There’s something wonderful about autumn-flowering bulbs. They feel, somehow, like a bit of a cheat, or an extra treat from the usual spring display of daffodils and tulips. I especially love them for being so fresh and virginal at a time when many other plants have gone to seed, or flopped like drunks staggering out of a party.
A particular favourite of mine is an autumn-flowering crocus, Crocus speciosus, which shoots slender fluted flower buds up from bare soil in October and into November. They start as an ashen, smoky grey-blue, which develops into a glistening pale lilac colour as they open. They’re so pure and innocent-looking, making a wonderful contrast to the muddy, muddled ochres and reds of fallen leaves.
I prefer to plant them in a sheltered spot either in grass or in amongst other low-growing plants such as heucheras. Foliage around the flowers is helpful to help hold the flowers up: if the plant has one fault it’s that the flowers are so delicate and fine that they’re liable to flop over and can be massacred by strong winds and heavy rain.
Tiny, narrow leaves, pretty much identical to those of spring crocus appear after the flowers have faded and die away tidily in late spring: – a bit of a contrast to the fleshy tufts of leaves produced by the better known “autumn crocus”(or meadow saffron) – Colchicum.
Colchiums aren’t crocus at all, and are much bigger. Some gardeners moan about their big leaves cluttering up the borders in spring, but I rather like them. They look almost like a houseplant; or an out-of-season hosta. Colchicums are ideal plants for novice gardeners as they’ll flower pretty much whatever you do to them – you can even leave the bulbs on the windowsill and watch them bloom a few weeks later.