There is so much going on during the autumn months. Fall festivals, chili cook-offs, trips to the orchard to pick apples and football games pack our calenders. Meanwhile, the sugar maples and dogwood trees are screaming for attention as the riot of foliage begins to give us another reason to enjoy the fall. Cool nights, a little rain and warm days bring out the best in how the trees show off before going to bed for the season. While all the red, orange and yellow leaves are falling and the perennial garden is looking bedragled, I’d like to suggest a trio of plants some may not be familiar with.
The autumn crocus, meadow-saffron are common names for the bulb Colchicum. They enjoy being tucked in the garden where they can best be viewed when they bloom from early August into September. Their foliage emerges in February and persists through the spring until it yellows and dies down in June. Having just said that, the flower blooms on a leafless stalk. Colchicum blooms range from white, light pink, deep rose and even some double forms and don’t exceed 6-8 inches in height. They provide a surprising splash of color at the garden floor while many neighbors are showing off their traditional fall hues. Order and plant Colchium in August at a depth of 6 inches and they will bloom that same fall. Like most perennial bulbs it prefers to be in dry soil when dormant.
Autumn-daffodil is another bulb that is not usually found in gardens. Sternbergia lutea, is a group of bulbs in the Amaryllidaceae family. Most of you might know this group from the showy red flowers with strap-like leaves sold around the holidays. Sternbergia bloom with a bright yellow flower at 8 inches and it’s leaves are present from late September to October. The foliage remains green through the winter months (dying down in late spring) and would benefit from a covering of evergreen boughs. This practice helps to prevent dessication and moderates the soil temperature. Like the Colchicum, Sternbergia will tolerate sun to shade and will do best to have the soil dry out in the summer months.
Finally, there is a hardy begonia that is quite easy to grow in our parts. Begonia grandis has the longest bloom time of the previously mentioned here. The leaves are succulent, somewhat heart shaped, light green beneith with pale red veins. Because the leaves possess so much water in their leaves they are prone to taking a hard hit the first night the mercury dips into the 30s. They grow best in a shaded moist area with good organic matter. Their flowers are pink and hang above the 2-3 foot tall foliage in a loose habit. Post flowering, the seed pods that develop are three-winged and rather nice. Where this hardy begonia is happy it will self sow easily.
Haverford has Begonia grandis growing in the perennial garden at Hilles, the Peace Garden and numerous other shady locales.