They’re coming! They’re coming!

– Posted in: Colchicums

Emerging colchicumsNo, it’s not the Invasion of the Subterranean Aliens. These are emerging colchicum flowers. Col-chi-what? An underused flowering bulb from the Lily family, which hold a fascination for me that I really can’t explain. I never would have discovered them, had they not been growing here when we moved in. Their botanical weirdness of blooming leafless in the fall with a tube of petal-like tissue passing for a stem, while their leaves and seedpods are a spring-only event, is certainly part of the attraction. Locating new varieties is also part of the fun, similar to scoring a find at a flea market.

But part of the enjoyment of them is just knowing they are coming. At a time when the rest of the garden has a “been there, done that” look about it, I get a pleasure, similar to hunting for snowdrops in early spring, from roaming around the garden in the places where I planted them, looking for signs of their appearance. And since I have many varieties, which open over a period of weeks, I have multiple excuses for going out to the garden for a colchicum hunt. You should try it sometime.

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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Kathy Purdy September 3, 2006, 9:03 am

eliz–sorry to hear you haven’t had luck with them. I will concede that some have done better for me than others. The Colchicum byzantinum were growing here when we moved in–one of the surviving plants in an abandoned garden. And they multiply well. I must have given away a bushel of them. On the other hand ‘Waterlily’ was one of the first I purchased, and it just barely hangs on. And in my Colchicum category (in the sidebar on the main page) you will posts listing all the ones that failed to show up a second time. Some of them do need better drainage than your average garden plant, and many that I try are supposedly hardy to Zone 5, and in a cold year I have a Zone 4 garden. So, yes, I would definitely start with a less expensive one.

eliz September 2, 2006, 8:44 pm

Ah, yes. Expensive little suckers. I bought a couple bulbs (from a good source) and one bloomed. Once. But I love the idea of them.

Craig September 2, 2006, 3:57 am

It’s late August and I was wondering how your little guys were doing and what they were up to – up being the operating word. I didn’t check the site yesterday and surprise, surprise, here’s your post. Thanks for the info on the different plant families as I also thought they would be in the same one. Are Sternbergias hardy here? I know many other fall blooming bulbs are not.

Many years ago I was invited to visit the garden of Wayne Roderick, famed for Lavandula “Martha Roderick” and an iconic force in the California Native Plant Society. He was a great bulb collector and his garden reflected it. Out of season, most of the garden looked like bare dirt, mulch, and rock, hiding all his treasures. He was disappointed that his collections of Amaryllis belladonna (naked ladies) were done for the season but there were so many others flowering, including Nerine, Schizostylis, Cyclamen, Sternbergias, and Crocus, they weren’t missed by me. The most impressive by far was the Brunsvigia, enormous bulbs of basketball size and greater, half exposed at the surface. The flower clusters, in a shade of smoky deep rose, were about two feet across on a stalk at least five feet tall.

He also had extensive plantings of Colchicums throughout the garden. It was the first time I had seen them in a garden setting and was impressed with their variations, colors, and robustness. Nothing at all like their pictures in catalogs or lonely bulbs on a display shelf. Beautiful plants.

Zoey September 2, 2006, 3:55 am

I was just thinking it must be about time for those to come up. I will have to go check on mine. You’re right – It’s very exciting!

Jenn September 1, 2006, 5:46 pm

So exciting!

Kathy Purdy September 1, 2006, 4:17 pm

This is one case where it pays to know the botanical name of the plant. There are true autumn-blooming crocuses, and there are colchicums–both are called Autumn Crocus! They are not even close cousins; they come from two entirely different plant families (Iris and Lily). To see some photos from past years, click on the Flickr badge in the sidebar.

kerri September 1, 2006, 4:03 pm

I can’t wait to see the colchicums flowering! Are they the same as autumn crocus or is that something different? I guess I could look it up 🙂
I still have quite a few things blooming too, after a walk around to check things out today. I’m not looking forward to more rain tomorrow!