Years ago when I worked as a horticulturist at Old Sturbridge Village one of my favorite plantings was right by the entrance to the visitor’s center. During the summer it was planted in white sweet alyssum and pale yellow petunias, not very memorable until about now when the lovely lavender colchicums popped their heads up through the white and pale yellow carpet eliciting much delight with the visitors. The folks staffing the visitor center were constantly being asked what that flower that looked like a giant crocus was.
Colchicums have been called autumn crocuses, naked ladies, meadow saffron and mysteria, just to mention a few common names. Do note that these bulbs, actually corms, are not crocuses but rather members of the lily family and they are poisonous which means that deer, woodchucks, voles and rabbits leave them alone. If you’ve just moved into a house with fall blooming crocus like flowers and want to know how to differentiate colchicums from crocuses, the former have 6 stamens while the latter have only 3.
The botanical name, Colchicum, comes from the land on the shores of the Black Sea once known as Colchis, now Georgia. According to Greek mythology, this was the home of the sorceress, Medea. When she discovered the unfaithfulness of her husband, Jason, who led the Argonaunts in their quest for the Golden Fleece, she poisoned her children to punish him.
Colchicums were grown at the Village because they were introduced to Europe sometime in the late 16th century and were popular garden plants for about 200 years. Now with renewed interest in heirloom plants, their popularity is again growing. As it should! Colchicums are beautiful yet tough plants for droughty sites where some early fall color is welcome. They do great in drifts under the high shade of large trees as well as in partially to full sun sites in the perennial garden or shrub bed.
If these flowers appeal to you, keep in mind several cultural suggestions. Plant colchicums as soon as purchased from garden centers or catalogs, in the fall, about 3 to 6 inches deep in a well-drained soil in full to part sun. The corms should bloom a few weeks after planting. When the foliage arises in the spring, fertilize with natural or synthetic products as directed on the package. Try to keep the soil pH around 6.3 or so. Consider planting colchicums where they will make an impact. Often this is in complementary or contrasting colored annuals or in beds of groundcovers, especially the chocolate leaved ajugas.
After admiring these little beauties and my favorite dahlia, ‘Peaches’n Cream’, it was off to the vegetable garden to collect the harvest from the past few days.
Monday morning woke to a very light frost in the lowest sections of the yard leaving the vegetable garden untouched so there was still a fair amount of produce to harvest. ‘Butta’ summer squash has been extremely prolific. 4 more squash were added to the stash in the frig making this weekend officially summer squash relish making time. The fall crop of mixed radishes was ready for picking as well.
The winter squash, ‘Early Butternut’ and ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’ can stay out in the garden until a hard frost threatens. I grow members of the butternut family (Cucurbita moschata) every year as they have solid stems so are not susceptible to squash vine borer damage. The ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’ squash is a 15 pound, pear-shaped heirloom although it is new to my garden this year.
Those rotten little cross-striped caterpillars ate every little leaf bit of my Asian greens – just during the last few weeks! Thankfully, there are still lots of chard and a fall lettuce crop coming in.
The squirrels kept climbing on the sunflowers to get the seeds causing the plants to bend and sometimes break. They were staked up as good as possible and one sunflower produced this row of flowers along a now horizontal branch.
Enjoy these nice fall days!