Around the Garden - September 2013

Nerine bowdenii
Nerine bowdenii

My post, once again, comprises mostly bulb catalogues – a salient reminder that winter is not far off but also a prompt that spring will shortly follow.

I invariably leave ordering until the last minute – perfect for bargain hunting and in any case, the ground is so rock hard that I doubt that any bulb planter or trowel would go in easily enough or deep enough in order to house the newly acquired treasures at the moment, despite the torrential downpour at the beginning of the month.

Amaryllis belladonna

Amaryllis belladonna

Thinking of bulbs, the many autumn flowering varieties are often overlooked and it is to these that I turn today.

One does not normally associate bulbs with autumn but there is a huge range of them which are at their very best for the end of the season.

Many have their origins in Mediterranean climates where they take advantage of the cooler weather to pop in to life, deal with pollination and disappear again, often without having the time to put on any foliage.

A plant typical of this growth pattern is Colchicum, also known as ‘Naked Ladies’ and, incorrectly, ‘Autumn Flowering Crocus’.

Colchicum often appear after such a fall of rain as we had the other week and stay around for a bit until it gets colder, their foliage not appearing until the following spring.

Tatty, you may think, but not often noticed as they are happiest when grown amongst other low growing plants.

The flowers grow from just a few inches above the ground to up to 12”, depending on variety and are available in all shades of pink, pale mauve and white.

The most commonly available varieties are from the Colchicum speciosum group, purpley pink in colour, growing to around 8” in height and with flowers that last well.

A richer purple may be seen in C. ‘Glory of Heemsteede and for those of you, myself included, who crave white in a garden, look no further than C. byzantinum ‘Innocence’ with bunches of pure white flowers growing up to 5” tall.

For the best results, the bulbs should be planted in clumps, in full sun and without taller growing competition and left to multiply (they deeply resent disturbance).

Try threading them through variegated ground cover such as Vinca minor and Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’.

Another autumn flowering bulb worth looking at is Nerine bowdenii, hardiest of the Nerine family, but still requiring a drier, sheltered site in order to survive the Yorkshire winter – an east or south facing wall is perfect.

The flowers are held on long stalks up to 8” tall with frilly, pink petals that really last.

Other varieties of Nerine are available, such as N. sarniensis (Guernsey Lily) with orange blooms and N. filifolia with its tall stems and spidery flowers, but neither are as hardy, having their origins in South Africa.

They may successfully be grown in shallow pots, given good drainage and winter protection in the form of a cool glasshouse and bubble wrap around the pot.

There are a number of cultivars around which have combined the hardiness of bowdenii with the fantastic colour of sarniensis but these are still suffering from the hardiness problem and are better treated as seasonal bedding.

Another species of autumn flowering bulb is equally tender but also worth a try using the pot and protection method: Amaryllis belladonna (not to be confused with the indoor plant Hippeastrum, which is erroneously referred to as Amaryllis) is also from the Cape, where it flowers after bush fires.

In this country it flowers best after a hot summer (and I have one which is doing very well thank you at the moment) producing scented blooms on tall stems. Colour, broadly speaking, is pink unless you get lucky, as some cultivars have richer tones.

Mine is the cultivar A. belladonna ‘New Zealand Red’, found at a plant fair, hideously expensive and worth every penny! And a very welcome splash of colour in that difficult gap before the trees and shrubs turn.

For those of you who are interested, a very fine display of Colchicum may be seen in Pannett Park. Autumn bulbs are widely available, sold in pots now or as bulbs for planting next year from specialist bulb suppliers.


Crocus nudiflorus

Autumn Crocus

The true Autumn flowering Crocus. This variety is a fragile little beauty, growing to just a few inches tall on naked stems with flowers of the deepest purple.

It is best naturalized in grass where it can gain protection and support from its companion.

The foliage appears in spring and is masked by the grass, which should not be cut until the foliage of the Crocus has died back. Plant en masse for a really special autumn effect.

C. pulchellus is larger flowered and bluer in colour and flourishes in semi-shade. Bluer still, and tougher is C. speciosus which naturalises well.

You may have to hunt around for these. I have purchased some in the past from mail order catalogues.

I dare say that an internet search will pay dividends.