Gardeners fall in and out of love with plants. This has been the fate of crocosmias, those elegant clump-forming perennials introduced from South Africa in the late 19th century.

At first crocosmias were all the rage and breeders worked on developing new cultivars. French nurseryman Victor Lemoine was responsible for developing dozens of popular cultivars. Although many early ones have been lost, some like Star of the East from 1912 still survive.

But as with so many plants, crocosmias fell out of fashion and were often dug up and thrown onto railway embankments or simply dumped at roadsides or uncultivated ground where we can still see them today.

Crocosmias, or montbretias, soon took possession of their new homes and spread enthusiastically but became less floriferous in congested groups. This led to regulations in 2010 making it illegal to dispose of them in public places.

These montbretias, crocosmia x crocosmiiflora, that grow in the wild largely owe their notoriety to the way they spread. Crocosmias grow from corms, small fibrous, bead-shaped bulbs, and every year a new corm is formed above the original, using the energy generated by the foliage. Each corm continues to throw up foliage and multiply, so the result is an ever-expanding string.

Clearly plants that increase can be an asset to a border so it’s no surprise that plant breeders have been developing ways to control and benefit from this natural process. Crocosmias are rightly back in fashion. I certainly wouldn’t be without these, now well-behaved clumping perennials, even if they still need some control. I love their erect leaves arranged like the brandishing swords of Mediaeval infantry.

There are now crocosmias to suit any planting plan. The ever-popular ‘Lucifer’ is a good eye-catcher in a bed, with clumps of flame-red flowers standing 1.2m tall. And at 90cm, the dark red stars of ‘Bowland Blaze’ make a fine statement.

‘Emberglow’ and ‘Honey Angels’ are slightly lower-growing so fit nicely in one of my smallish beds. But I do need a steady succession of interest throughout the year so must control them as they’d readily take up more space than I want.

Every 2 or 3 years, I lift clumps after flowering, and easily separate the corms by giving the top ones a sharp twist. I then replant 7 or 8cm deep in holes enriched with home-made compost.

My crocosmias are arranged to form several flowering ‘hills’ in the bed, but you might prefer smaller cultivars for growing near the front. At 50cm, ‘Solfatare’s’ soft apricot blooms might appeal. Or you could be drawn to the unusual pink flowers of little ‘Twilight Fairy Rose.’

For me, this is one of far too many cultivars with yellow and green foliage. I’m frankly not impressed when they’re described as having bronze foliage: the plants look sickly and I wouldn’t give them elbow room. In fact ‘Solfatare' is a lucky surviver and was nearly discarded as looking unthrifty.

Although many crocosmias are perfectly hardy, some are more tender and would need a sheltered west coast garden. The darker and more robust the colour, the hardier the plant. Pale yellow specimens are more tender. Flower size is another indicator: hardy plants have small blooms.

Tender cultivars often produce larger flowers. One French cultivar developed in 1912 had unpleasant-sounding toffee-tinted flowers 10cm wide, so fortunately wouldn’t survive a Scottish winter.

Crocosmias are forgiving plants. These South Africans prefer a sunny site, so I have mine in a south-facing bed in front of the house. But they do need moist, free-draining soil and won’t tolerate arid conditions.

Plant of the week

Oullin’s Golden Gage. Coming ripe in this early season, the golden yellow fruits have pale yellow, juicy flesh with a superb flavour.