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Is it Spring Yet? Early bulbs and other Harbingers of spring starting in Rock Alpine Garden


While the official solar start of spring is still eight days away on March 20th, I think it is safe to say that spring has sprung in the Rock Alpine Garden. True, there may be many more snow storms and still plenty of mornings to scrape ice off of windshields, but the true harbingers of spring are in full glory now. Other gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens are showing signs of spring as well, but  few do it with such diversity as the Rock Alpine Garden (RAG).  Three species of Galanthus, at least five species of Crocus, three species of  Helleborus, Erica carnea, Draba aizoides,  Jasminum nudiflorum, Cyclamen, Scilla and Iris reticulata are just part of the parade that will change almost daily now that it is March.

Crocus are one of the most famous flowers of spring but most of us think about or photograph them open in the sun, Monday's cloudy skies allowed me to photograph them closed up revealing the often highly patterned  or colorful reverse.  


Above are Crocus korolkowii,  and a cultivar of Crocus sieberiCrocus chrysanthus 'Fuscotinctus' below is another favorite of mine when closed.

Hopefully these photos show a  different side of Crocus, or at least portrays them in a different light.  Moving on to another "Bulb" or corm is Cyclamen alpinum.  People are surprised to find out there are Cyclamen hardy in Denver, but 10 species are currently living in the Rock Alpine Garden.  I would say about five of these are very good performers, the others need a really special spot. 

Cyclamen alpinum
is always the first to open the Cyclamen season each year, followed shortly by Cyclamen coum.  This year C. alpinum is late, some years it starts as early as the beginning of February.  In addition to Cyclamen, more Helleborus are opening with the warmer weather.  Now Helleborus viridis has joined H. vesicarius and H. niger which has been going since November and was the only flower blooming on Christmas!

Lastly I leave you with a photo of Jasminum nudiflorum.  Most people think of Jasmine as another tender genus but two species live in the rock garden.  Both are yellow and lack  the famous fragrance.  J. nudiflorum earns its keep by flowering in late winter often a few weeks before the Forsythia.


Benjamin Hill

Great article and beautiful photos. Thank you. I sent a reply to another blog entry last week asking about the peek for the crocus. I just want to make sure I have not missed them. I was thinking of coming next Wednesday. Would I be too late? I am envisioning a carpet of crocus blooms. Does that happen at DBG? Is there a way to be notified when the blooms are at their peak? I thank you kindly in advance and all the best, Ben
Mike Kintgen

Ben, Thanks! The crocus tend to peak at different times in different areas of the gardens. In sunny gardens such as the Water-Smart Garden they are perhaps just past peak but still really nice. In shady cool gardens they aren't even up yet. In the Rock Alpine Garden (which has so many microclimates) they are in full bloom in the sunny areas and a month away from blooming in the coldest spots. I wouldn't expect a carpet of crocus, but clumps and patchs in certain gardens, nothing like Winterthur in the east or photos I have seen of English parks and botanic gardens. My best advice to know when to try and catch the "peak" is watch the blog. The beauty of Denver's climate is you can catch crocus from Feb. to May, instead of one big display.
Doris Boardman

Beautiful photos, Mike! Everyone--you HAVE to come see the Rock Alpine Garden in spring. Every week there is another wonder to see. Take a walk there every day to see a new beauty in bloom. Mike, where is Crocus chrysanthus ‘Fuscotinctus’ -- I didn't see it in my last walk through the RAG.
Mike Kintgen

Doris, Thanks. The Crocus Chrysanthus 'Fuscotinstus' in on the center mound at the base of the Sorbus or mountain ash.
Mike Kintgen

Ben, I think there should be some great photo opportunities. Enjoy it should be a great day
Benjamin Hill

Hi Mike, Thank you for that. I appreciate it and it makes sense. The vision I had is what you mentioned regarding English parks. I lived outside London for a number of years and one day when walking to work, I noticed loads of yellow, orange and purple objects on one of the grassy areas. I thought it was litter. Upon inspection, I found it to be tons of crocus. The same thing happens at Kew. That is what I was hoping for but hunting for them in various areas will be just as fun. I have changed my plans and will come tomorrow instead. It will be nice and warm and sunny. Will there be a lot of photo opportunities? Thank you so much again! Ben

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