Crocuses are one of spring’s delights, carpeting and brightening our gardens and city parks.

As with so many of our garden plants, we have Dutch nursery-men to thank for developing our modern crocuses from their smaller wild parents. These species originated from the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean where Dutch enthusiasts used Western ambassadors to collect choice crocus specimens.

From the 16th century onwards, the Dutch developed crocuses with larger blooms and ones that could tolerate cooler north European conditions. The colour patterns of the original species were elaborated so that now we have bold stripes as well as delicate veining though the colour palette of white, yellow, and mauve has remained. The mauve and lilac crocuses are often described as “blues”. A few, like Crocus chrysanthus, are scented.

These cultivated crocuses are much tougher than the ancient Saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, which has been widely cultivated, for at least 3000 years, to provide saffron, now the most expensive of our spices. Saffron crocuses need warm, sunny conditions and though they can grow in south-east England, they would be challenging to grow in this country.

The saffron crocus flowers in autumn but most of the crocuses we grow bloom in spring and they are a barometer of that season’s mood. They’re a pure delight when the strengthening sun shines, but a bitter disappointment during bad weather. Most crocus flowers remain firmly shut till triggered by the sun to stretch open their petals to soak up its rays to the full. At the other end of the scale, driving rain and wind will smash the flowers and put paid to any thoughts of a fine show.

Wildlife can also spoil the party. Sparrows were once considered a serious problem, but with declining numbers this no longer seems to be the case. Though not troubled by these birds in a rural spot, wee rodents and badgers are the bane of my life, especially in the autumn when the corms are worth eating as a valuable source of starch for their long winter months.

I find growing in pots helps prevent this. After planting in autumn, I put the pots on a table in the greenhouse, moving outdoors when the first green shoots appear. At that stage, they don’t interest any passing vole. And I always place them on a low dyke or wall to enjoy their full beauty.



Autumn raspberry Joan J is a delicious raspberry producing a fine harvest of tasty large berries right through till the frosts. Unlike summer raspberries, which are pruned immediately after fruiting, autumn ones are pruned this month. Cut canes to base and they’ll throw out fresh ones in spring and, as with their summer cousins, restrict each plant to six or seven canes, removing all but the strongest.

You can prune some of the plants immediately after fruiting and will get an earlier crop the following year, only a little later than summer varieties. This way, especially when space is limited you can achieve a a longer fruiting season from one row of plants.