Meet the perfect perennial for the dogs days of summer.

Steve Bender

South Africa is a long way away, but you don’t have to spend days on a plane to enjoy one of its finest flowers. Just plant some crocosmia in your own garden. An heirloom Southern passalong often seen in cottage gardens and at old homesites, it’s known to many as “montbretia.” When a cluster blooms in the heat of July, it’s just like fireworks on the Fourth.

Crocosmia belongs to the lily family as does its cousin, gladiolus. That’s undoubtedly why its upright, sword-shaped leaves remind me of glad foliage. The plant grows 3 to 4 feet tall from bulb-like corms. In summer, sprays of tubular red, orange, or yellow blooms appear on arching wands good for cutting. Blossoms attract hummingbirds and butterflies. ‘Lucifer’ is the most popular selection. Its flame-red flowers put on one helluva good show.

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During a recent visit to Cashiers, North Carolina, I encountered a magnificent display of ‘Lucifer’ interplanted with daylilies and foxglove at the garden of Shep Hicks (above). If this doesn’t make your mouth fall open, ask your doctor to adjust your medications.

Growing crocosmia is easy. Plant the corms two inches deep and three inches apart into fertile, well-drained soil in spring. Full to partial sun is fine. ‘Lucifer’ is winter-hardy to USDA Zone 5; the other selections to Zone 6. They’ll grow as far south as Zone 9. Happy corms multiply quickly, so don’t be surprised after a year or two to find a lot more crocosmias than you stuck in the ground. They’re not invasive, though, so if you wind up with more than you want, pass some along to a friend. If none of your friends have any, order online from whiteflowerfarm.com.

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