Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Crocosmia are effortlessly easy to grow herbaceous perennials that grow from a corm (similar to a bulb) and bulk up to form clumps and occasionally colonies within a few years.
Relatives of the Iris, in the botanical family of Iridaceae, these colourful plants originate from Eastern and Southern Africa. They are popularly known in the UK by the common name of Montbretia (and are infamous to some under this moniker). Elsewhere they are commonly known as Coppertips, which I quite like. Montbretia most appropriately refers to Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora, but is fairly commonly used in the UK to refer to all Crocosmia. Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora is particularly vigorous and bulks up quickly in gardens showing little or no respect to neighbouring plants in its quest for border domination. That said, it isn't a pernicious weed like a Bindweed (Calystegia and Convolvulus sp.) or underground runner like Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica (Syn. Fallopia japonica)), Mare's Tail (Hippuris vulgaris) or Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria), so I find it difficult to understand why some people are so against it.
Most Crocosmia are very hardy in temperate gardens with a handful of less robust species being the preserve of collectors only. They die back in winter to beneath ground level to return each spring with fresh green foliage. Personally, I have never protected any over the winter, but in particularly cold spots, it might benefit plants.
They are pretty forgiving in terms of growing conditions, with good flowering success being found in the sun or part-shade. They are summer-flowering, with most starting to flower in June, before coming into their own in July and flowering through to August-September. They do well in most soils as long as they do not get overly dry. In humus-rich, fertile and open soils they ‘bulk up’ more readily to form substantial colonies.
Plants can be divided in spring to provide more plants or help established groups from becoming overly congested. It is sensible to divide plants every 3-5 years to boost your populations and as an opportunity to improve the soil and work it over before replanting.
There are over 400 different named cultivars of Crocosmia available and by far the best book out there is ‘Crocosmia and Chasmanthe’ by Peter Goldbatt et al from the RHS Plant Collectors Guide series (pictured below).
While not many of us will ever aim to collect 400+ different cultivars, most have space and maybe even desire for two or more varieties in our gardens and it seems sensible to have a really good 'go-to' plant for each of the main colours available.
Here are 5 readily available varieties that are worth growing for their different colours.
1. RED - Crocosmia ‘Emberglow’ (Above)
By far the most widely grown red flowered Crocosmia is the variety ‘Lucifer’ (Pictured first in the article). It is an excellent, large plant for gardens and consistently performs well with bright red flowers. ‘Emberglow’ is readily available, but less commonly planted and for no good reason! It is a little shorter than the substantial Lucifer (1.2m+) at a compact and manageable 75cm or so. I like this form a lot! It flowers a little later than most reds and lasts a bit longer. It is also a richer-red than most - Perhaps best described as Vermilion Red and complementing the dark, purple-red stems very successfully. Just as easy to grow and much more suitable to the average modern domestic garden size than Lucifer is. One to try!
2. ORANGE - Crocosmia (Firestars Series) 'Scorchio' (Above)
A fairly recent introduction to the Crocosmia landscape, this excellent, rich-orange, open-flowered variety is a welcome addition to my planting palette, particularly as the orange has minimal interruptions form other colours. Most of the red-orange varieties have blotching and marking on their petals (like the ever popular 'Emily MacKenzie' (below)). This variety, similar to 'Mephistopheles', 'Spitfire' and 'Orange Devil', have less in the way of yellows, reds or purple blotches, with petals just fading to display paler orange centres. Don't get me wrong, I'm yet to find a Crocosmia that I really don't like (though I'm sure there will be at least one). Instead, I find that I am drawn more to those varieties and species that don't mess about to much with speckles, stripes, blotches and splashes of other colours. Compact and neat, this produces very upright stems, growing to around 70-80cm tall and displaying wide, open flowers.
3. YELLOW - Crocosmia 'Paul's Best Yellow' (Above)
To be clear, I think that there are better, or at least paler yellows in the varieties 'Columbus', 'Norwich Canary', 'Gerbe d'Or' ('Coleton Fishacre') and 'Gerorge Davison', but I think 'Paul's Best Yellow' is a top plant! Excellent grower and a fine, large, pure (perhaps 'egg-yolk') yellow flower. Where the previously named forms have great yellow flowers, they are finer, smaller plants. ‘Paul's Best Yellow‘ makes a good clump with strappy foliage and comfortably achieving 60-90cm in height, though I suspect more in time or given space.
4. PINK - Crocosmia pottsii 'Culzean Pink' (Above)
Pink may not be a colour that you might associate with the fiery reds, oranges and yellows of Crocosmia, but there are a couple of varieties that do have a pinkishness to the flower. 'Culzean Pink' (Pronounced Cull-Ain or sometime Kill-ain (after the Scottish Castle), but always said without a 'z' sound.) is to my mind the best of them. You may also see 'Limpopo' (pictured below), which is good plant and also worth using if you want a pink form. While obviously pinky-coloured, they would struggle to compete if compared with the pink of a ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ Rose for example. These are a refined and delicate apricot or orangey-pink colour and beautiful as such. Crocosmia pottsii is less resilient in term of winter hardiness in the UK than other species in my experience, but I have not had overwintering problems with ‘Culzean Pink’. It is fairly short growing and lax in habit forming an arching mound to 50-80cm tall and typically wider. The flowers are more tubular than the more common Orange Crocosmia. An altogether different proposition.
5. PURPLE - Crocosmia paniculata (Above)
OK, to be clear here, Purple is not the flower colour. It is the colour that the stem, bracts and buds are marked with, giving an overall richness to the otherwise orangey-red flower colour. Though quite a few Crocosmia have some purple in the stems, this does it better than others. It is a big plant too. Large, pleated leaves and overall, one of the tallest of all Crocosmia, easily enough reaching 1.2-1.5m (4-5') tall. Much more common in the North of England, Scotland and across the Island of Ireland than in Southern England, but for no good reason. An impressive and imposing perennial plant worth growing; in fact, it is possibly my favourite.
Whatever your preference for variety, Crocosmia make good garden plants, excellent when given space to grow, but will do well for a while in pots too. They require very little input once established and are well-worth growing.
Looking for more of a range of colours, perhaps a mix is something you'd like?
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