Plant ant of the week: Colchicum
These flamboyant bulbs herald the approach of autumn
Colchicums are harbingers of change in the gardening calendar, erupting into life from late summer with clusters of vibrant pink or white blooms. The fact they flower from bare earth at this time without a leaf in sight has given rise to their common name of autumn crocus, even though they’re not related to crocus at all!
Colchicums produce corms, rather than bulbs, much larger than those of crocus. They can be planted up to the point buds appear as they’ll flower irrespective of whether they’re in the ground or not. They’re poisonous, so take care and wash your hands after handling.
After their spectacular flowers have faded colchicums produce a rosette of surprisingly large, glossy, spear-shaped leaves in spring, lasting until early summer before dying down for the summer, before flowering again in early autumn. Take care where you place them as while they might look great in autumn, they might create a problem after leaves appear. Colchicum will grow in most moist, well-drained soil, but especially those which are chalky.
They thrive in sun or dappled shade and are ideal for naturalising in short, rough grassland around trees and shrubs. They also create seasonal impact in pots of loambased compost.
Plant dry corms in summer, with the nose planted around 7½cm (3in) deep and 15cm (6in) apart. If planted in grassland avoid mowing the area until June, when the foliage starts to fade. Slugs and snail can damage the blooms, so take precautions. l Our native autumn crocus, C. autumnale, has long been cultivated in British gardens. The other 150 species come from the Mediterranean, Asia, India and even South Africa, from which around 30 are more easily grown,
with about 10 reliable varieties proving really popular.