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August draws in the end of the perennial season, but whilst the rest of the garden is looking past its best, brightly coloured crocosmia flowers and fresh green leaves bring one last swathe of colour before autumn passes and winter days draw in.
Crocosmias grow into dense clumps of upright iris-like foliage which appears mid summer before the flowers. It looks great in large clumps or in swathes through herbaceous borders. Crocosmias can be seen growing 'wild' around the country. This common form was originally bred by crossing Crocosmia potsii and Crocosmia aurea.
Crocosmia has exotic origins, originally coming from South Africa but are also found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe. They are actually part of the iris family and new hybids are bred from four related genera: crocosmia, antholyza (syn. curtonus), tritonia and montbretia. In time, most of these plants have been re-named but are now known as crocosmias even if they do not look similar. Each genera has given the plants varing degrees of it's own trait and now many manipulated cultivars are available in a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes. They all flower over a couple of weeks between late July and October but some however are not hardy in the north-west.
The original montbretia was bred by a French plant breeder who was best known for his best known for his lilacs and peonies: Victor Lemoine (1823-1911). Some of the older forms arose from seedlings of others but it was only much later that it was realised that some varieties were very hardy. Crocosmia masoniorum survived the severe 1963 winter and it was Alan Bloom of Bressingham that crossed it with Antholyza paniculata (now C. paniculata) and produced a study tall plant which was to be named 'Lucifer' and after being exhibited at Chelsea in 1966 is now grown world-wide.
Bloom believes that "the larger the corm, the hardier the crocosmia".
The plants would benefit from a top dressing of a fertilizer like Fish Blood & Bone in early March. Fertilizers with high nitrogen contents are not recommended as they will tend to force the plants to produce more leaves and less flowers.
The plants like damp conditions but should only need topping up with water if there is a prolonged dry spell.
When the flowers are finished, you can either leave the leaves on the plant for wildlife and to protect the new emerging shoots or they can be cut down to 5cm above ground level.
Crocosmia flower best when they are crowded but every two or three years it maybe advantageous to split them in much the same ways as you would with other perennials. There are two schools of thought on what time of year to split them, the first is in late autumn after flowering is done which will help protect any new growth as it will not have statred at this point. My favoured option is to be careful, checking for new growth and dividing them in spring. Dig the plants out to a depth of around 25cm then split them with a pair of garden forks. The roots form chains of corms which is thought give strength from older corms to newer, smaller corms so it is advisable to not split them apart. This is a good opportunity to remove diseased or old and withered corms.
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