Naked Ladies in the Garden

I knew that title would get your attention!  Now that I have your focus, let me tell you about one of my favorite fall bloomers – Colchicum.  Colchicum are sometimes referred to as ‘naked ladies’ because the leaves emerge in the spring and then die back by mid-summer, leaving the naked and beautiful flowers to emerge from the ground in the fall, just when the rest of the garden is going dormant.

Emerging Colchicum

One of my favorites is the ‘Waterlily’ Colchicum, which produceslilac-pink flowers reminiscent of its namesake. I love how they pop up around the garden like little surprise packages, starbursts awaiting our discovery. The delicate white Colchicum (C. autumnale ‘Album’) is another showstopper in the fall fashion show.  Its blooms push through the leaves of other plants reaching for the spotlight. 
Waterlily Colchicum
White Colchicum
Colchicum is a member of the lily family and according to my internet research, is the only flowering bulb to bloom while dormant. While somewhat expensive, Colchicums expand rather quickly and can be divided to create additional clumps of garden companions.  Lucky us!

The corms are not particularly fussy. They simply want well-drained soil, adequate water during the growth phase, some dryness at the end of summer, and to be planted at least 5-6 inches deep in some sun (or full sun).  Mine are planted in part shade and do just fine.

Be aware that Colchicums are poisonous plants, which fortunately makes them unpalatable to deer.  While I don’t have pets, I’ve been told that dogs and cats leave them alone.  Supposedly, ingestion of the plant can be deadly to livestock so keep your cows out of the garden! 

While these ladies really strut their stuff in the fall, they don’t look lovely all year long.  Like the rest of us, Colchicums have some days where they aren’t at their best, like when the foliage is declining in the summer.  They also have a tendency to lie flat on the ground at the end of their bloom period.  It’s hard work holding up that gorgeous bloom on a naked stem; when they get tired, they lie on the ground for a nap, ready to be covered with a blanket of snow.  In both cases, resist the urge to do anything except cut flowers for a bouquet or you’ll disrupt the plant’s normal growing cycle. 

An exhausted Colchicum lying on the ground

Simply place your Colchicums carefully, where they can be enjoyed when they are looking lovely, and ignored when they aren’t.  Then sit back and prepare to be dazzled with the spectacle of these amazing ladies!

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