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Mike's Blog - Day 183

I've checked, it’s not autumn yet. The Autumnal Equinox, according to my diary, is next Tuesday 22nd September.

That’s not stopping a lovely display of autumn crocuses flowering in the wildflower strip below Hollingside House ha-ha and the cherry circle. We might not have seen them if we hadn’t cut the Himalayan Balsam down a few weeks ago.

Here is one in close-up.

Spring crocuses are a waste of time with us. The rabbits eat them. Perhaps they leave the autumn ones as there is plenty of food for them at this time of year.

These however are not really crocuses. They are in a different family, and also contain a poison (Colchicine) which might also put the rabbits off!

These are certainly Colchicum sp, and most likely to be C. autumnale, but we planted them that long ago we can’t remember. They differ from crocuses in that their seed forming ovaries are below ground, and they have 6 stamens and crocuses have 3. You can see the 6 stamens clearly in the picture.

Also, I pulled out one of the stigmas and laid its long style down into the ovary on a dock leaf so you can see it. I would imagine the fertile seed pods would emerge with the leaves, which is in spring so, in the autumn, you just get the flowers, no green growth. Hence one of the common names for these is “Naked Ladies”. They are known to some as “Glory lilies” too, but of course are not lilies either. They are also known as “meadow saffron”, but are not the source of saffron (which has been cultivated for over 3,500 years). For that you harvest the filaments of Crocus sativus, the autumn flowering crocus!

So, there a two autumn flowering crocuses, one is a true crocus (saffron), the other - and the one we have at the moment - Colchicum species.

Back to the poison bit.

I read of a lady called Catherine Wilson. Wow she sounds a nasty bit of work. She was a serial killer who used Colchicine as a poison to kill people once she had got them to leave her money in their wills. Originally from Spalding (a very popular place where bulbs are cultivated these days for the UK market), and then to Kirby Lonsdale, so getting a bit close to home.

She was held in Newgate Gaol, near the Old Bailey, and was the last woman hanged publically in London in October 1862, in front of 20,000 spectators.

The info on Newgate prison is of another era, it had been extended and rebuilt many times over its 700 year history before being demolished in 1920. People were being “hung, drawn and quartered”, “burnt at the stake”, or just left in prison for 50 years without trial.

Casanova was held there and after many years in gaol, pickpockets were being sent to Australia. Fascinating: