‘Lucifer’ (Falling stars, Coppertips)
11″ x 16″, 2014
The August garden tends to look tired and frazzled, like Cinderella after the ball. But one exotic plant that dazzles and bewitches is Crocosmia.
Like the crocus, Crosomias take their name from krokos, the Greek for saffron. To this is added osme, meaning pleasant odor, because when the flowers are steeped in water they smell of saffron.
Crocosmias, members of the Iris family, originated in southern Africa, but became immensely popular when introduced in Britain. Here plant breeders developed numerous hybrids and cultivars from four closely related genera. Alan Bloom of Bressingham was the plantsman who gave us ‘Lucifer’ by crossing C. masoniorum with C. paniculata.
With its swathe of pleated green leaves, resembling a swirling skirt, and slender stem tipped with brilliant flowers the color of fire and sun, the plant made its way to my studio from my neighbor’s garden where i’d been observing it covetously!
The plant grows from corms which are choosy about location in our colder climes. Once established, pleated leaves like an unfolding fan stretch out, making room before sending forth a slender stem. Minuscule buds resembling grass seed appear at the tip but become progressively more colorful, gradually opening to reveal striations of crimson and chrome within the six petals trumpet-shaped flowers tapering in an alternating pattern. Eventually they turn into pale green tricuspid berries—the start of the seedpods.
The blooms enticed neighborhood hummingbirds to an endless nectar-fest. So my concern was to convey their alluring hues in all their fiery splendor, without losing any of the brilliance or whimsicality. As the growing season was at its end there were no further specimens to be had, hence an urgency to keep pace with the limited samples, which often means staying up all night until a crucial segment is completed.
After the flowers had faded the foliage still retained its green vigor albeit with different tempo and rhythms, rather like a slow waltz after flamenco. The dry note in the composition juxtaposes growth and decline—partly as a tribute to the season and partly to recognize the inevitability of death in the brevity of life.