Colchicum autumn crocus, colchicum

Height: 15-20cm (6-8in)

Planting distance: 15-20cm (6-8in)

Features: flowers autumn

Soil: well-drained

Site: sun or partial shade

Type: corm

Colchieums are renowned for the lovely colours they introduce to the garden in autumn – muted lilacs, purples and pinks. They should not be confused with the genuine crocus, which has fewer stamens and narrow leaves with a faint white stripe along the centre.

An ideal site is among rough grass, which will support the 15-20cm (6-8in) high, leafless stems during flowering time and hide the coarse, untidy leaves that develop in spring. All colchicums are hardy, so they can be left undisturbed for years.

Popular species and varieties:

Colchicum autumnale has small, lilac-pink, goblet-shaped flowers, which appear in early and mid autumn, and large, glossy, green leaves in spring. The stems are particularly fragile, so this species should ideally be grown among rough grass that can be left uncut in spring and autumn. Plant 10cm (4in) deep and 20cm (8 in) apart. A double-flowered, rose-pink form, roseum ‘Plenum’, and a white form, album, are also available. Colchicum speciosutn has large, goblet-shaped flowers in shades of mauve, which last from early to late autumn. It is a more robust species with a stronger stem, so it can be grown in a border by itself — preferably a shrub border where the 40cm (16in) high leaves that appear in spring can’t smother other plants. Plant in a group of at least ten corms in the dappled shade of a shrub or a small tree. Set the corms 10cm (4in) deep and 1.5cm (6in) apart.

‘Album’ is an excellent white form. Dutch hybrids have stronger-coloured flowers, which appear between early and late autumn. They are more robust and easier to grow. Popular varieties:

include ‘Autumn Queen’ (rose flowers), ‘Glory of Heemstede’ (chequered, deep purple-pink), ‘Lilac Wonder’ (lilac-rose), ‘The Giant’ (large, dark violet) and ‘Waterlily’ (double, mauve).

Cultivation

Colchicums grow in any soil provided it is well drained, but they are morelikely to spread in fertile soil. A site in sun or partial shade is preferable.

Plant in mid to late summer or as soon as the corms are available, arranging them in small clumps. Remove dead foliage.

Propagation: Every third year, when the leaves die down in summer, dig up the corms, separate any small cormlets and replant them.

Pests and diseases: Slugs may cat the leaves and corms.

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