Fall Blooming Crocus

Colchicum

When you think of crocus you picture bright yellow and purple flowers, planned en masse and bringing cheer after a long, dreary winter.  What if I told you that you could get another season of crocus cheer?  Well, you’d better hurry into the garden centre now.

Fall blooming crocus, autumn crocus and colchicums usually fly under the radar, which is a shame.  These sweet little flowers really do deserve their time in the sun along with the winter pansies and mums that are starting to fill the tables at the garden centre.

Sold with the bulbs but technically a corm, the fall crocus sends up flowers pretty quickly when planted and if left in the package will stick their heads through the perforations in the plastic and bloom anyway.   If you’ve bought them, taken them home and forgotten them on the shelf then you’ll likely feel quite guilty when you finally go to plant them, flowers squished awkwardly in the package and struggling to escape but don’t worry.  They might be contortionists this year but they’ll straighten out by next fall.

There are quite a few varieties of fall blooming beauties.  One of the most popular is Crocus Zonatus.  This one grows to about five inches high and blooms profusely in a pretty shade of pink.  There are a couple of big clumps of them along Pioneer that I always admire in the fall.

If you’re into more flash then Colchicum Waterlily will deliver.  It’s a little taller at eight inches and it produces multiple double, soft lilac blooms.  Or if your colour of choice is bright, sunny yellow then chose Sternbergia lutea.  While officially in the amaryllis family it does resemble a crocus and is sometimes called Yellow Autumn Crocus however it has also been rumoured to answer to Fall Daffodil and Lily of the Field.  Identity crisis aside, it is one that is sure to spice up an otherwise drab corner of the garden.

Speaking of spice, Crocus sativus, commonly known as the Saffron Crocus does produce saffron but it takes many, many flowers to produce one ounce of spice so don’t go buying a cookbook on saffron inspired dishes.  (Disclaimer time…don’t ever attempt to eat any bulb or plant unless you’ve researched it extensively as most bulbs have some part that doesn’t agree with the digestion system).  However, the flowers are a pretty light purple with darker veins running through the petals and the saffron producing stamens stand out with their fiery orange.

As with spring blooming crocus they are best planted in big clumps for the most impact and although they do naturalize it really is nice to have lots.  This isn’t a ploy to get you to buy more although I’m not going to stop you from filling your shopping basket.  It’s just that when planted all alone they tend to get lost and we don’t want lost bulbs wandering around now, do we?

A sunny site and well-drained soil are best.  Most of the varieties will start blooming by late September and then mark their spot in the garden by sending up their leaves in spring, which disappear by mid summer.  They do this to make sure you don’t accidently dig them up when you’re adding your new treasures that you found during your last visit to Cultivate.

So, if you’re a fan of cheery crocus then you’re in luck.   Fall bloomers are available at the garden centre at the end of August or beginning of September for a short time.

Shirley Eppler

August 2009