As one considers the winding down of summer and the general decay of the growing season… as I suppose one should on this first day of autumn… there do seem to be a few positive notes which make the changing of the seasons more bearable. While other things die or flee in response to cooler temperatures and weakened sunshine, a few plants spring to life, and if you count yourself among the optimists you could almost consider this to be the start of a new growing season with flushes of new foliage for the cooler weather, healthy root growth and spring buds forming below ground, and the first of the autumn flowers. “Good for you” I say since I am not a lover of fall and its frosty death, but even I will admit colchicums make it easier to cope, and the fresh blooms at this time of year make it all seem a little less final.
With those cheery thoughts in mind I’m again joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature, and the flowers of the autumn crocus or naked ladies (Colchicums) are what stand out in my garden this week.
A reliable Colchicum with smaller flowers and colored flower stems, Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ would be on the short list of favorites.
As a good blogger I should take this opportunity to discuss the various details of researched growing conditions and also cover the finer points of colchicum cultivation but as you may have already guessed from previous posts I bore easily and tend to laziness, so to be honest I’d recommend getting that book learnin’ elsewhere. I’m more of a stick it in the ground and see if it grows kind of guy, so if you don’t mind, click on >this link< and you’ll find a few of Cathy’s posts over at Cold Climate Gardening which should do very nicely to fill the void I leave. She’s like a crazy cat lady of colchicums, and in addition to growing, showing, sharing, and speaking on colchicums, she also does an excellent job of putting that information online. She’s also a wonderful person, so I hope she finds neither ‘crazy’ nor ‘cat lady’ offensive since I would hate to offend her good nature.
Colchicum run a range of pink shades from dark to light, but the odd white form really lights up an autumn bed. Here’s Colchicum ‘Innocence’. Decent sized blooms, slight pink tint when you look for it, and a good grower.
Better sources of information aside, I guess I should mention some of the barest essentials of Colchicums. They bloom bare, without foliage, hence the common name of naked ladies. Their bloom shape resembles that of crocus, hence the name autumn crocus -although they share no family relation whatsoever. Of course being unrelated to crocus is not the worst thing since wildlife love the crocus around here yet completely avoid the poisonous parts of colchicums.
In the early spring, colchicums quickly grow leafy, hosta-like foliage but then yellow and disappear once the weather heats up. Decent, well drained soil, sun or part shade (the more sun in spring the better), and hope for the best.
Spring species tulips and the springtime foliage of colchicums growing in the lawn.
With their fall blooms, colchicum are a bit of an oddity when compared to the regular spring and summer flowers of most bulb catalogs. Maybe this is why they seem expensive when compared to the mass produced spring bulbs, but don’t let it fool you. They might require some special handling and storing, but overall it’s an easy group to grow. If I have one bit of advice which may be helpful it’s to plant shallowly in heavy soils. The flowers seem to struggle when sprouting up out of hard-packed soil, and if they can’t make it up chances are the spring foliage won’t make it either, and your special new bulb will die. Cover loosely I say, and if the bulbs (actually corms btw) are already flowering, do not cover the flowers with dirt and expect them to rise up out of the soil. The flowers, and foliage as well, seem to take advantage of the old, dried floral tubes and follow these paths up out of the soil. When newly planted, the tunnels from last year no longer exist, so to get around this plant shallowly and cover with some mulch once flowering is finished and you should be in good shape.
Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in grass. If planting in lawns, be prepared to hold back on mowing until the foliage has yellowed off. I like a field of gone-to-seed grass swaying in the breeze in June. You may not.
Over the last two years I’ve been adding colchicums to the meadow garden, and so far have been pleased enough to want to add more this fall. I’m hoping they do well enough amongst the root completion of the grass and so far so good on that. Another plus is I prefer the flowers when set off by the green grass, even though in most years this area usually has more of a brown grass look to it.
More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.
A more sparse planting of an unknown colchicum. This one will sulk if the spring is too short or dry, or isn’t exactly to its liking. I’d blame the lawn, but the same lack of blooming happens in my flower beds as well.
I’m going to wrap it up here since although I can stare at and talk colchicums for hours in the garden, I am way past the limits of my attention span here at the computer. But before ending I have to show Colchicum x aggripinum and the remarkable pattern of its blooms. Many colchicums show tessellation in their flowers and of the ones I grow this one shows it best.
The smaller, shorter foliage and flowers of colchicum x aggripinum still show up very well in the garden. This clump liked being divided last summer, but didn’t like the late freeze and short spring we had, so I hope it fills in better next year.
Tessellation on a flower of colchicum x aggripinum. I love this patterning.
If you’ve made it this far I might as well apologize while I still have your attention. There are still a few weeks left in the colchicum season and it’s very likely you’ll see more of them at some point or another as I try to work my way through this otherwise miserable new season. In the meantime though, please consider giving Kimberley a visit to see what she and others are posting about this Thursday. Perhaps they have a higher opinion of autumn.