Garden: Falling for the Crocus
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. This week, Brian Cruey rethinks his reservations about autumn and waxes poetic about the season’s flowering beauty.
If you read this column regularly (hi mom!), you know I have been kind of whiny and down on the fall. I always have a hard time letting go of summer and admitting that it’s over, and I’ve been pretty vocal about it. However, this week has made me take back every bad thing I’ve said about autumn. If you were in the Berkshires this past weekend, there was no way you couldn’t have fallen in love with the magic that is early fall. It was one of those weekends where I found myself taking a big step back and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live here!”
It may just be me, but the foliage seems to be exceptional this year. The trees are doing their thing in a big way and the plants in my garden are putting on a show of their own as they wind down the season and turn various shades of red, yellow, and brown. With all of those warm, earthy tones taking over, it makes it all the more shocking when, in the middle of it all, there’s a burst of spring color.
I’m talking about the bizarre little plant known as the fall crocus. I love this plant. The color and timing of Colchicum Autumnale is so shocking in contrast to the rest of the garden at this time of year that it causes most people to do a double-take and ask, “What is that??”
The fall crocus looks like a crocus, with all its beautiful pastel coloring and low-to-the-ground flowers, but it blooms in the early fall. Bulbs should be planted in early to mid September, or as soon as you receive them if you order them from a catalog or online retailer. This is an earlier planting time than your other bulbs like allium and narcissus, which you’ll want to plant in mid October. Usually, you’ll start to see blooms appear in late September on a single stem with no accompanying foliage—another attribute that makes this plant so interestingly weird. The foliage (about 3-8 leaves around a foot in length) comes up in early spring and dies back in the summer months. Like most bulbs, the Colchicum has the most impact when planted in large groupings or drifts—at least that’s my own personal opinion. Also, like most bulbs, they’ll start to naturalize and multiply over time.
This is a great plant to have in your garden when you want that unusual touch of something that is going to turn heads. It’s also a great reminder to us, on the eve of winter, of what we have to look forward to in the spring.