Book Bullet: Colour in the Garden by Val Bourne
Shamrocks and four-leaf clovers

Transatlantic crocosmias

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about crocosmias. At one time I grew about forty different ones, till spider mite took its toll during a couple of long hot dry summers. And although some people worry about how often they turn up in natural habitats in the west of Ireland – well, I still think they’re amongst the most valuable of perennials.

Crocosmias do two great jobs: they’re colorful and stylish in the garden, and they’re also really useful cut flowers. What’s more, last week I discovered what looks to be a fine American mail order specialist out in Washington State, Far Reaches Farm, to go with the leading British specialist Trecanna Nursery, in south west England.

But there are two questions which come up. For American gardeners, it’s a question of hardiness. These are South African plants, after all, and we can’t reasonably expect them to thrive in the more frigid parts of North America.

Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson, from Far Reaches Farm, tell me: “We always tell people in colder areas to mulch the heck out of them. We just heard from a new customer in Illinois who grows them successfully in her 6a garden (winters down to −10F/-23.3C). She sent us pictures of her ‘Star of the East’ as proof.”(above, click to enlarge)

‘Distant Planet’, said to be unusually hardy, from the late lamented Seneca Hill Perennials in chilly upstate New York, has vanished here in Pennsylvania (also zone 6a, just) although we didn’t mulch much, just wanting to see how tough some of these plants really are. Now we know.

As for cut flowers, Tracey Mathieson at Foxtail-Lilly, just up the road from our British base in Northamptonshire, finds that her cut flower customers are looking for softer, more pastel shades rather than vivid reds and oranges. Crocosmia-Debutante-6-FarReaches500

Kelly and Sue say: “Pastels. Hmmm. ‘Debutante’ (right, click to enlarge) just enchants us. Small and petite and probably not the first choice for cutting due to her stature but very pleasing open-faced flowers in nice pink tones. ‘Severn Sunrise’ is vigorous and would qualify. ‘Okavango’ would rock for cutting as it is tall with big flowers clustered close together. The flowers go through various color phases in the peachy realm.”

Tracey didn’t approve of my choice of less strident colours from Trecanna Nursery - too vivid. So I’ll get her some ‘Debutante’ and see if her customers like it. And I’ll also be looking out for the double-flowered variety that Trecanna have on the way.


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Hi Graham

Please can you tell me why this comment? I gather crocosmia is mad for spreading, but I wondered if there was something specific to Ireland; it is just that I live in the South East of Ireland and have a wheelbarrow full of recently donated newly dug up crocosmia, and I'm pondering where to plant it in my garden!

"And although some people worry about how often they turn up in natural habitats in the west of Ireland "

Many thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Graham Rice

In some parts of Ireland crocosmias are considered invasive, spreading into the wild and smothering local native flora. This is especially true in the west and south west where they enjoy the damp climate. Planting them in the garden is fine - anywhere sunny and not too dry should be OK. It's when they escape, to river banks for example, that they might cause concern.

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