by BRIAN MINTER
August 31, 2003
Each September, far too many gardens are missing a pleasant spark of colour from an easy-to-grow giant crocus that blooms at an odd time of year. The 'fall-blooming crocus' or colchicum actually belongs to the iris family, and August is the best time of year to plant them.
Colchicums go by the name of 'autumn crocus', although they are not really a crocus at all. In fact, they belong to the lily family and are native to the Mediterranean region. Colchicum bulbs become huge and produce 19 to 25 flowers, one right after the other, until they all open in a profusion of colour. A lady, who used to grow thousands in her backyard in Vancouver, told me it takes about two years for a small bulb to grow into a huge specimen, at which point it splits into four smaller ones. Small bulbs will produce five to seven flowers; mid-sized bulbs will have about a dozen blooms. I have learned the hard way that these bulbs love a sunny, well-drained, yet moist location, with average soil. One year we planted them in several shady spots, only to have them gradually deteriorate to the point of no return. You can leave them in the ground to naturalize, if that is the effect you wish to have. A single corm of a large colchicum hybrid can easily multiply to cover nearly 900 square centimetres of garden. Just imagine what a few well-placed groupings throughout your garden can do. It is best to plant them about 10cm deep and about 15 to 20cm apart. They need some room, not only to multiply, but also for the huge foliage which will develop the following spring.