Nothing thrills me more than the October ritual of planting bulbs. The thrill of grabbing my straw hat for the last time this weekend and using my trowel before stowing it for winter excites me more than you could know. Though I’m not an athlete, any coach would say to finish with exhilaration, capturing the thrill of the quest soon to end. Such is bulb planting for me!
But my favorite bulbs (actually corms) show up in autumn. No, not in dried, bundled, boxed and ready to plant form either. They’re the autumn crocus, just finishing up now in places all over the country. Planted in the fall like other crocus, to which they are absolutely NOT related, the so-called autumn crocus possess an unimpeachable suite of ornamental qualities not the least of which is their peculiar bloom time.
I stumbled head first into autumn crocuses when I was a teenager, fascinated as I was with their paradoxical nature. Their waxy, rippled foliage appears in mid-spring, hangs around just long enough to make you wonder what on earth you could’ve planted there, and promptly disappears. Many might express alarm. Others, like me, forget that fleeting glimpse of tropicalismo-inspiring foliage and proceed ignorantly through the summer months–until September. That’s when I got hooked. I might have been 15 or 16, I don’t quite remember. But I do remember the overwhelming sense of excitement when I stumbled upon that tidy pink bouquet of ground-springing, shell-like flowers freckled with lavender checker-square boxes. I was in love, seduced by their lustiness at the onset of fall.
Since that ephemeral moment I’ve tried to rustle up as many of these central Asian natives as I can find including C. kesselringii (which I’m determined to grow at all cost), C. cilicicum, and C. byzantinum. Unfortunately, many whimper and die in the summers of my mid-continent garden. They’d love to be drier I’m sure. But hardier and more robust forms of C. autumnale and C. speciosum offer most Midwesterners just the treat needed in the waning months of the growing season. Take a look at some of my favorite, Zone 5 hardy Colchicum cultivars.