Colchicum in the garden

Jim McKenney
Tue, 07 Sep 2004 17:25:27 PDT
To judge by the array of photos on the wiki, we have some real colchicum
enthusiasts  out there. I'm guessing that they too have wrestled with the
problem of how to place colchicum in the garden. I have a small garden, and
so some of the traditional solutions to this problem - for instance, place
them in the shrubbery - are not an option here. I grow the bulk of the
"collection" in a raised bed outside of the garden proper.  That sort of
backyard monoculture strikes me as being more in the nature of agriculture
than horticulture - it's certainly not gardening in my book.

But there are a few cultivars which I have in some quantity, these being
varieties which are well adapted to local conditions (something I have
learned from sad experience cannot be taken for granted with these plants).
There isn't room in the raised beds for these, and I want some Colchicum in
the garden itself - but where? A lifetime of gardening has not provided a
totally acceptable answer. 

The problem as I see it is that Colchicum bloom at a really awkward time:
forget what you have read about these plants being autumn bloomers. They
bloom during the last month of summer, and if your garden is anything like
mine, they bloom when the garden is at its peak of annual color and floral
diversity. The flowers of late summer blooming Colchicum come in two basic
colors: white and a  very cold pink. Those colors are no competition for
everything else going on in the garden when they bloom. Unless they are
placed very carefully, Colchicum flowers seem to look as if they have a

I've come up with one solution here which is pretty good if not perfect. I
have a big patch of leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, among which grow
some fine hybrid Colchicum. This works fairly well: the leadwort is very
late to sprout early in the season while the Colchicum foliage is doing its
thing. Then, late in the summer when the leadwort is in full bloom, the
chilly color of the Colchicum flowers finds a nice compliment in the bright
blue of the leadwort. 

On reason this is not perfect is this: nearby grow some handsome
Sternbergia lutea. They make a much brighter contrast with the leadwort
flowers. I can't look at the Colchicum/leadwort combination without
thinking that it really should be a Sternbergia/leadwort grouping. 

Anyway, the Colchicum/leadwort combination is the best one I have come up

What are others doing? 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where it tickles me that
fifty years after Plumbago larpentae became Ceratostigma plumbaginoides,
garden writers were still referring to the "recent name change". After
making that crack, I decided to do a IPNI search on the name. Guess what?
It's not plumbaginoides (which is the spelling used in all the standard
references in my library going back to the beginning of the twentieth
century), it's plumbaginioides. So, fifty years from now, will some garden
writer be saying "the name recently changed from plumbaginoides to
plumbaginioides"? Or will plain thinking botanists revolt against these nit
picking name tamperings? And what does this word plumbaginioides mean?
Something like "like a little Plumbago" -plumbago + the diminutive ini +
oides ? And what's with this three-vowels-in-a-row business? What's this
supposed to be, Homeric Greek? Didn't these folks ever hear of elision?

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