Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

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.

colchicum nancy lindsay

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 Kathy’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 innocence

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.

colchicum foliage

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

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.

colchicum lilac wonder

More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.

colchicum in meadow grass

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.

colchicum x aggripinum

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.

colchicum x aggripinum

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.

25 comments on “Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

  1. Not only did I not take offense, I think I will include your quote (if I may) in my promotional materials. Crazy cat lady has a better ring than colchicum evangelist.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m so glad you liked it! ‘Crazy Cat Lady of Colchicums’ does have a ring to it, and there’s no denying you do go off the deep end for these little treasures!

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    I learned a new hort. word: ‘tessellation’ Thanks, I like its look a lot, too. Never got on the colchium bandwagon for some reason. Perhaps it always felt ‘out of season’ blooming in the fall. It’s tricky to find a place that they could live without being disturbed. You’re right, probably a meadow is the best choice.

  3. Great blog Frank – beautiful pictures.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks John. I wanted to do a cyclamen post as well but just can’t seem to get any decent pictures, and believe me I’ve tried a few times. I may just enjoy your photos on Facebook and wait until the leaves come up.

  4. johnvic8 says:

    I’ve never had any luck with them. You are doing a great job with them. Attaboy!

  5. Chloris says:

    Wow, you have quite a collection. I have a few different ones here and there but I haven’ t got round the fact that their big leaves in spring don’ t sit well with the rest of the plants. They are lovely though.

  6. Christina says:

    I planted some colchicum in spring this year but I haven’t seen any flowers yet, I must check them more carefully. I bought them partly after seeing yours last year. I love them planted in grass but I don’t really have any of that so they are in the new evergreen shrub beds. Yours are spreading really nicely, enjoy!

  7. Frank, I do love how your bulbs are popping up through the grass. It looks so natural and inviting, far more interesting than the turf itself. As for Fall, I love this season. The asters bloom and all is right with the world as a dry summer breaks for a rain bearing season of growth and decay. Sure the plants fade to the tawny colors of Autumn, but so much life is still happening. I always look forward to winter as well. As many plants as you start over winter, I would think you look forward to some indoor time too. No gardener without a greenhouse I know tends so many seedlings over winter. It keeps you really gardening busy.

    • bittster says:

      Winter does seem to fly by, and I don’t mind it much once it’s here, but fall just bothers me when I think of my lost afternoons on the porch and no more morning strolls with a coffee. Planting more fall bloomers does seem to be helping, and I have to admit the fall foliage colors are beginning to grow on me…

  8. Am just starting with these so it’s exciting to see yours. Usually it’s the Toad Lillies that get me through the fall but the bunnies have been mowing them down this year. Am guessing the Colchicums will be safe.

    • bittster says:

      Yes the bunnies are brutal on my crocus as well.
      I’m looking forward to hearing what bulbs you are adding this fall, I have a few new corydalis ordered and I hope they do well since last spring they had some trouble.

  9. Pauline says:

    Yours are all wonderful, I only have one variety, I’ve tried others , but they never seem to materialise! Maybe it’s time I tried again.

  10. No reason to apologize for your Colchicums, they are marvelous. I wish I had some of my own. I wonder if they would grow well in pots?

    • bittster says:

      Hmmm. I don’t know if they would grow well in a pot. Worth a try though, it might be the best way to deal with their lush spring foliage. The actual blooming would be just fine though, there are no roots or soil needed for bloom so I’ve had them flowering in a bowl on the windowsill without any problems.

  11. […] let’s not forget colchicums. I was recently called “the crazy cat lady of colchicums” but if someone had this many different daffodils no one would blink an […]

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