Select thoughtfully and you can have these starry flowers in bloom from mid-July well into September.
GARDENS BEGIN to flag this time of year, and by the dog days of summer most are looking past their prime. But not if you’ve planted plenty of spiky, bright-flowered crocosmia to perk up the scene.
Thanks to crocosmia connoisseurs Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken, proprietors of specialty nursery Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, we have plenty of crocosmia to choose from. Select thoughtfully and you can have these starry flowers in bloom from mid-July well into September.
It was the scarcity of different kinds of crocosmia that originally caught Dodson and Milliken’s interest.
“They literally grow 300, 400 varieties of crocosmia in England and Ireland,” Dodson says. “We used to have only 12 to 15 varieties available in the U.S., and you’d have to really search for them.”
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Not anymore. Far Reaches Farm grows 50 to 60 varieties. Because crocosmia are so often misnamed, Dodson and Milliken have worked with experts around the world to correctly identify the crocosmia they sell.
Crocosmia are late-blooming perennials that grow from corms, which are much like bulbs. Crocosmia have many virtues.
“It doesn’t take much expertise to grow a big, showy clump . . . little time or maintenance is needed,” Dodson says.
Hummingbirds love them, and flowers and seed heads are both great in flower arrangements. While they grow and flower more luxuriantly with regular watering, crocosmia are drought-tolerant once established. I have healthy clumps of bronze-foliaged, apricot-flowered C. ‘Solfatare’ flowering right now in my rarely watered gravel garden (AKA the driveway).
Give crocosmia good drainage and at least a half day of sun — the more sun the better. Cut them back in autumn when they look tired. While Dodson admires some of the older cultivars, he points out they are prone to viruses that show up in streaky foliage and decreased vigor. The newer hybrids don’t suffer from this problem.
Most of the newer kinds are also not nearly as aggressive as the big, old, red-flowered crocosmia commonly called montbretia (C. ‘Lucifer’). All over town you see this all-too-familiar montbretia taking over gardens, its heavy foliage flopping over. While C. ‘Lucifer’ runs like the devil, the trend in new hybrids is toward clumpers, not runners.
Crocosmia’s bladed, grasslike foliage works texturally in nearly any garden. You can grow clumps of them among woody shrubs in the border, or mix their spikiness in to contrast with broadleaf evergreens. They look great growing at the base of trees or creating vertical lines in perennial borders. Their diversity is surprising. Heights range from 18 inches to 4 feet high, and colors are the full range of warm tones, from clear yellows to smoldering reds.
How to choose between so many possibilities? If you want to go big, Dodson recommends Crocosmia ‘His Majesty’, which sports the largest flowers in the genus. The dark burnt-orange blooms are 3 to 4 inches across and extremely showy. Speaking of showiness, how about C. ‘Orange Devil’ with brilliant flowers held up like parachutes above the grassy leaves.
C. ‘Jackanapes’, which Dodson describes as a “cute little bicolor,” is a tidier, more compact plant. The bright orange blossoms are splashed in yellow, the thin blades of foliage truly grasslike.
Crocosmia ‘Fernhill’ is a stunner. It has wide, pleated leaves that look almost palm-like and apricot-yellow flowers tightly packed with blossoms. ‘Fernhill’ looks so tropical you could easily mistake it for some exotic orchid.
“We’ll go to our graves thinking that C. ‘Fernhill’ is the best plant ever,” declares Dodson, an unabashed crocosmia fancier.