Colchicums are handsome autumn-which are often wrongly called autumn because of their large crocus-like blooms in white and every shade of pink, mauve and purple. They are not, however, related to the true crocus. They are sometimes known as Meadow Saffrons and many gardeners call them Naked Ladies because they are quite devoid of foliage at flowering time in the autumn and only produce their broad, lush foliage later in the spring.
Colchicum flowers are 6 to 8 in. high but the prolific and decorative foliage that appears in the spring is often as tall as 15 to 18 in. This means they should not be planted where their foliage interferes with spring-flowering subjects such as near dwarf alpines, at the edge of borders, or in front of the. The best place to plant them is in grass under tall trees, in dry, exposed parts of , around and under shrubs, at the fringe of , or in . However, they should not be planted where cattle graze as the foliage is poisonous. Carefully sited in groups of four or more they are attractive in borders and in the rock garden where they produce flowers profusely every year.
Colchicums are easy to grow, thriving in well-drained soil and in full sun or partial shade. Despite the size of the irregularly shaped corms they need only a 2 or 3-in. covering of soil. The gorgeous flowers spring from each corm shortly after planting in late July or August while the foliage that emerges in spring grows on until summer. When the leaves die down, the corms can be lifted, the clusters separated, and the corms replanted. This is only necessary, however, when the clumps become overcrowded, about once every four or five years.
Colchicum autumnale is the best known species and several varieties are well worth planting.
Colchicum autumnale major (Byzantinum) produces a profusion of soft lilac-mauve flowers which are 6 in. tall in September and October. This variety can also be grown dry in the house by placing the corm on a saucer, without soil or water. Colchicum autumnale minor, also 6 in. tall, blooms later with smaller but abundant rose-lilac, almost star-shaped flowers.
Colchicum speciosum has large deep purple flowers of erect habit on 8-in. stems in October and November.
Colchicum agrippinum, sometimes known as Colchicum tessellatum, has very pretty flowers which are tessellated or chequered rosy purple and lilac white.
Large-flowered colchicum hybrids blooming from September to November include: Autumn Queen, purple-violet, large cup-shaped flowers; The Giant, large rosy-lilac flowers with white base, most vigorous; Violet Queen, large deep mauve flowers with white stripe; Lilac Wonder, pinkish-violet flowers with white stripe; and Waterlily, enormous lilac-mauve double flowers on sturdy stems.