Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tiny. Early. Purple. Heirloom.

These muscari aren't much bigger than the bee at center-right.
(6 Mar 2010 - Denver, Colorado)



I've been seeing Muscari in plant catalogs for years. They're called grape hyacinths becausewell, you can see why. Their upside-down-bunch-of-grapes form lends unexpected texture to the early spring garden.

Purple and blue are also unexpected flower colors. When I think about it, I can name many more plants boasting red, orange, yellow, pink, or white flowers. But there don't seem to be as many purple or blue flowers in the garden. Hmm...grape hyacinths, dephinium, Virginia bluebells, Texas bluebonnets, wisteria, hydrangeas, a couple asters, smoke bush, maybe a purple Buddleia, lavender, periwinkle. Oh, and I think I've seen a light-lavender foxglove somewhere before.

Lord knows I'll come up with more later. Still, I could spend nearly all day naming non-blue-or-purple flowering plants. Warmer colors naturally attract pollinators. That makes sense in nature. In the garden, though, blue and purple are eye-catching because we don't expect them.

Speaking of things we don't expect—even though I'd seen Muscari dozens of times before in photos, I didn't realize how small they are. In the photo above, the individual flowers are half the size of the bee who's dropped by for a snack. Even Barbie would look huge next to them. Now I understand why catalogs sell them in orders of 100 or more: they're tiny! You have to plant at least a hundred to get the full "river of blue in my garden" effect.

Grape hyacinths are native to the Caucasus, in countries such as Turkey and Armenia (hence Muscari armeniacum). Muscari neglectum was introduced to Western gardens around 1568, according to Brent & Becky's Bulbs. That's definitely heirloom. And as with many older plant varieties, it doesn't need constant care. After all, its name ends in neglectum.

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