Missing, but not forgotten

– Posted in: Colchicums, Plant info
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I am determined to wrap up the colchicum season in a timely manner and get my colchicum books out of the dining room, where they’ve been banging around near the computer for easy reference. There is only one colchicum still blooming, and that is ‘Waterlily.’ She is always the last, and often looks the worse for it, because usually by now we’ve had continual hard frosts for most of October, and this has been a wonderfully mild autumn. ‘Waterlily’ is looking good this year.

Of the eight different colchicums I ordered this year, two have not emerged: Colchicum agrippinum and Colchicum autumnale. This has happened to me before. Sometimes they are just not blooming size yet, or didn’t take kindly to being moved. If they send up leaves in the spring, I figure all is well.

Of the colchicums I bought last year, two didn’t bloom this year: ‘Dick Trotter’ and ‘Harlequin.’ As best I can remember, they did send up leaves this past spring. Normally if a colchicum sends up leaves in the spring, I expect flowers in the fall, unless the leaves were pulled up prematurely by a zealous gardener-in-training (that’s toddler to you). I suppose, just like some apple trees, there could be some colchicums that only bloom every other year. It is also possible that it was just too wet for them this summer and they rotted. Won’t really know until next spring. If I don’t see any leaves then, I’ll figure I’ve seen the last of them.

And there’s several that have gone missing on me. In part that’s because I made the mistake of assuming all colchicums were as vigorous and forgiving as the byzantinums that were growing here when we moved in. Let’s face it, they were growing in a garden that had been neglected for close to ten years, in unamended clay, and still going strong. No wonder I thought colchicums were idiot proof. Like most genera, they have their fussy species, but for the most part they just like a soil a little more middle-of-the-road than mine. I have to add grit to grow most dianthus, for Pete’s sake, so why not colchicums, too? So that’s what I intend to do in the future: modify the soil to make it more freely draining. If it is moisture that’s killing them, it’s most likely mud season wet. But it could be cold. A lot of the colchicums I order are hardy to zone 5. Some years it’s zone 5 here, and some years it’s zone 4, but no matter how cold it gets in the depths of winter, it does take a long time to warm up in spring. Maybe they just can’t hold out that long.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. You know, A Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum for Gardeners by E. A. Bowles is considered “the standard work,” and it was published in 1924! In this age of specialization, I find it incredible that no doctoral candidate in botany has latched onto colchicums as a subject worthy of a dissertation. How come it took me years to find out they need free-draining soil? Why is it so hard to get correctly identified plants? What determines the beginning of the blooming season? I feel like someone knows the answers to these questions, and they’re just not telling. Or they’re just telling the other members of the secret colchicum club to which I do not belong.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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