Archives For colchicum

Shorter days. Cooler nights. A gardener’s fancy turns to thoughts of bulbs: What’s new this year? How can I boost color in the spring? How do I extend my bloom time? Solutions abound at the Fall Bulb Festival, the area’s largest and most diverse bulb marketplace. The annual event sells more than 200,000 bulbs, from tried-and-true performers to more exotic varieties appealing to the connoisseur.   

PHOTO: Crocus chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl'

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’

“We change the palette to include something new each year,” said Stephanie Lindemann, manager of horticultural events. “We like to offer gardeners a wide choice of colors, growing habits, bloom times, and hardiness.”

Gardeners seeking early signs of spring will be happy to see Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’ among this year’s offerings. It’s a favorite of horticulturist Tom Weaver, who oversees the Graham Bulb Garden. The pretty flower—pearlescent white, flamed with blue—brightened the Bulb Garden lawn last spring. It’s also a good candidate to use in perennial borders, under trees and shrubs, and among ground covers.

Another newcomer, Narcissus ‘Frosty Snow’, builds in variety and interest with its color-changing ways. White petals open around a yellow cup, which slowly shifts from white with a yellow rim to pure white. “It’s almost like getting three flowers with one bulb,” Weaver said.

PHOTO: Tulipa x kaufmanniana 'Early Harvest' and Muscari

Tulipa x kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ interplanted with scilla and Narcissus (yet to bloom).

The deep orange of Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ can bring warmth and vibrancy to a spring garden, according to Weaver, who recommends partnering the “intensely” orange blooms with a blue anemone (Anemone) or squill (Scilla). ‘Early Harvest’ also offers a more compact height and perennializes well, making it a better bet to return year after year.

PHOTO: Hyacinthus orientalis 'Pink Elephant'.

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Pink Elephant’

A vivid garden palette might benefit from Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Pink Elephant’. Its large, fragrant flower spikes are the palest pink tinged with salmon. Such faint pastels and whites can have a calming effect in a garden and give the eye a place to rest, according to Weaver. Companion planted with a coral-cupped narcissus, ‘Pink Elephant’ could also be used to create a nostalgic feeling.

Allium ‘Pink Jewel’ can step up in early June, right after the tulips are done for the season. “It fills in the gap when there’s not a lot blooming,” Weaver says. The 6-inch flower clusters are composed of cheerful raspberry-sherbet pink florets with bright green centers.

Can’t wait for spring? Pick up a fall-blooming crocus and plant it as soon as you get home. New among this year’s offerings, you’ll find Colchicum ‘Violet Queen’. The large blooms combine beautifully with ground covers, providing a rich, purple color in September and October. ‘Violet Queen’ is pest resistant and naturalizes readily.

Learn more about new additions and old favorites at the Fall Bulb Festival on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Preview shopping for members only will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, October 10.

Expert staff will be on hand this weekend to describe the hundreds of tulips, narcissus, and specialty bulbs available. Explore diverse growing options, and discover innovative ways to incorporate bulbs into your garden design. 


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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

Crazy for Colchicum

Fall is prime time for a carefree and surprising bulb

Tom Weaver —  September 25, 2013 — 2 Comments

When most people think of bulbs, they think of spring-flowering plants such as tulips and Narcissus, or maybe summer ones such as Allium or lilies. One often-forgotten season is fall, even though fall is prime time for one of the most carefree and surprising bulbs of all, Colchicum.

PHOTO: Colchicum 'Waterlily'

Colchicum ‘Waterlily’

Commonly known as autumn crocus or meadow saffron (although it is important to note that they are neither saffron nor a crocus and are poisonous if ingested), these lovely ephemerals are jewels in the fall garden.

Get your own Colchicum bulbs (and more!) at the Fall Bulb Festival, October 4 – 6.

PHOTO: Colchicum cilicicum

Colchicum cilicicum

PHOTO: Colchicum autumnale 'Album'

Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’

Although they’re commonly referred to as a bulb, Colchicum are not a true bulb, but are corms, much like Gladiolus and Freesia. Colchicum have an unusual habit of growing their foliage in the spring (just like most plants), but then instead of flowering, they go dormant for several months. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they send up dozens of purple, pink, white, or checkerboard flowers just as the rest of the garden is getting ready for fall.

Colchicum prefer a location with full sun until midspring and grow best in a location with well-drained soil that does not stay wet during the summer dormant period. This makes them ideal for planting under trees, where other plants might not compete as well with the roots. The bulbs should always be planted two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall to help ensure a long life.

To appreciate these intricate flowers, plant Colchicum in large groups near the front of a border. Because the foliage remains green until early summer, it is best to either plant them in an area with a groundcover, or to choose a low-growing annual to plant over them once the foliage has gone dormant for the season. This not only hides the bare ground, but also provides some support to help keep the flowers upright.

Look for Colchicum at the Chicago Botanic Garden beginning in mid-September and continuing through October. The Bulb and Home Landscape Gardens have the best displays of this fall beauty.

PHOTO: Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum ‘Violet Queen’

PHOTO: The Home Landscape Garden, dotted with clusters of Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

A large planting of Colchicum ‘Violet Queen’ in the Home Landscape Garden


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

An Autumn Surprise

Karen Z. —  October 1, 2012 — Leave a comment
colchicum

Crocus in autumn? No, it’s colchicum, a fall-flowering corm that holds quite a few surprises.

Every garden should hold a few surprises.

In fall, the Landscape Gardens deliver a good one: bright lavender patches of Colchicum, commonly known as autumn crocus or, less commonly, meadow saffron. Popping up suddenly through the groundcover, the flowers can stop visitors—and bloggers—in their tracks. With the current streak of balmy weather, the colchicum seem to be lasting even longer this year, begging a deeper look into the surprises that this bulb (actually a corm) holds up its leaves.

Surprise #1: It’s not a crocus.

Short, goblet-shaped flowers and spring-like color cause the confusion between colchicum and crocus, but there’s an easy way to tell them apart: count the long stamens in the center of the flower. Six stamens? It’s a colchicum. Only three? It’s a crocus. Colchicum’s flowers are much larger, too, and its leaves are long and strappy, rather than short and grassy.

Surprise #2: Spring leaves, fall flowers.

Expectations run high in spring, as colchicum’s wide leaves emerge, flowerless, to do their work, pulling sunlight’s energy into the corm underground. Then the leaves retreat for the summer. Time passes…and then the surprise comes, as clumps of flowers, leafless, emerge from the same spot in fall, a pleasing reminder that gardening is powered by patience.

Surprise #3: It’s not the source of saffron.

Although colchicum’s common name is “meadow saffron,” it doesn’t produce the flavorful red stamens of kitchen/culinary fame—that distinction belongs to Crocus sativus, a true crocus that also blooms in fall (along with its leaves—you can see why it gets so confusing). Unlike that crocus, colchicum has less showy stamens that cannot be eaten because…

Surprise #4: It’s poisonous.

The whole plant is: flowers, leaves, stamens, everything. Site it accordingly in your yard.

This weekend, three beautiful colchicum varieties will be sold at the Fall Bulb Festival—‘Lilac Wonder,’ which you can see in the Home Landscape Garden now; ‘Waterlily,’ a well-named, ruffled variety; and ‘Album,’ the classic white colchicum. Like most bulbs, colchicum corms are planted in late fall so they can settle in before next year’s bloom.

In the meantime, we wonder: what surprises does your garden hold?