Colchicums!

I’m finally ready to admit it’s fall and then what happens?  The rains stop, the thermometer rises, and we’re right into the middle of a stinkin’ heat wave.  I would have loved this at the start of the month when the pool was still open, but now it’s just making the gnats hungry and me grumpy.  Fortunately it’s colchicum season and between that and the chrysanthemums things look somewhat refreshing around here (provided you only go out in the morning or near sunset!)

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicums, aka autumn crocus, aka naked ladies, are a nice way to ring in the change of seasons with something fresh.  Out of the hard, dry ground come these unlikely flowers, all eager to show off such as this favorite, Colchicum speciosum ssp. bornmuelleri

I’ve written about colchicums before so I don’t want to rehash the same old info I always give out, but the short summary version for the autumn blooming types is… leafy clumps of hosta-like leaves in the spring fade away in May, and various shades of pink through white crocus-like flowers appear without anything else (naked!) in late summer and early autumn.  I like them well enough 🙂

colchicum in lawn

Before things got too hot the colchicums in the meadow area were coming up nicely.  They seem to be settling in well but if you look towards the back you’ll see another planting which is much sparser.

The trick to growing colchicums is to find a spot where the spring foliage won’t bother you as it dies back in early summer, yet the spot is open enough so you can see the flowers as they come up later in the year.  For a while I had them all by themselves in a bed which was too dry for anything else, but as they’ve multiplied I’ve had to plant them outside my comfort zone and actually try and come up with decent companion plantings and landscape uses.

colchicum in ground cover

I’ve shown them in the blue plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) ground cover before.  It’s not for everyone but I don’t think it’s the worst combination I’ve ever put together.

The plantings which have pleased me the most are the ones in ground covers rather than plain old mulch or bare soil.  Sedums make a nice carpet and I have it in my head to try a lot more like this.  Hopefully some of that will happen!

colchicum autumnale album

Colchicum autumnale album with and without a nice creeping sedum blanket.  I think the ones surrounded by green are far nicer.

Unlike most bulbs which move best while dormant, colchicums also give you the option of procrastinating until bloom time and then having the much more enjoyable experience of digging and planting bulbs (actually corms if you’re going to get technical, and even then people will debate you) in full bloom and moving them to the exact spot you want to see them flower.

dividing colchicum

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ lifted and divided at the start of September.  The roots are just starting but if you’re careful no harm is done.

You really want to make sure they’re in a spot where you won’t miss the flowers.  The big, bright ones are unavoidable but the smaller more detailed blooms are also worth your attention.  Checkering, or tessellation, is something extra special and worth a closer look.

colchicum tessellation

The dainty and early flowering Colchicum x aggripinum.  Tessellation on the newly opened flowers of this hybrid is really something.

This flower also does doubles.  I’m not the type of gardener who will drop any single just to pick up the double version, but these have their own charms… well maybe not charm since they’re so fat and double and pink, but they do pack a punch.  I think of paper flowers when I see these, I don’t think it would too hard to replicate them in pink crepe paper if the need arose.

colchicum waterlily

colchicum waterlily

Who am I kidding?  I love the double as much as any of the others, and if we’re being honest I really wouldn’t mind adding another couple new ones even if it was only to have another couple new ones.  Just for the record I saw a few really tempting ones at my favorite local nursery, Perennial Point, and I did not buy one.  Yes, I’m patting myself on the back.

colchicum byzantium

I think I like them in the lawn best of all (C. byzantium)

I may be working through collecting issues with these bulbs, but there’s someone else out there who’s clearly gone over the edge.  Her name is Kathy Purdy and if you’re a follower of Cold Climate Gardening you already know she has one of the largest colchicum collections around and will be opening her upstate New York garden this fall for the first time to show them off.  I’m in, and if you’re interested >click here< to visit her blog for the details.  Have a great week!

16 comments on “Colchicums!

    • bittster says:

      Oh you’re more than welcome. Maybe I’ll charge for the publicity after I see how lucrative your ticket, plant and food sales are…
      No wait a minute. You’re not charging admission and I hear you’re planning a ‘free’ table for plants. That doesn’t sound very lucrative, it almost sounds like you’re hosting an open garden purely for the pleasure of sharing your garden and your love of colchicums with fellow gardeners. I guess free publicity is the least I can do!

  1. Cathy says:

    They are really pretty flowers, I think mainly because they look so fresh and spring-like and always surprise me in autumn! Some are growing wild on the hilside in our village in fairly long grass. Perhaps that is why I prefer them in grass too, although the sedum idea is good. I didn’t know they can be moved when in flower. The tessellations (new word for me!) are lovely. Hope your heatwave goes away soon. A heatwave in September is unusual isn’t it? Happy gardening Frank!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Cathy. Yes the heat is very unusual, I hope it doesn’t mean more tropical storms are on the way!
      That must be something to be able to see them in the wild. Mine always look a little out of place in the garden and I think you’re right they look best in grass. It’s always a work in progress isn’t it 🙂

  2. nanacathy2 says:

    Aren’t they stunning, one for me to try for sure.

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have the waterlily and I wish I had all the ones you have showcased. WOW. What a nice collection. I also wish I lived close enough to Kathy to visit her garden. I have wanted to for some time and to see a collection colchicums in blooms would certainly be a treat.

    • bittster says:

      Surprisingly enough I haven’t been growing them for all that long. We’ve been here 9 years and I only took a few with me from the old garden. I do tend to like dividing things, and my soil seems to suit many bulbs… even if things like heuchera and hosta shrivel up and die in it!

  4. susurrus says:

    I love the one with tessellation – and the new word. How interesting you can move them while in flower. They look especially lovely coming through the grass.

  5. johnvic8 says:

    I am totally jealous. I have tried them several times in past years, past gardens with no results. They’re bulbs, for heavens sake. They are supposed to be easy, painless, sure. Alas!

    • bittster says:

      But I bet you can grow the Lycoris and rain lilies which don’t stand a chance up here!
      I wonder if it’s the hot summers which do them in. Someone else from a hotter climate was also saying they have little luck with them.

  6. Chloris says:

    I’m a colchicum fan too. I love the way you have them growing in grass but how do you mow in spring? I haven’t got Colchicum aggripinum but obviously I need it.

    • bittster says:

      I’m sure you’ll find aggripinum. There are several which have heavy checkering but aggripinum is supposed to be easier and less fussy.
      I solve the problem of mowing around the foliage by not mowing at all. The grass grows up, goes to seed, and I call it a meadow rather than apologizing for the wildness 😉

  7. Love the Colchicums, especially the white ones. This hot weather is making me grumpy, also. Oddly, in Japan it was much cooler than normal.

  8. Just planted my first ones last year. Those tesselated flowers are perfect for us fans of checkered lilies!

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