Autumn crocus doesn't fail to return

A good while back, when I attended a gardening seminar where one of the noted speakers was Mr. Brent Heath, a well-known authority on bulbs, I remember wanting to plant one of everything he highlighted. Back then, even though I had a lot more energy, realistically, of course, I couldn’t. But there is one in particular I did make an effort to plant in a flower bed in our front yard: Colchicum, also known as autumn crocus.  Now, after all these years, even though I tend to take their existence for granted, the bulbs don’t fail to produce the loveliest blooms when the time is right, which is now, pleasantly catching me off guard.

Autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale, is actually grown from corms which are fairly large in size; they prefer to be grown at locations that get enough sunlight, in gritty soils with good drainage, although to my amazement, ours have survived the neglect, the shade of the nearby silver maple and the overbearing ivy growing in the vicinity.

The corms, which evidently lie dormant in winter, send out large lance-shaped dark green leaves in late spring, indicating that they are living and healthy; but before long, generally in summer, the foliage turns yellow and eventually dies. However, the life cycle of colchicum doesn’t end here, rather best is yet to come: late summer or early fall prompts the corms to produce naked stalks from the ground flaring into spectacular flowers which are rose-pink in the variety I had planted. So short are the stalks that the flowers seem to be blooming directly above the soil.

Not to be confused with the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, which also blooms in fall, the autumn crocus is a member of the plant family Liliaceae. Flowers looks pretty when grown at places where they can be seen from and not hidden by taller plants such as between groundcovers or in rock gardens. Once the delicate flowers wither, the corms stay put, storing up energy for the next season’s show. Incidentally, all parts of the plants are toxic, which could be the reason why critters don’t bother them.

Colchicum and hardy cyclamens are perfect season-extenders just as summer-blooming annuals and perennials are on the last stages of flowering now; needless to say, the dainty flowers of both these plants bring a lot of cheer to our garden. And, both have the gumption to survive!

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Looking for a tree or a shrub to add to the garden for fall color? Soon it will be a good time to shop for one when deciduous trees and shrubs start to flaunt their gorgeous autumn colors.

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