Crocuses: A Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews

Late last week I received a review copy of Crocuses: A Complete Guide to the Genus by Janis Ruksans. This is the kind of gardening book that makes my garden-geeky heart beat faster. It focuses on one genus, and endeavors to tell you everything you could possibly want to know: growing in an open garden, growing in green houses, growing in pots, starting from seed, and pests and diseases. And that’s just Part One, less than a fifth of the book.

In Part Two, Ruksans explains the botanical characteristics of the genus, and then the meat of the book begins: Classification. I like what he says at the beginning of this section:

We can look at plant classification from two viewpoints. One is strictly scientific and is the domain of scientists and profesional botanists. The other is a practical viewpoint in which gardeners put the findings of scientists to good acount in a way that is accessible and useful for their purposes.

Doesn’t that sound sensible? This section is subdivided into Autumn-Flowering Crocuses and Spring-Flowering Crocuses, and those subsections are broken into related groups. At the beginning of each group is a botanical key that would enable you to identify the species you have. Following this key is a lengthy description of each species, where Ruksans tells you everything he knows about the species, including where he may have seen it, in the wild or in a grower’s nursery, and everything he has read about the species. There are 307 color photos, arranged in two sections of “plates,” and if there is a picture of that species, the plate number is listed. Some of the photos are of crocuses in the wild. I especially love this, to see crocuses growing “like weeds” in a steep mountain meadow.

Ruksans First Book

I had the opportunity to hear Ruksans speak shortly after his first book, Buried Treasures: Finding and Growing the World’s Choicest Bulbs was published. His Latvian accent was a bit difficult to decipher, but his passion for flowering bulbs of all types was unmistakable. He spoke in three sessions, one on fritallarias, one on corydalis, and one covering a multitude of species from the “bulb belt of previous USSR.” Many of the slides from his talk were the same as those in Buried Treasures. Ruksans has an international mail order nursery, and according to this forum thread, has issued a 2011 mail order catalog. If Ruksans’ email is the same as in 2008, you can request a pdf catalog from janis.bulb at But please take Craig’s precautions into consideration. A group order is the only way to go, as there are several fees as well as air shipping, all subject to the exchange rate current at the time Ruksans ships.

A Plea For Colchicums

I need a book like this for colchicums. I have already been told I should write such a book, but I don’t have the scientific knowledge. (If I did, I wouldn’t need the book!) I can’t develop a key for identifying species, I haven’t seen a single colchicum in the wild, and I know no more than what I’ve read in A handbook of crocus and colchicum for gardeners, by E. A. Bowles, the last scientific work on the genus. But I can write, and I’d be more than happy to co-author such a book with a colchicum expert who has the knowledge but perhaps not the time or willingness to turn that knowledge into accessible prose. I already talked to someone at Timber Press about this, and they said there wouldn’t be a market for it. So I guess I’ll have to develop the market, first.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Ilona January 17, 2011, 2:00 pm

Oh, Kathy! That looks like a book I really want. I love crocus and have grown lots of them…. so a book just on crocus is just what I’d love to have at this point.

Don’t know a thing about the colchicums except for their medical use, so it seems you definitely should work on developing the market. I think what puts me off about them is their odd planting time. Can you get them and plant them in the usual bulb planting season? They always seem to be an August thing. You probably have that info hereabouts. Might be time for one of those revisit posts….

commonweeder January 17, 2011, 8:42 am

I’m glad you haven’t let Timber Press totally discourage you!