Being members of the Iris family, IRIDIACEAE, crocus flower parts are arranged in groups of three; six tepals and three or six branched styles. Slightly more than 1/3 of the 120 or so species are autumnal flowering with the remaining 2/3 being spring flowering (vernal). And National Collection Holder David Stephens mirrors this numeric charasteristic by holding his Collection in three cold frames which, on a very cold Saturday morning when I visited, were totally frosted up. While a heater was defrosting the glass, my friend and I were treated to a run down of the genus, coffee and cake.
Crocus in the wild are found from Portugal in the west to China in the east with distribution peaking in Turkey. David has made many plant hunting trips in the Iberian peninsular and Turkey, and it is from the west of Turkey that he introduced C. gargaricus to cultivation in the 1980s.
Once the glass on the coldframes had thawed we got a close up view of some exquisite flowers in shades of blue, purple, lilac, striking gold and white . Plants in square pots completely fill the frames and are arranged by type, each one with a numeric code for the plant name and an accession number. As it was still cold, most of the flower goblets remained closed, showing off the beautiful markings on the outside of some of the blooms. After enquiring about the conditions in my garden, David gave me a pot of C. gargaricus, (still rare in cultivation but not particularly difficult,) which should do well in my south facing chalky beds, and noted down the accession number, so he could take it off his database. Such attention to detail means that not only the plants are being conserved, but their provenance is recorded, an essential part of the educational and scientific value of a National Collection.
Although many Crocus are easy to grow, some are more demanding and David shares his plants with other growers to insure against loss. Other Collections are held by Tony Goode in Norwich, the E.A.Bowles of Myddelton House Society and at RHS Wisley.
P.S. The plant I was given was named as ‘Crocus gargaricus S9312 Turkey, Mugla, Goktepe, Kozagac – Mentese’ and when I asked David what the rest of the name means I got the following fabulous description –
“S9312 is the field note collection number; S for Stephens, 93 is 1993, 12 is the 12th seed collection that year. Mugla is a district in SW Turkey, Goktepe is the name of a mountain, Kozagac and Mentese are two tiny villages on that mountain and the Crocus were found up a dirt track between the two villages. I could add that the altitude was c. 1830m and the soil ph was c. 8.3 on degraded limestone and terra rossa. The Crocus were growing in bare soil patches between dwarf Quercus coccifera under sparse Pinus brutia.”
All of a sudden I am inspired to start my own accession list, and this will be the first entry.