Plant of the Month: November 2021

Colchicums

by Pat Hunter

Firstly, a rider, all photographs, unless stated, are from my garden and are labelled with the name they were purchased as! There seems to be quite a lot of mis-sales, I have doubts about some, and I am a member of a Colchicum group where many people say the same. I presume some of this comes from the fact that we buy them as dry corms and not in flower.

In the latest Colchicum book by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Rod Leeds and Robert Rolfe published in October 2020, there are 104 species. They can be found in Europe, North Africa, West and Central Asia. They can also be called Naked Ladies because of flowering before the foliage appears.

They are usually goblet shaped in shades of white, pink and pale purple, (this is over simplifying them but I am not writing a book here). They grow from a large corm, and to tell the difference between Crocus and Colchicum, count the stamens! Crocus has 3 stamens, a style that divides into 3 and an ovary under the flower. Colchicum has 6 stamens, 3 styles and a superior ovary (the flower cups the ovary).

A medicinal use is the extraction of colchicine from Colchicum autumnale, which is used in the treatment of gout.

In cultivation there are varieties for the alpine house, the rock garden or scree bed, under deciduous shrubs or in turf, as seen here at Newby Hall in September.

Fig. 1

The  Colchicums in my garden are fully hardy and grow in the open border or on the scree bed. I find them very easy, not fussy in any way. The rabbits seem to avoid them, maybe because of their poisonous nature. They can flower without being put in soil, flowering with no roots, seen as a novelty in some garden centres.

My Colchicum season starts in late August. Colchicum ‘Autumn Queen’, with chequered flowers and a white throat, being the first to flower (figs. 2 & 3)

At the beginning of September Colchicum agrippinum with heavily tessellated or chequered flowers, and smaller than ‘Autumn Queen’.

Fig. 4 Colchicum agrippinum

Flowering about the same time is Colchicum x tenorei, pink with a white midrib to the petal (fig. 5).

Fig. 5

In Fig 6 the front flowers are Colchicum byzantinum ‘Innocence’ with just a tip of purple to the white flowers.

Fig. 6

By mid September Colchicum autumnale ‘Nancy Lindsay’ flowers in a sunny border (fig. 7).

Fig. 7

The first white is Colchicum autumnale ‘Album’.

Fig. 8

By the end of September some have now finished flowering, but it is the main season for most, C. cilicium purpureum, (fig 9), the double ’Waterlily’, (fig. 10), C. speciosum ‘Album’, (fig. 11) and ‘Ocktoberfest’, fig. 12).

Two more that have definite names, flowering as I write on October 16th are C. speciosum ‘Atrorubens’, (fig. 13) and new to me this year, ‘Benton End’, (fig 14).

Before I finish, there are 2 anomalies, one that was sold as C. speciosum ‘Album’, which it obviously is not,(fig. 15) and one bulb that is doing 2 different things, (fig. 16).

They can be used in planting schemes – here are two pictures to give a couple of ideas of plant associations

But do remember the foliage, that feeds the corm for another year follows all these lovely flowers, here are 2 pictures taken on June 16th of Colchicum foliage.

Is this becoming like a Galanthophile obsession? As I gather more in the garden you have to look for the small differences!

As I pass this on to Brian for the website, they are still going strong at the end of October. I can cover 3 months in my garden but there are others out there to extend my season. This is ‘Dick Trotter’ today.

C. ‘Dick Trotter’

     

  • Images courtesy of Pat Hunter


Plant of the Month: October 2021

Dahlias

by Judith Ladley

I suppose strictly speaking the dahlia does not fall into the category of a hardy plant but for the purpose of this article I am claiming “horticultural licence”

The garden dahlia, Dahlia x variabilis, is a cultivated plant derived from wild relatives found growing in Mexico.  As far back as 1651 reports were published in Rome, originally in Latin, from a Spaniard who had spent several years in Mexico.   

The first seeds to arrive in Spain were sent by the Director of the Mexican Botanical Gardens to the Madrid Botanic Gardens, these being grown and named as D.pinnata, D.coccinea and D.rosea (possibly Merckii).

     

For many years it was believed that the dahlia had been introduced into Britain in 1789.  The story of how this came about is complicated, involving Lady Bute, wife of the then Ambassador from England to the Court of Spain. (See ‘The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Dahlias’ by Gareth Rowlands – well worth reading and available from the RHS library at Harlow Carr.)

The advent of the double dahlia is thought to have occurred when the explorer Alexander von Humboldt sent seeds from Mexico to Paris and Berlin in 1804.  It is thought that these seeds were not collected in the wild but came from garden plants grown by the Aztecs, who were great gardeners.

The development of decorative dahlias

During the early part of the nineteenth century regular consignments of tubers arrived in England from France and English nurserymen had started to develop new types.  By 1836 the Royal Horticultural Society published the Dahlia Register, listing more than 700 varieties.   The dahlia had become a popular flower with the wealthy and tubers of new varieties were known to change hands at a guinea a time, a lot of money in those days.   A total of 45 Dahlia Shows were held in England in 1835 (a far cry from today’s shows, although it was good to see the flowers exhibited at the “Autumn Chelsea”).

Dahlia Classifications at Newby Show, 2021

Propagation and Cultivation (The words ‘Grandmother’ and ‘Eggs’ spring to mind)

Dahlias are grown from seed (as originally) and from tubers.  Young seedlings develop a mass of fibrous roots which will eventually become the tubers that overwinter.

Many amateur growers prefer to leave their plants to overwinter outside and as our climate appears to be changing the tubers will often survive.  I find the setback to this method is that new growth does not appear until quite late in the season and the grower needs to be watchful for the ever-present pests that eat the new young shoots.    I prefer to dig up my tubers and dry them off to enable me to store them in a frost-free place.   Over time the tubers become quite large and this is the time to obtain new plants by taking cuttings from the old tuber.

Another method of growing dahlias is to raise them from seed, which usually germinates very easily.   I particularly enjoy growing ‘Bishop’s Children’ seeds and waiting to see which colours arise.

Some of my favourite dahlias

D. ‘Murdoch’

D. ‘Murdoch’ This dahlia came into my possession via Pat Clarke, a much liked and respected Chairman of our Group.  It is a very strong grower and I always think of Pat when I see it in bloom.

D. ‘Flaxton’

My gardening friends have named this dahlia ‘Flaxton’.  Pat bought it many years ago at a little nursery in Flaxton, near York.  It had belonged to the owner’s mother but the name had been lost. 

D. ‘Totally Tangerine’
  • D. Totally Tangerine  I particularly like the anemone-flowered dahlias and orange is one of my go-to colours.
D. ‘Blue Bayou’
  • D. ‘Blue Bayou‘ Of course it is not blue – there are no blue dahlias, but I love purple so it definitely gets a place in my garden.

Images courtesy of Judith Ladley and the HPS Image Library


Judith Ladley