As a kid I used to hate the shops who’d put out their ‘Back to School’ ranges in the third week of July (I’m pointing at you, WH Smith)… Yet here I am, 15 years later, urging gardeners to think about autumn in mid-July.
‘This had better be good’ I hear you say. Well, I promise you it is. Autumn crocuses are one of my all-time favourite plants, giving you a wonderful surprise every year, appearing all of a sudden from late September to late October. Their delicate goblet-like flowers come in shades of soft mauve and blue, which perfectly complement the reds, browns and yellows of autumn. And now is the perfect time to order them.
For the best results, plant them in sunny or part-shaded beds and borders over the next month or so. Bury them relatively deeply (about 5in/12cm deep), pointed end upwards. Cover with soil and add a small cane or label if (like me) you’re forgetful and prone to filling any gaps with new plants!
A spicy challenge
Crocus speciosus or Bieberstein’s crocus is one of the easiest and best autumn crocuses to grow in the UK. It’s hardy, easy and reliable – flowers should reappear year after year. It is related to the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) – the source of the precious spice saffron, which I’ve never managed to grow successfully (except in Provence – sorry if that sounds a bit pretentious!). If you like a challenge – give it a go. The bulbs aren’t expensive and if it works you’ll make your money back in no time. Plant the corms deeply in a sunny spot in well-drained soil – somewhere you’d put bearded irises would be ideal.
There are other sorts of autumn crocus too, including white ones and the (unrelated but superficially similar) colchicums; whichever you choose, these delightful plants will bring fresh life and a smile to the autumn garden.