It would seem that spring in the Black Hills is more a moment than a season.
Those blue skies, soft air, emerald meadows, bird song and fragrance are so fleetingly exceptional that vernal praise begins every conversation.
At the grocery store, it is “Beautiful day, isn’t it? Did you find everything?” When friends meet, it’s “What a day! How are you?”
In England, there are vistas of bluebells and daffodils; in Texas, the bluebonnets are putting on their show; in the European Alps, wild crocus carpet the slopes.
Here, we lack vistas and shows and carpets of spring flowers. We have little moments. And, as the song written in the mid-1950s states, “Little things mean a lot.”
My childhood excitement encountering our native pasque in open pine forests or shooting stars in bloom on rocky slopes is recaptured in our garden where those same plants, obtained from commercial sources, grow, bloom and spread. Not in carpets, to be sure, but rather in small clumps that demand rather than invite my attention.
Over the years, I have made my peace with spring smallness and discovered that the way to avoid the heartbreak of elegant iris, stately tulips and flamboyant daffodils laid low by late snow or wind, at least for me, is to ferret out old, small, hardy heirloom varieties of the spring bulbs and tubers and give them a place in the garden.
Small bulbs, often described as rock garden and/or species varieties, are an excellent fit in our environment. D. Landreth Seed Company (www.Landrethseeds.com), Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) and Old House Gardens (www.oldhousegardens.com) are trusted sources for the heirloom bulbs and tubers.
Recently, after I finished swooning over our fragrant double snowdrops, Galanthus Flore Pleno, I discovered the tiny (the size of my index fingernail), Crocus tommasinianus roseus.
I dropped to my knees to admire this one, a tiny rosy cup with a white heart. Blooming near it is Crocus flavus Yellow Mammoth, known in gardens since 1875 and large enough to drink from.
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In the same area is another old (1860) favorite, the Tulipa humilis violacea, a 4-inch treasure known as the Red Crocus Tulip.
To my delight, species miniature narcissi are becoming more available in the bulb bags each fall.
I wonder if people realize how pleasing they are. The Yellow Hoop Petticoat narcissus, Narcissus blubocodium conspicuus, grown since 1629, is a mere 6 inches tall and tough as nails.
Tete-a-Tete and Minnow, each 5 to 6 inches, are frequently forced and sold as a spring plant, but, purchased as bulbs, they do well.
I am a huge fan o dwarf iris (usually 4 to 8 inches).
Most of these are very old varieties with astonishing color and markings.
Iris reticulata, another dwarf, has almost grass-like foliage but the most wildly marked, sublime color of any.
Prowl the greenhouses and some of the dwarf iris can be found and planted this year.
These early, small, heirloom spring bulbs and tubers delight me greatly.
Each day is an invitation to find and enjoy another tiny treasure.
Cathie Draine is a member of the South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and the Garden Writers’ Association. She lives and gardens in Black Hawk. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.