Change of season good for ‘crocuses’

Autumn crocus.
Autumn crocus.

We are surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of autumn. Some are simply stunning, some eye-catching and others we accept but they’re an acquired taste.

A favourite sound has filled the air recently while we’ve been out gardening.

Louder than the normal chirruping of a resident robin, it has forced us to look skyward as a skein of chattering geese fly in their distinctive ‘v’ formation.

Meanwhile, down by the river, a kingfisher is in action daily, flying low near the water and occasionally pausing on a branch to view the prospects.

It seems to spend summer on the fresh water up-river and provides another indication of autumn when I see it on the tidal stretch – catching more than I am with the rod at present!

Two further significant signs have appeared in the form of bird species normally seen as isolated pairs on open fields and moorland in summer. There is a large group (herd) of curlew, and a significant gathering (desert) of lapwing feeding in fields near the estuary.

Spectacular is the best way of describing the displays of so-called ‘autumn crocus’ that have lit up our gardens the past few weeks.

They look like overgrown crocus but actually belong to the colchicum family and are closer related to lilies.

This is their time under the spotlight. Take a close look at the large flowers and you’ll see there are six stamens (a crocus has four).

Another key difference is the lack of leaves while flowering. Colchicum leaves, rather like those of hardy cyclamen, appear after the blooms and are quite large.

If these flowers have caught the eye and you fancy growing a group, the timing is spot on for buying corms.

One of the biggest problems they face in flower is total collapse when wind and rain appear.

Planting them in a group almost touching is essential because this togetherness does offer some collective support.

A word of warning, though, all parts of the plant are poisonous.

They contain several toxic alkaloids including colchicine, so this is one beauty that’s better to admire from afar rather than touch.

If you have to handle these or any other bulbs, it is a sensible precaution to use polythene gloves or wash the hands afterwards.