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.

Goodbye 2015

All the random wandering around the garden with camera in hand have surely raised an eyebrow or two in my neighborhood and I’m sure neighbors question how I can focus on so many things without stopping for even one selfie.  For the last month though I wonder if anyone has noticed how normal things have been?  For whatever reason I’ve been just fine looking and not photographing and as a result there’s next to no record of October to blog about.  So it’s been quiet around here.  Lets see if we can change that, and let’s see if the last of the chrysanthemums will do the trick!

chrysanthemums

A mix of winter hardy chrysanthemums blooming in the garden this month. I have their names somewhere but that’s a job for next spring’s transplanting, when I’m sure I’ll be able to tell one dried stem from the next… (although I do know ‘Dolliette’ is the bicolor in the center)

The last few years have seen an unexpected interest in one of the least interesting plants I grow.  Pots of disposable mums fill every grocery and DYI store and farmstand at this time of year and the rounded blobs of color shouldn’t really do anything for my gardening passion…. but they do, and I’m not really sure where this came from.  As usual I blame the internet.

hardy mums

A weather weary white chrysanthemum next to a few reds. Between fresh and faded flowers you wouldn’t guess all five of the oranges and red flowers come from the same plant.

It started innocently enough with trying to overwinter a few of the seasonal color pots which we came across at various nurseries and farmstands, and it grew from there.  I wanted to give something more reliable (and interesting) a try and found Mums of Minnesota and their University of Minnesota introductions.  If it grows in Minnesota it should work here, right?

chrysanthemum in the garden

Chrysanthemums taking over the vegetable garden.

Besides spending the last couple years adding named mums to the garden I also grew on a few seedlings.  It’s surprising how nice a mum you can get from a few old seedheads, and they’re fast and easy!

chrysanthemum from seed

A few chrysanthemum from seed, early and late bloomers, tall and short.

So far they’ve been overwintering well with no effort on my part, but some are far hardier than others.  One of the hardiest are the seedlings of ‘Innocence’ which I grew from HPS seed exchange seeds.  They do need trimming in July to control height (or staking… if you’re into that kind of stuff) but otherwise they’re carefree.

chrysanthemum innocence

Seedling of chrysanthemum ‘innocence’. Most are pink and white but this year I found my first “ugly” seedling, a small orange which you can see at the lower right of this photo. It’s already found a place on the compost pile.

Some of the odd petal forms even show up in the seedlings.  I like this unusual mix of orange with just a touch of pink on this spoon shaped petal.  We’ll see how this one looks next year with a little more room.

chrysanthemum from seed

An interesting self-sown chrysanthemum seedling.

Besides loving the surprises of new seedlings I’ve also become smitten by the fat football types.  I was surprised by their hardiness last year and of course had to add a few more this spring, and even though they were rudely crammed into the edges of the vegetable garden they’ve still put on a halfway decent show.

football chrysanthemums

A few football chrysanthemums in the vegetable garden.

This is the time of year when preparations begin for next year, and although a harsh, early freeze put an end to much of the garden’s chrysanthemum show I’m still excited about these newest additions and am already looking forward to next season.  According to the grower’s website some of these will put out 5+ inch blooms if properly cared for and disbudded, and even though this also means staking I might just give it a try next year.  A couple potfuls of big football mums might be just the thing our front porch needs 🙂

Will work for mulch

Back in the day when I was younger and fresher I used to do yard cleanups and odd jobs on the side for a little extra spending money.  It doesn’t make much sense, but I still hold on to a job or two,  ask myself why, and then drag myself out on a damp morning for a day of hard labor.  Long hours working in someone else’s garden gives you plenty of time to think, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I do it for the mulch.  I don’t get nearly enough chopped leaves around here and my thin topsoil greedily eats up every leaf I dump on or turn into it.

garden put to bed for the winter

Colchicum and vegetable beds tucked in nicely under a layer of whatever the mower sucked up off the lawn. Pity the poor seed grown chrysanthemum which spent all summer waiting to be transplanted out of its tiny pot. Amazing it lived, let alone bloomed.

I do the cleanup and take home a couple bags of weeds for compost and chopped leaves for mulch.  It’s not easy coming to terms with the idea I’m a mulch whore but when I’m home and showered and looking at my haul I feel a little less cheap.

chopped leaves lawnmower

A bonanza of chopped leaves for the garden. If I had more I’d start a leaf mould pile, instead I use them all up as garden mulch.

I snuck into my brother in law’s yard last weekend and mowed up his back yard.  It was only fair since most of his leaves are off the trees which suck the life out of the North side of my yard.  I don’t think he even noticed, and the daffodil beds thank him.  My fingers are also crossed for the neighbor across the street and the chance that he dumps his mower bags out in the woods rather than into unmarked trash bags.  That would be quite the haul 🙂

dahlia tanjoh

The last of the dahlias still dodging winter. The plants look more than ready to give up but the blooms are still coming.

We have a freeze coming this weekend which should finish off the last of the tender plants.  Normally October 10th is what I think of as our first frost date, so sneaking through into the first of November is a treat, even though most of the annuals seem more than ready to give up.

red leaved castor bean seedheads

The formerly lush red leaved castor bean is all ripening seedheads now. Take a little care when handling these, they’re the source of the poison ricin.

I’m ready to do the final cleanup.  After a freeze the dahlias and cannas will be dug and the roots thrown into the garage.  Then with the exception of late bulb sales I’ll be taking a bit of a rest for the holidays.  Time for bird feeding and snow watching 🙂

late season self sown chrysanthemum

One of my last bloomers of the season, this selfsown chrysanthemum looks nice paired with the red of yet another dogwood seedling and the yellow of fall hosta leaves.

So I think this season is just about a wrap!  Bulb planting counts as work for next season -which makes cutting back and removing the frozen annuals the last chore of the 2014 season.  Most people look forward to a winter rest, but not me.  I’m already antsy for late winter’s cyclamen and snowdrops!!

Taking a bite out of Crime

Since moving here six-ish years ago the garden has been growing by fits and starts.  There wasn’t much more than grass and foundation plantings here  -so beds were promptly carved out of lawn- but it’s possible I bit off a little more than I could chew.  Now don’t get me wrong, in my opinion restraint is something better saved for the day after your funeral (and for plant orders edited after you review your checkbook balance), and I don’t regret anything…. but I think it is time to finish chewing.

So here comes the story.

my backyard is a meadow

Spring 2008 was when we moved in. I really couldn’t see the point of cutting all that grass, so to the joy of my new neighbors (also inlaws btw) I left it to grow as meadow.  The uncut grass  went over really well (I think).  This was when ‘the queen of the prairie’ got her name, she was in the house as an estate sale leftover, but now you can barely make her out in the grass to the left.

After 40 years of wooded seclusion, the company owning the land behind our house chose the year after we moved in to begin construction on a new industrial park.  Trees were promptly cut down and bulldozers moved in.

kids love bulldozers

Kids love bulldozers. The previous fall was when I dumped dirt, planted daffodils, and the bed in question was born.

Don’t get teary eyed over the trees and earthmoving, bulldozers weren’t the worst thing that could happen to this land.  We’re talking about mine scarred land covered with tailings from the coal mines and a massive culm bank.  Industrial decay can be cool in photos, but less so in your own backyard.

construction site as my view

Another good thing about construction were the nice rocks salvaged from the site. Too bad my back gave out before I could lug up even more.

Fast forward to this summer and things have grown back up… too bad weeds have also grown up, and it’s downright criminal what the bed has become.

Annabelle hydrangea

The “Annabelle” hydrangea was just a homeless cutting. Four years later and it’s too nice to remove, but as for everything else?

Now is probably a good time to remind you of my blog’s subtitle “More than you ever wanted to know about my garden”.  I think we’ve reached that point, and to keep it short and sum it up;  July -about 50 clumps of daffodils dug, sunflower seeds planted, heavy grass clipping mulch applied.

sunflower seedlings

Better late than never, a planting of sunflower seedlings coming along on August 11th. Some rain would help since I hate dragging the hose out to this bed.

Finally to wrap things up the sunflowers are blooming and I’m trying to keep on top of the weeds.  A smarter person would have covered the whole bed with newspaper or cardboard, mulched over that, or sprayed for the weeds but I’m going to try and pull them as they show up.  Wish me luck.

late summer sunflower patch

It’s not the worst thing to have a few late season annuals. They seem to know enough to get a move on it and are blooming at a shorter height (a mere five feet)

The bees may not be impressed by them, but a few fully double sunflowers give it a nice Van Gogh feel.

double sunflower

This double sunflower looks fluffy enough to use as a pillow.

I just need to resist planting things here until the last of the weeds are killed off.  That won’t happen, but maybe I can at least keep it to a minimum 🙂

Tis the season for orange

The view from the back deck is changing.  As fall color moves down from the mountains into our valley, the woods and weedy edges of the yard are losing the tired green of a droughty fall and going gold.fall color from the deck

Dry soil and warm night temperatures don’t make for good fall color but there’s still plenty to go around, and inspired by this last hurrah I trudged out to my trusty favorite nursery, Perennial Point, and cracked open the wallet for a mum, ‘redbor’ kale and some pansies.  I’ve been trying to stick to a budget, and mums and pansies that may or may not survive the winter don’t fit well into the spending plan.  Still it’s always nice to bring home even a small patch of instant color.fall porch color

The budget is helped immensely by home-grown pumpkins and cornstalks, and a couple butternut squash fit in perfectly until I draft them for soup duty.  The pansies in orange and purple are not what I’d pick in spring, but seemed a perfect fall theme. autumn porch decorationsOrange is definitely the color of the season, and now that the front stoop has been re-decorated (by someone over the age of seven) I’m starting to notice orange all over the place.

The last of the Tropicana cannas are managing to get in a couple more blooms before frost cuts them down (any day now)tropicana canna with ninebark

These seed grown marigolds (I believe Sophia mix… although they don’t look too mixed) did well in spite of neglect, soccer balls, and drought, and I’m almost a little nervous about saying I really like them.  Orange marigolds…. a color and plant frequently looked down upon by more refined gardeners…. perfect for my yard!  orange fall marigolds

Another looked-down-upon plant which I love is ‘Tiger Eyes” sumac.  The wild version of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) provides most of the color in the backyard but I try to keep those weeds back a ways.  Here in the front, the slightly more refined chartreuse foliage of ‘Tiger Eyes’ is almost acceptable.  I can easily ignore its suckering ways when it glows like this.sumac 'tiger eyes' fall color

Here’s another one poking up by the house.  Even I think it may be a little too wild for a foundation planting, but until something better comes along the sumac stays. It actually looks good right now with the blues of the spruce, catmint and fescue grass.  Between that and the rusty chrysanthemums and orange amaranthus it almost looks like I planned it this way.  If anyone asks I’ll say I did 😉  orange mums with blue foliage

The rust colored mums stick with todays orange theme but it’s the purple ones I like best.  There’s a little fading in the blooms to give some depth and even without pinching they keep to a low mound.  I’m really appreciating the chrysanthemums in general this year and spring may bring some new additions.  How can I not like a plant which never got a drop of watering or fertilizer and still puts on a perfect show?purple and orange mums

I’ll have to enjoy these last splashes of color as fall starts to fade.  We’re on borrowed time as long as the frost stays up in the mountains, but our days are numbered.  This weekend the smart gardener will bring his tender plants indoors.  The other gardener will remember his plants just before bedtime and regret his procrastination as he fumbles with muddy plants, a flashlight, and cold fingers in the dark.

 

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