The earliest crocus flowers to appear each spring are the pale lavender ones with flimsy petals, such as Crocus tommasinianus, which is robust despite its delicate appearance and naturalizes well. They often have spread across the lawns of older gardens to form swathes of delicate color.
The newer varieties—sometimes referred to as the Dutch crocus—typically bloom later. The foliage of naturalized crocus can be mowed about six weeks after they flower.
The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, also naturalizes well and pair nicely with the lavender crocus. As winter wanes we look for them in our own and neighborhood gardens and vow to plant more of these early spring bloomers next fall. Our eyes are greedy to see as many as possible.
As I check for them in my garden I also look under the leathery leaves of my hellebores to see if buds are hiding or flowers have opened. These Lenten roses, as they are commonly called because of when they bloom, have large, dark palmate leaves unlike the slender grass-like leaves of the crocus.
Crocus corms should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep in the fall, in soil that is not too rich. They will bloom in full sun or light shade so can be planted under deciduous trees, as the crocus will bloom before the trees leaf out. They are native to Spain, the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Interesting note: There are also crocus varieties that bloom in the fall, and these are the ones from which saffron is obtained.