Autumn Blooms in the Bulb Garden

Tom Weaver —  September 27, 2014 — 2 Comments

It’s now early fall and that means it’s time for Colchicum! Colchicum is a group of flowers also known as autumn crocuses, though they’re not related to the true crocus. Seventeen species and varieties of Colchicum grow in the Graham Bulb Garden. Flower colors range from white to magenta-violet, and include doubles and bicolors.

PHOTO: Colchicum cilicum.

Colchicum cilicum

Colchicum blooms are a great way to brighten up the early autumn landscape. They’re best grown in a groundcover or as an underplanting for taller bulbs such as lilies (Lilium sp.). The spring foliage can be rather large and hosta-like, making them sometimes difficult to pair with smaller spring-blooming bulbs such as Scilla, but it makes them perfect for hiding bare stems of tall plants in the summer while providing a jolt of color to your beds just before everything goes to sleep for the fall.

PHOTO: Colchicum 'Antares'.

Colchicum ‘Antares’

PHOTO: Colchicum x agrippinum.

Colchicum × agrippinum

In addition to the crocuses, dahlias and lilies are still bursting forth with color, like jewels in the September garden. The cooler temperatures help create richer colors in the dahlias, and longer-lasting blooms, while their large size provides a contrast with the dainty blooms more typical of fall bulbs. We’re still seeing the final blooms of Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’ as well. This lily is notable for being the latest-blooming lily in our climate. These plants started blooming in early September and are still holding on. Due to their late blooming nature, these beauties must be planted in the spring in a well-drained but fertile area. 

PHOTO: Lilium speciosum 'Uchida'.

Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Bahama Mama'.

Dahlia ‘Bahama Mama’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Diva' and Salvia guaranitica 'Argentina Skies'.

Dahlia ‘Diva’ and Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentina Skies’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Jitterbug'.

Dahlia ‘Jitterbug’

While these might be the last blooms of the season in the Bulb Garden, this certainly isn’t the end of interesting things happening in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Fall foliage color will be peaking soon, and winter holds its own interest in the colors of berries, dogwood stems, and the exfoliating bark of the birches against snow’s white blanket.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Tom Weaver

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Tom Weaver is a horticulturist and takes care of the Dwarf Conifer Garden and Waterfall Garden. He has a bachelor's degree in environmental horticulture from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus. His favorite groups of plants are hardy cacti and anything with chartreuse foliage.

2 responses to Autumn Blooms in the Bulb Garden

  1. About 10 years ago,i saw a colchicum having large flowers with overlapping petals and distinct checkering inside .Based upon where I saw it,i doubt it was a rare obscure species . I suspect it was a commercially available variety. I Seem to recall it had a white throat and the color was the normal lilac purple or perhaps a little deeper. Do u have any idea what I saw? What is your best checkerd variety?

    Thank you very much
    Betty

    • Hi Betty
      There are dozens of varieties of Colchicum with checkering. Colchicum cilicicum and Colchicum x aggripinum both have very distinct checkers but lack white throats. Colchicum ‘Glory of Heemstede’ (sometimes sold as ‘Conquest’) has a large darker purple flower with a white throat and moderate checkering. All of these are readily available and easy to grow.

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