Many of my favourite plants come from South Africa. They are incredibly useful in my bright border, where they like the full sun, tolerate drought, and, most importantly, provide late summer colour.
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is probably the most dramatic. It may not flower for as long as helenium, or rudbeckia, or echinacea, but its sculptural form is unrivalled.
Dinosaurs are thought now to be more closely related to birds than reptiles, and possibly had feathers. Maybe they resembled this?
There is something of a dinosaur spine here…
Each vertebra a slightly different shape. They elongate and curl over as the bud develops. Those nearest the base elongate and swell first. At the tip of the bud, three distinct petals divide and start to open.
Do you see how strong this structure is? Each stem is as long as my forearm. Each stem is held in an elegant arch.
The flowers open from low on the stem, at the widest point of the fern-like fan. Here the stem resembles the head of a pterodactyl.
The flowers are incredibly complex, with antennae and forked tongues, and a crest.
There is subtlety, too. What might appear at first to be uniform fire-engine red, when seen close-up there are hues of crimson and pink. The throat is orange-yellow.
Look at the soft, furry stigma and slippered anthers.
They could be feather dusters.
Those are some big slippers.
As the flowers mature, the profile changes as the stem fills out with open flowers. This one looks like it has
florious glorious eye-lashes and whiskers. (Sometimes I prefer typos to actual words).
They take on tones of vermillion and orange, and there is the hint of gold down the centre of each flower. You can see now why this one is called ‘Lucifer’ as the flames lick the stem.
The texture becomes crepey, and they get more shimmery. They remind me of a dress my mum used to have. We were allowed to try it on and it swished around our ankles.
It’s not all about the flowers. The sword-like foliage provides interest from its emergence in the spring to its last autumn colours. The leaves overlap to provide repeated patterns, like a Bridget Riley painting.
Lucifer is the tallest of the Crocosmia I grow. I place it at the back of the border, where its foliage provides a green foil for early flowerers.
Lower-growing varieties include the equally scarlet ‘Emberglow’, vermillion ‘Emily Mackenzie’ and yellow ‘George Davidson’. They are about knee-high, so perfect for edging a border. They are also good around a dry house wall.
All these shorter Crocosmia have tremendously delicate flowers, forming generous sprays. Hence their common name of ‘Falling Stars’. Another common name is ‘Coppertip’. The common orange variety previously known as Montbretia will self-seed readily, and can become a garden escapee along roadside verges.
In my experience, Crocosmia does best when planted as a small plant. You can buy corms, but survival is not guaranteed, and I always forget where I planted them. Garden lore would tell you to mulch them with spent compost in late autumn, to protect the crowns from frost. I forgot to do this last winter and didn’t lose any, despite having the coldest winter for some years.
You can split Crocosmia clumps every few years. Their corms grow in strings, like a string of lightbulbs. Just dig them up in spring or autumn, and replant the many new corms wherever you fancy a bit of drama.
There isn’t a need to deadhead: the seedheads are attractive and provide autumn interest. I cut back seedheads and foliage to the ground in late autumn (after the first frost) and theoretically upend a pot of spent compost over the crown.
That really is it, in terms of care.
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