179

179 isn’t the default setting for blog titles, it’s the harsh reality of autumn.  Saturday afternoon I made a tour of the grounds and counted up 179 pots scattered about.  All of these will require some kind of attention before autumn winds down and winter settles in, and all of them seem to have appeared out of nowhere this year.  Another frightening statistic is that I didn’t even count any pots smaller than six inches, and I also didn’t count the dozen stewartia seedling which were potted up Saturday evening… just in case, you know?  Stewartia are special little things, and now if I need a dozen potted seedlings next year, it’s reassuring to know I’m prepared.

Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’

The early autumn show of Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’.  I love it more each year. 

But I wish I was mentally prepared to deal with these pots.  Maybe buying a box of 100 drip emitters and more tubing for the watering system was not as good an idea as it seemed, but for the moment I’m trying to move on and I’ve started grouping some of the stuff which will get the same treatment.

amaryllis outside for the summer

You turn your back once and suddenly a dozen amaryllis (Hippeastrum) show up.  I probably don’t need a dozen, but better safe than sorry is what I said some cold December afternoon… 

I’m sure it’s just the caladiums which are making things look bad.  They make up around forty of the pots, and yesterday I shut off their water to give them a couple of weeks to dry out and come to terms with the cooler nights.  Soon they’ll collapse and go dormant and I can toss them in the furnace room, but instead of things shutting down, lets talk Colchicums!

colchicum speciosum

Some kind of Colchicum speciosum.  I don’t know if it’s a cultivar or not, but it’s a favorite regardless.

We are into the middle of Colchicum season now.  I’m loving it.

colchicum aggripinum duncecap orostachys iwarenge

A late Colchicum xaggripinum  surrounded by the flower stalks of Orostachys iwarenge.  The Orystachys really appreciated the mild winter and has never looked like it actually wanted to live let alone thrive like this.

Plenty of other colchicum are popping up here and there.  I shouldn’t want more, but I kind of do, if only for mental health reasons as they carry me through to the fall snowdrop season 😉

colchicum speciosum

Another unknown Colchicum speciosum, actually this was my very first one… also not true to the name it was purchased under…

colchicum harlekijn

My new colchicum book describes ‘Harlekijn’ as having “little appeal except to those keen to amass a full collection of cultivars”.  Oops.  I was hoping that wasn’t the direction I was going.

colchicum the giant

Colchicum ‘The Giant’.  Big, robust, floppy, and a scene stealer.

colchicum speciosum album ‘Atrorubens’

Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’ on the left, and ‘Album’ on the right.  Two of my current favorites.

colchicum pink star laetum

This one came to me as white… but most will agree it’s not, and eventually the company where I purchased it from also agreed and sent me a refund.  I believe it is Colchicum ‘Pink Star’.

colchicum lilac wonder Salvia Koyamae

‘Lilac Wonder’ has been swamped by the yellow woodland salvia, Salvia Koyamae.  Normally the salvia is half dead by the time it blooms since whoever planted it put it in a dry, full sun location, not the the moist woodland which this plant wants.

So autumn, pots, and colchicums.  Not a bad week at all.  To top it off I’ll wax poetically about the beauty in death of my beloved cardoon plants.  The seedheads are ripe, and now they’re opening up to scatter their children across the landscape.

cardoon seed heads

Cardoon seed heads.  The bottom of the stalk is quite ugly, but if you focus on the top…

Ugly dead thistles might be one poetic interpretation but I prefer to ignore the possibility of a cardoon superspreader event and think that some goldfinch might fly over and find these to be the motherload of tasty thistle seed.  Thats the hope at least, but for now I haven’t seen them give it a try.  They’re still focused on the sunflowers so maybe they’re saving these?

cardoon seed heads

I suspect that’s a lot of Cardoon seedlings…

No matter.  Cardoons sprouting all over might be just what my garden needed, and as long as they don’t crowd out the snowdrops I’m willing to give it a try!

Enjoy the last days of September 🙂

A First Day of Autumn Tour

Who says you can’t change your ways?  I know a guy who’s been passionately anti-autumn for decades, and has actually been know to get hostile and crabby, short-tempered and moody as the day length shortens and a cool crispness taints the summertime air.  That person is changing.  He might even have said “Fall isn’t all that bad”, and smiled at a dewy morning lawn and a river valley full of mist as he sat on the back deck and had already sipped through at least half his morning coffee.  Prior to the coffee he was still kind of luke-warm about the change in season, but at least he was out there enjoying it rather than mumbling about the frigid ten day forecast.

fall fruit on dogwood

Ripe berries and a touch of autumn colors on the dogwood

“Maybe it will kill some of the mosquitoes” was the delusional hope

autumn perennial border

The front border is looking exceptionally neat and well-groomed

No, the mosquitoes aren’t going anywhere, but fortunately they weren’t completely rabid the weekend before last when the local garden club, the Backmountain Bloomers, paid a visit to the Sorta Suburbia gardens.

autumn perennial border

‘Bengal Tiger’ cannas with the yellow daisies of Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’.  I like this plant more and more every year.

I was absolutely thrilled that the club came by, and even more thrilled that a few more showed up than I had expected.  A muggy, buggy, September afternoon isn’t exactly prime garden visiting season so even a group of four felt-bad-for-you-so-we-came visitors would have been something special.  There were more visitors than that, so I hope I didn’t come across as too desperately excited 🙂 (I don’t often get visitors you know)

hyacinth bean pods

Purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab) seedpods in the front border.  I threw a few seedlings in amongst the fennel forest, and I think they looked nice enough.

So that was the big excitement.  It was a nice balance to the insane cursing and swatting I experience every other day as I try to beat back the bugs and not catch West Nile while everyone else is getting Covid.  That would be just about right, I’m never any good at following the trends.

disraeli cilicium colchicum

Colchicum cilicicum and some Colchicum ‘Disraeli’ coming up nicely through a few floppy chrysanthemums

With all that said, the garden does look nice.  There’s been enough (actually way more than enough) rain and I really gave the garden a once over of weeding and trimming.  Plus now there are more fall-bloomers than ever, and it’s really given me something to look forward to as everything else crumbles and dies prior to winter’s kiss of death… -ok i said I didn’t hate fall as much as I used to, I never went as far as to say I actually liked it-

colchicum autumn herald

Colchicum ‘Autumn Herald’ coming up through the creeping thyme.

Colchicums are a big part of what’s become good about fall.  The earliest ones help distract me from the earlier and earlier sunsets, and then I have the mid and late season ones to look forward to.  Right now the Mid season ones are just hitting their stride.

colchicum glory of heemstede

Colchicum ‘Glory of Heemstede’ according to my label… love the darker color and checkering!

Let me just share a couple pictures and talk less 😉

colchicum Jochem hof

Colchicum ‘Jochem Hof’ is the name I have for this one.  For some reason colchicum names and IDs are notoriously muddled, and even a good source may give you a misnamed bulb.

colchicum faberge silver

‘Faberge Silver’ is a newer variety with a nice blend of white and pink

colchicum nancy lindsay

‘Nancy Lindsay’ is a favorite and also a great grower here.  I have a few bigger patches of it and still feel like I could use more 🙂

colchicum world's champion cup

‘World’s Champion Cup’ has large goblets of bloom, often with a white highlight.

Colchicums aside (for just a minute), the backyard was also looking decent in its late summer colors.

autumn perennial border

The edge of the tropical bed always looks good with a few cannas, but for the most part it’s been neglected this year.  What a shame considering how lush it could have been with all the rain (as demonstrated by the lush green of the lawn)

The potager was also looking nice, even if it was mostly out of control.  Ten foot tall Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Persicaria orientalis) has a way of demanding attention, and although no one asked for seeds, I guess in MY garden they liked it.

autumn potager garden

The pergola has almost disappeared under the vines and overgrowth of September

I of course liked showing off the castor beans and complaining about my dumpy seed-grown dahlias.  The black eyed susan vine was also something to be admired, but maybe my visitors know there are cooler colors out there, so plain old orange wasn’t so impressive.

autumn potager garden

My hiding spot in the now mosquito-infested potager.  Hopefully with long sleeve weather approaching I can safely hang out here again without losing a pint of blood.

Thankfully no one asked the awkward question of why there weren’t more vegetables.

japanese morning glory

The Japanese morning glory Ipomea nil ‘Fuji no Murasaki’ has reseeded mildly enough that it doesn’t scare me like regular morning glories.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

One last part of the garden which I was proud to show off was the nearly completed sand path which now runs around the back side of the house.  I think my visitors might have appreciated it more if it weren’t so overgrown, but if they only knew what a muddy mess this path was just three weeks ago I think they would have been more appreciative of this solid and dry passage.

sand garden path

The finished path.  There’s still plans afoot for this end so we will see…

My friend Lisa asked about the sand, and in the nicest way I think she was trying to figure out what if any thought process there was behind this decision.  Sand is nice at the beach, but anyone who has slogged a couple hundred feet through it knows there might be better path options out there, so let me point out this is the crushed sand usually used as a paver base, and it actually packs down fairly well as a path.  When I went to check out the ‘crusher run’ which is a rougher mix often used for paths, I saw this and thought it might be worth a try.  So far so good I think.  It has a nice clean look and is mostly crushed Pennsylvania bluestone so I like the mellow color as well.

sand garden path

Recycled retaining wall blocks on the right, recycled composite decking as an edging on the left.

Even with a bit of a slope there were no washouts after our six inches in two days rain event.

sand garden path

You can see some of the slope here.  The grass looks crappier than usual because I had to raise the lawn about four inches to meet the edge.  I’ve been filling in this part of the yard for years to bring it up.

Actually there was more erosion in the caladium sand bed than there was in the sloped walkway.  I suspect there was just an extreme amount of runoff from the concrete, so hopefully that’s a one time deal.

caladium in containers

It’s still ‘Year of the Caladium’ along this side of the house 

Here’s yet another gratuitous caladium picture.  They haven’t liked the cold spell we had, and then all the rain didn’t help, but they’re still awesome 🙂

caladium in containers

Mixed caladiums in need of a winter home.

Cooler weather had me thinking about what to do with the caladiums and also where to go with all the other pots which have accumulated around the garden.  I started to hear an echo in my head of ‘Oh, that just goes into the garage over winter’ because I think I said it dozens of times as an answer to wintering over questions.  It started to make me wonder…

deck planter mandevilla

‘Alice DuPont’ still looks great.  In general most of the deck still looks decent, and I really don’t need fall to come by.

So will it really all fit into the garage?  A quick count of pots quickly went over 100, and that wasn’t even counting anything under six inches or anything on the deck.  That’s a lot of overwintering, and that’s almost even stressful, and when I deal with stress I take cuttings.  So on Sunday I added another two flats full of little potted cuttings to bring in.  Maybe they won’t all make it.  Maybe I’ll find some kind of other space… doubtful… but with a suspicious box on the porch this afternoon and vague memories of bulb orders, I think a few pots of caladium tubers are the least of my worries.

Have a great week 😉

A Case of the Lazies

You would think that with all the hand sanitizer, distancing, staying at home, and hand washing, that there would have a sterile cloud surrounding me, but somehow I’ve still managed to catch a case of the lazies.  What a surprise, right?  I’ve never really shown much immunity, so all it really takes is a cloud across the sun, a temperature slightly too cool, or a day with a nice breeze to trigger a relapse.  I guess that happened.  My wife will tell me I should have worn a coat.  My son will ask if I want another donut.  It’s easy to see the struggle.

autumn perennial border

The front border as we roll into October. Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is the yellow daisy in front.  

A coffee and a donut make for a nice morning stroll around the garden.  Fancy people do scones and jam, but scones are crumbly, and I’d hate to waste a trail of jammy crumbles behind me as I take in the dewy garden.  As I walk, the dew and change to fall colors make it really obvious summer is over and I’m surprisingly ok with that.  The garden right now is a mix of summer lingerers and autumn bloomers, and although I spent last weekend leveling my mother inlaw’s garden and putting nails in the coffin of her 2020 season, here it’s a different story.  Cool things like the Heterotheca villosa are only now just coming into full flower.  This plant was shared with me a few years back by Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening fame, and it’s a native daisy which I cut back by half each June to keep bushy.  From what I’ve heard, ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is named after a past president of the Perennial Plant Association, and was selected as a shorter form of the species, but that’s still relatively tall, hence the early summer chop.

red hot poker

Lingering rebloom on the red hot poker.  The bright color looks as good now as it did in July

If I weren’t so under the weather with my laziness I would be taking advantage of the more relaxed pace of pre-October and building that coldframe I’ve been mulling over for the last three weekends.  Unlike the last four years that I’ve been thinking about it,  this is the year it has to happen.  I’ve already lined up a few plants to go in (all my projects are usually the result of me painting myself into a corner plantwise), pulled out materials, piled them into the garage (where the car can’t go until this in done…), and now I just have to commit to a design.  ***spoiler alert** it’s based on an old shower door and leftover 2x4s so don’t set your hopes too high…

colchicum lilac wonder

Admiring colchicums is an excellent lazy day activity.  Here’s ‘Lilac Wonder’ flopping its way through the blue of leadwort.

Even just talking about a future coldframe has me exhausted, so let’s take one more look around the garden. The mums are coming, the colchicum are here, and in spite of a slight touch of disgustingly early frost, the garden still looks nice.

colchicum border

The former rock garden turned colchicum bed has been overrun with chrysanthemum seedlings.  Not for the worse though.  Colchicum ‘Innocence’ still found enough of an opening to show off.

A few early chrysanthemums.  I’ve killed off many (honestly it’s closer to most) of the larger flowered ones, but they’re my favorites.  Someday I dream of fussing and nurturing them enough to have those big show-worthy blooms, but this year just getting them staked them was a big first step.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I believe this is ‘Cheerleader’.  Even under less than perfect conditions he tops out at 3+feet and requires some kind of support.

With the chrysanthemums starting in the potager I was happy to see that even with all the new beds and strict paths, there was still a nice crescendo of late summer chaos.  Verbena bonariensis and ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus still found their loopholes and there’s more than just dried tomato vines and over the hill zucchini filling the beds.

autumn potager

An overgrown mess is what I expect in October.  Fall veggies would be nice too, but there’s always the farmstand for that.

One veggie which I do want to show off is the sword bean (Canavalia gladiata) which has managed to grow up the pergola and put out a few pods in spite of the shortening days.  I admit to checking it every day as the foot long pods get fatter and fatter, and if anyone gets even remotely close to the potager I insist on showing them off.  At the suggestion of a friend I usually do it with a little “argh, these be my sword beans, argh”, but the magic of my humor is often met with an uncomfortably  blank stare.

sword bean

The sword bean.  It’s grown as a vegetable through India and SE Asia but I’m not sure if it’s edible here in Umrika.  

Now colchicums.  I looked and saw only three pictures were posted on this blog last year, so you’re welcome, but even after I killed half the ones I transplanted during the potager construction (leaving them out to dry in 97F full sun was not really as good an idea as I thought), there are still a few nice ones to show.

colchicum the giant

Colchicum ‘The Giant’.  I think this is the real thing, and it’s worth it to find.

The cooler, dry weather has made for an excellent season.

colchicum sparticus

Colchicum ‘Sparticus’ was too pale for me at first, but as the single bulb has turned into a bunching of blooms I’ve become a fan

colchicum harlekijn

Colchicum ‘Harlekijn’.  Love it or hate it you have to admit it’s unusual.

colchicum zephyr

Colchicum ‘Zephyr’.  The nerd in me enjoys this gathering of Cotinus, Colchicum, and Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).  That’s a lot of Cs.

colchicum cilicium

Colchicum cilicium.  Maybe Colchicum cilicium ‘Purpureum’ according to the most recent buzz, but regardless I really like this little guy. 

colchicum giganteum

Colchicum giganteum… another one which might be getting a more correct naming of Colchicum speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum lawn

‘Lilac Wonder’ in the lawn between the swingset and trampoline.  I wonder if the kids will ever question why there were so many poisonous plants so close to their play areas…. although I like to think of the whole garden as their play area. 

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum (I don’t think it’s ‘The Giant’) in need of dividing.  A whole border filled with these might not be a terrible idea… hmmmm…

I’m surprised by how many colchicums this garden has acquired.  I blame thoughtful friends and the evils of social networking, but seriously if a yard full of colchicum is the worst viral pictures bring on then I’m all for it.  Unfortunately that’s not always the case.  In the meantime I’m looking for more, and I’m also obsessing about a new book.  Colchicum: The Complete Guide has recently come out as the definitive guide on species and many cultivars and I keep thinking what’s a full on obsession without a guidebook to follow?  It’s item number one on the Christmas list 😉

It Could Be Worse

Things have entered ‘don’t care’ mode around here.  The gnats are swarming, the days are warm, the soil is dry, and the nights are cool enough that everyone (plants and gardener included) is thinking about wrapping things up for the year and calling it autumn.

red onion harvest

The red onion harvest drying under the back porch overhang.

I make no secret of the fact I dislike autumn.  Letting go of the growing season is tough and I try to put it off for as long as possible, but for some reason this year it’s a little different.  This year I’m almost looking forward to a few autumnal things, and I barely mind seeing summer  2019 fade into the the history books.

potager in September

The potager has made its annual transition into an over the hill, flower filled and vegetable-free weedy mess.  I love it, and I love all the late season bugs, bees and butterflies.Fall has suddenly become an easier transition, and I think it’s got a lot to do with my super formal program of planting more things that reach their peak after summer takes a step back.  In case you don’t know, my ‘super formal program’ translates into going to the nursery each week in autumn and planting whatever looks nice.

fall shade garden

The strong carmine color of what’s left of aster ‘Alma Potschke’ is the only reason I grow this plant.  To me most of the asters don’t seem to bloom for any great length of time and I’ve actually gotten rid of a few… or I just resent the fact they grow well all along the highways yet struggle in my garden beds.

One fall-bloomer which I don’t ever give enough credit to is the variegated obedient plant which has been bravely plodding along for a few years now in the dry, rooty shade of the north end of the yard.  I was given a warning when my friend dropped it off, but apparently the spot where it’s been planted is so terrible it hasn’t even considered trying to spread.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata' obedient plant

Variegated obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) bringing a little color to the shade garden.

Other plants giving fall color now are the colchicums.  The earliest ones are in full stride, but the mid-season ones are starting up now as well.  The heat rushes them along, but they’re still a welcome flush of fresh color amongst all the other fading and yellowing summer things.

colchicum nancy lindsay

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ just outside the smothering leaves of a verbascum seedling.  Nancy is one of the most reliable colchicums I grow, and quite the looker as well.

A newer colchicum is ‘World Champion’s Cup’ which is officially the largest flowering colchicum in the garden.  Although the photo doesn’t do the size justice, the blooms probably span six inches when open in the sun, and of course I love it.

colchicum world champion's cup

Colchicum ‘World Champion’s Cup’.  Not many blooms yet, but if size matters then this is the colchicum for you.  The heat seems to have bleached parts of the flower, but that’s a big improvement compared to what the skunks did to them last year. 

Fall blooming bulbs aside, the tropical garden is earning its keep as the season winds down.  It looks lush enough but it also looks like my complaining last year about digging so many roots and tubers fell on deaf ears.  In another month when non-hardy things get cut back and stuffed into winter storage I’m not sure who or what I’ll be complaining about, but I’m sure it will be quite vocal.  Only the gnats will be listening though, and their fake concern will only be a cover used to get close enough for an ear canal dive or yet another stealth attack to the legs.

tropical border

As usual the pathway is nearly impassable due to plants growing just as big as they were supposed to.  That doesn’t matter though.  What I get a kick out of is the huge goldenrod growing up past the kitchen window of the person who obsesses about dandelions and crabgrass in the lawn.  

I can’t take in all the cannas.  I already thought I had too many and then planted seeds for even more, and of course they grew even better than they should have.  As seed grown plants they’re all a little bit different, so now the struggle is deciding which of my babies is so wonderfully different that I need to dig it as well.  Obviously one of the things I’ll be complaining about this fall is my own lack of common sense.

cannova mango

Cannova ‘Mango’ seedlings.  Do I save the shorter ones… the ones with a more mango color… the heaviest bloomers… 

Common sense also will not apply to the elephant ears.  I suspect the tubers will weigh in at close to a ton, and someone said they might want to try one next spring so obviously I should dig another hundred just in case they want more.  It should be fun, but I’m not sure if this is really what people who claim to enjoy autumn do to enjoy the season.

It’s Never Too Late Until It’s Too Late

Last fall a friend mentioned wanting a few colchicums.  Normally I forget these things in the flurry of summer, but during a moment of sitting around laziness I asked if they still wanted to give them a try.  ‘Yes’ was the response, so with my word on the line I put down the drink and picked up the garden fork.

colchicum bulb

Colchicum corms.  These Colchicum byzantinum are some of the biggest I’ve seen, but word is they do that.  

Now is when you want to think about things like colchicums.  They’ll be flowering in another month and by the time you run them down and get them to your doorstep you’ll be cutting it close if you don’t get moving now.  More punctual gardeners have already done this last month, but I’m here to say you can still get it done.  I might have just gotten it done.  Maybe last week I ordered more even though I should have enough, I guess the next budget confession will tell…

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicum bornmuelleri flowering last September

I’ve posted on colchicums before and you’re more than welcome to look back on last September or do a search, but if you’re really serious give Cold Climate Gardening a visit.  Kathy Purdy is practically the Queen of Colchicums and her blog is an excellent resource for getting to know more about them.

In the meantime though, I suggest you think about snowdrops for a minute.  Last Wednesday Edgewood Gardens of Exton Pa sent out their bulb list, and since I of course already secured my order by Wednesday night, I thought now might be the time to generously offer others the chance as well.  To do so email Dr. John Lonsdale at info@edgewoodgardens.net for the list.  Even if you don’t buy, it’s still fun to see drops which have recently gone well over $1,500 a piece on Ebay offered for their first US sale… for a much lower price thank goodness.

garden snowdrops

I saw ‘Bill Bishop’ offered.  Here it is at center showing off its big fat flowers.

Just for the record, even though snowdrop purchases are exempt from budget reporting I did not try to order any of the $300 snowdrops.  I had a moment of fantasy while thinking about it, and they likely sold out during that moment, but until the kids stop requiring billions of dollars for back to school items I don’t think I’ll take that leap.

Have a great weekend regardless of where your budget takes you 🙂

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.

Colchicum Clear-up

My late colchicum shipment from Daffodils and More was well into bloom by the time I finished dragging my feet and placed an order.  I guess I didn’t elaborate enough on how these little guys work…. I thought everyone was obsessed with colchicums at this time of year!

Colchicums are one of the “naked lady” bulbs that bloom in fall, they come up out of the dry autumn soil and surprise you with bare flowers minus the greenery.colchicum bed

They grow their hosta-like leaves in the spring, just like other hardy bulbs, but the blooms wait till late summer before even thinking about showing up.  Colchicums are on their own schedule and if you’re a little late in getting them in the ground they’ll ignore your tardiness and go ahead and bloom anyway, soil or no soil.  No problem, since the fall rooting will just wait until the bulb returns to the damp earth before it kicks in.  This is how the bulbs looked coming out of their paper shipping bags.colchicum blooming without soil

The bulbs I received were perfect, they had all been stored upright so that the floral tube came straight up and the separate blooms sprouted normally from within the tube.  If the bulbs are stored willy-nilly the blooms come out all over the place and are a pain to plant properly.  If grown normally a bulb forms a ‘heel’ where the roots sprout from, and a tube which brings the flowers to the surface.

This bulb was planted last week and you can just start to see tiny roots growing… Sorry Annette, I just had to dig one up again to take a look and a photo!colchicum bulb heel

When you plant these already-in-growth bulbs, take care to keep the tip of the floral tube just above the soil surface.  When the leaves sprout in the spring they also come up the inside of this floral tube and use it as a path to the surface.  If planted too deeply or not facing up, the leaves cannot grow up, and as a result die underground.  This is a costly lesson to learn since colchicum bulbs aren’t all that cheap, and if a whole batch of late planted bulbs die you will feel guilty for at least three years, especially if you lose another batch the following year…. (ask me how I know this)

planting flowering colchicums

Once planted nothing much seems to bother colchicums.  The run of the mill garden types thrive in average soil and full sun to part shade and pests usually don’t bother them outside of slug attacks on the blooms.  Colchicums are in fact poisonous enough to cause a nasty end to gardener or gopher and the same compound that protects them from chewing rodents and grazing rabbits is also the original source of colchicine,  which is used to treat gout.  In the gardening world, colchicine is also the chemical treatment that will cause seeds to go into polyploidy (doubled and tripled sets of chromosomes) when the cells begin to divide.  Tetraploid daylilies are the best example I can think of, but a quick online search shows many others.  Maybe my colchicum obsession isn’t as much selfish plant lust as it is just plain old gratefulness to a bulb that keeps giving!

With the exception of a single recently dug bulb, my new colchicums are already settled into the colchicum bed.  One of their neighbors is colchicum speciosum, a vigorous, long blooming bulb.colchicum speciosum

The large speciosum (renamed as “Lilac Wonder” – Thanks Cathy!) dwarfs it’s tiny neighbor, the slightly off-white colchicum autumnale ‘Album’.   Both are very popular with the late season honeybees.  I’m going to hope the honey doesn’t take on any of the poisons!  (I’m sure it doesn’t)colchicum autumnale 'Album'

I’m thinking of giving the colchicum bed an overhaul.  The bulbs could use more elbow room and the display could use some background plantings a little more colorful than the drab mulch I threw on there this summer.  Susie over at pbmgarden got me thinking this summer about groundcovers and I think I have the perfect plan for at least a clump or two of the light pink colchicums.  I want to divide up the blue leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and spot a few colchicums into that.  Here’s where I have it right now in the front yard.  It makes a halfway decent groundcover with a long season of gentian-blue flowers and green foliage.  The leaves take on red tints with the cooler weather and the fact that it sprouts kind of late in the spring makes it an even better companion!  Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

So that’s the plan.

Just one more thing before I’m completely done with colchicums.  The word is ‘tesselation’ and it describes the geometric patterning some colchicums show.  Colchicum x agrippinum has plenty of this checkering and it’s one of my favorites.colchicum x agrippinum

Did I do that?

This box showed up on my doorstep Friday and it’s bursting at the seams with colchicum flowers!  The wise gardener orders these bulbs well in advance of autumn so that this scene takes place in the well prepared garden bed, but the procrastinating gardener takes the risk and begs via email for a late order and shipment.colchicums blooming before planting

I may have gone through this kind of poor planning before, so the bare-bulb blooms are no big surprise or worry, but the show would have been ten times better had the bulbs already been planted.  But this order was the result of panic.  A couple weeks ago I realized I didn’t have anywhere near as many colchicums as a self respecting colchicum lover should have, so I immediately went to Daffodils and More, David Burdick’s bulb website.  He dabbles in the colchicums, has an excellent selection, and after a couple emails back and forth I was able to convince him to part with a few, even though they were already headed into blooming stage (as you can see, they don’t need soil or planting in order to bloom!).  They arrived at my doorstep even before my check was cashed and I have to say they’re the best cared for colchicums I have ever received.  Instead of looking worse for their journey they’re already planted in the ground and settling in.  newly planted colchicums

I was halfway tempted to keep them in the box and have them close enough to examine day or night while blooming, but better judgment won out and they were planted the next day.  I just need some groundcover ideas.  Some nice companion plantings would surely make this bed look even better as the bulbs clump up.

This info might be a little too late, but I noticed Brent and Becky’s bulbs just put their colchicums on sale for 50% off. It’s a great deal (and the source of many of my own bulbs) but most have already sold out…. but there are a couple left, and it’s not that I want to encourage any late season colchicum incidents in your own garden, but colchicum byzantinum and colchicum ‘giant’ are two of my favorites……

Fall is in the air

The last couple days have been cooler, less humid and just plain pleasant to be outside in.  I’m not saying it’s fall weather, but it’s pretty close, and based on the dry, sad state of many plants in my garden I might say they’re ready for this summer to be over.  The front border has been on an IV drip of water and this life support intervention has kept it looking decent.  Having done a mid summer bed expansion here, and having added many annuals and tropicals, it kind of needs it in order to not become a dusty wasteland…. what a lovely contrast to the lawn which has not benefitted from any watering.late summer perennial border

sedum spectabileThe pink in front is a sedum which has been doing very well the last few years.  I always hated this color growing up, but this might be an improved version of regular sedum spectabile.  It was given to me without a name, but after surviving a transplant and division during 90 degree heat I guess I owe it a place.  Next year I’m hoping for an even fuller plant.

From the other direction more of the elephant ear, coleus, and cannas are visible.  The ‘hot biscuits’ amaranthus is blooming now and I like the brown seedheads…. it kind of gives a grainy farmland look here in suburbia.tropicals in a mixed flower border

selfsown sunflowersMy birdseed sunflowers are all doing well in spite of the lack of water and lack of attention.  The only drawback is their lack of pollen, and you can see the centers of the flowers are black, not pollen-yellow.  Pollen free is great for cut flowers but the bees are not thrilled.  A few come by for nectar, which I guess is enough to get them pollinated, but they’re not the busy centers of activity that the rest of the flowers are.

I’m just glad they’re hanging in there.  Sunflowers must be quite drought tolerant for an annual since this is how the rest of the bed looks….  I’ve given up on keeping it watered.drought in the garden

In the backyard, the dahlias are still getting water and even with me cutting nearly every bloom, they’re still giving a nice spot of color in front of the dead lawn.mixed dahlias for cutting

While it was still hot and humid I got around to mowing down the meadow.  I traded in my electric chopper for the day and borrowed my brother in law’s heftier gas powered lawnmower.  It made quick work of the crispy dried grass and wildflowers.  Typically I try to cut back the meadow earlier in the year, but with the hot, dry weather I really didn’t feel like doing anything at all, so it was only now that I found the motivation.  Because of my lack of enthusiasm everything got cut, there was no mowing around butterfly weed or native grasses, it all got the same treatment.  It was a good thing I finally got it done, because for some reason the colchicums have heard the call of autumn and begun to sprout.  How they come up through the dry, hard-packed, rock-like soil is anyone’s guess, and what triggers them to wake up is beyond me, but there they are.  Fresh blooms in a sea of dry crispiness.meadow colchicum

I wish there was some similar promise in this end of the yard.  The Annabelle hydrangeas were fantastic in the spring but now are just dying sticks.  They’ll recover if rain comes soon, but for now everything just skips over our little spot, or never even reaches the ground.drought in the garden

It could easily be worse, there are still a few green weeds in there, but Pennsylvania usually doesn’t go this long without rain.  On top of that it doesn’t help that most everywhere else on the east coast is at above average rainfall… but I have faith.  Right now Thursday is showing 100% chance of rain, and maybe this cooler weather is signaling a change in the weather.