few here, must buy more in the autumn as I haven’t noticed them seeding around yet!

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they just? Let’s spread the word and convert the whole of the UK into an imitation of Kew!

  5. Crystal says:

    I’m like Elaine, really struggle to get them growing in my garden, just have the odd one or two dotted about. Maybe it’s time I restocked, because they really are lovely flowers.

    1. kate says:

      I’d give it a go (but then I would say that). I think they win on the cuteness stakes…

      (I’m quite lucky in that, because my garden slopes steeply and the chionodoxas grow in the grass/meadow above the retaining walls, I can worship them comfortably at almost eye level, instead of lying flat on my stomach. Comfort definitely helps cuteness.)

  6. croftgarden says:

    One of favourites, if they like you they will spread. You might also like Scilla siberica, it grows for me so I’m sure will do well for you.

    1. kate says:

      I’m sure you’re right – I must look at introducing some S. sibirica, maybe into the bottom garden. Hmm – more lovely blueness!

  7. wellywoman says:

    They’re gorgeous and such a beautiful blue, the colour of a summer’s day sky. Haven’t got any grass in my garden and I think they look much better naturalised in grass than in brown soil. So I won’t be adding it to my bulb list but that’s ok it was already quite long so I shouldn’t be looking for any more bulbs to add to it!!! Funny isn’t it how ‘experts’ will often say something and yet us gardeners will be thinking about the little plant in our garden defying the experts.

    1. kate says:

      They are lovely – and I’m absolutely with you on them looking best naturalised… (Oh boy, do I know about long bulb lists – congratulates on having a reason to at least eliminate one thing!)

      I really couldn’t understand that ‘expert’ – there are so many examples of Chionodoxas doing fine in grass. Maybe it got edited by an idiot – perhaps a sub cut a qualifying phrase, like ‘…when planted as bulbs’.

  8. Anna says:

    These are such a pretty bulb and more attractive I think than muscari. I have a small clump but they have never really taken off – mind you after reading your post I think it may be because they are in a shady spot. Will have to relocate. Thanks for the information Kate 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Ahhh – moving them could be a good idea (having said that, I’ve just noticed a subsidiary clump this year which has established itself under a skimmia, but I don’t know how well it will do)… Mine certainly seem to lap up the sun – they almost bask in it, like contented cats do. Good luck!

  9. patientgardener says:

    I have a few of those that I have planted in the front of the hot border. I had seen them growing at a local NT property and like you was quite taken with them. Now you say they grow in the grass I shall be adding them to the list of bulbs to plant in the lawn this autumn

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they lovely? Apart from Kew, I’d not come across them in quantity elsewhere, so I was really pleased to find them here. I’ve not planted them from scratch in the grass, mind… they’ve done that themselves!

  10. Well I see what you mean when we were talking about them today! I must do some research. I love the blue but possibly very slightly prefer the more intense blue of the scilla. I will consult the oracle in the person of Anna Pavord but one or the other is definitely going in next autumn and in quantity!

    1. kate says:

      These are pretty intense – but either would look truly fab in your garden…

      (and thanks for a lovely day!)

  11. Dobby says:

    I don’t have much blue in my garden but I do like these. Think I may try some round my pond. It is the driest part of the garden! Then once they have gone over (see I am confident!) it won’t matter if I trample them a bit (Will it?).

    1. kate says:

      Well, mine get pretty thoroughly trampled (and mown and weeded and clobbered by getting things dumped on top of them) the rest of the year, so I’d have said you’d be fine!!

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