In praise of Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Posted by Glennis Byron on July 21, 2022

Main photo: Adam Ross

I used to hate crocosmia. I can't tell you how many times I've sniffily dug every single nasty corm out of a new garden: too big, too bright, too common. So I thought. Now I know what the real problem was: I'd never gardened with hummingbirds. I did resist in the beginning. While everyone told me the hummingbirds would love it, I still spent hours plotting to eradicate all three of the monstrously huge patches of 'Lucifer' I inherited with this new garden. I researched alternate hummingbird plants and let the running suckers of Cape Fuchsia run amuck in the central flower bed. And the hummingbirds approved. I brought in Fuchsia 'Gartenmeister' (guaranteed, I was told, to set their little hearts a-beating), Cuphea, various red salvias, red penstemons, Lobelia cardinale and more, put them in pots and made a little hummingbird dining area on our deck, across from where we like to have an glass of wine in the evening. They came and I was ecstatic. Such magic. Such privilege to watch them so close. Then the crocosmia came into flower. In an instant our deck and its offerings were abandoned, the Cape Fuchsia left bereft.

A banquet for hummers: Fuchsia 'Gartenmeister', Cuphea, and other delights

When it is in bloom, the hummers become besotted; they have no eyes for any other flower. And since I'm equally besotted with the birds, the crocosmia stays. In fact, now I look again, it is rather beautiful. I think I'm coming to enjoy those huge slashes of scarlet in the garden. It also, to my surprise, makes rather a good cut flower. I took a long black vase that I'd always loved but never had the flowers or the occasion to suit, filled it with long stalks of crocosmia, and put in the corner of the deck where we sit. It looked rather good. Even better, to my surprise, that evening the birds came to the cut crocosmia, as though joining us for an evening drink, even sitting on the stems to give us the beady eye between sips.

Crocosmia combinations

Christopher Lloyd inevitably loved crocosmia 'Lucifer', and in Colour for Adventurous Gardeners he suggests putting it with magenta Lychnis coronaria or vivid metallic blue Eryngium x oliverianum. I'm not sure I'm ready for that much adventure yet, but I have found a few other ways of using it in cut flower arrangements that I really like.

'Lucifer' with ordinary white Shasta daisies looks stunning, for example, and lasts about a week in a vase.

If you're feeling a little bolder and like yellow, and you could combine 'Lucifer' with Lysimachia ciliata.

My favourite is a combination of 'Lucifer' with a deep purple blue. It would look great planted next to a blue lacecap hydrangea, or in front of a mass of Clematis jackmanii. I've inherited a lovely Clematis diversifolia, and although the crocosmia is too dense to work with a herbaceous variety in the garden, I like them together in the vase.

You could even create a hummingbird bouquet, using a variety of plants that attract them. Put a vase of these on your patio table and see if any hummers arrive to investigate. Expect a lot of bees too. Here I've used various kinds of agastache and salvia, both of which should have 1 inch of their stems dipped in just boiled water for about 10 seconds to prevent wilt.

And despite the size of the plant and the flowers, you can even do some rather lovely little posies with 'Lucifer', especially if you take advantage of the flowers that are just budding to form a lacy frill. Here I've used Phlox drumondii, both 'Cherry Caramel' and 'Creme Brulee'.

And finally, another reason to love crocosmia, you can use the leaves to tie your bouquets together. More on that in a post on stems and leaves coming soon.

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