Autumn flowering bulbs gleam from September to November

First published by Rattan Direct on 17 July 2016.

I don’t want to jinx the weather if it’s gloriously sunny and your plans include relaxing in the garden or being out and about. Autumn will seem far, far away. But if it’s a little cool and that fleece jacket seems rather tempting, it won’t be difficult to imagine autumn.

Whatever the weather, now is the time to plant a few bulbs or corms to flower in the autumn and brighten up any dull days.

Autumn flowering bulbs

Aren’t bulbs a spring thing? Yes, of course: snowdrops and daffodils are part and parcel of the spring. Some bulbs, though, flower in the autumn and they should be planted in late summer. Have a look in your local garden centre or order bulbs from specialist nurseries now, to be sent out in August. Bulbs look best together, so think about planting them in groups of at least five.

Nerines are spectacular

I sometimes think that the colour ‘shocking pink’ originated with nerine lilies. There is a white version but the pink Bowden lily (Nerine bowdenii) is startling and dramatic and at its best from September to November, depending on where you live.

Nerine bowdenii in Herefordshire in October. Autumn flowering
Nerine bowdenii in Herefordshire in October. © Jonathan Billinger, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

The tall stems (up to 60cm – 2ft) have wonderful funnel-shaped and spidery pink flowers. After flowering, their strappy leaves develop and look good until early summer. Nerines like the sunshine and well-drained soil. They also like being crowded so they suit being in pots, or they will grow happily when they’re sheltered by a wall. Originally from South Africa, they are pretty hardy and can be left in the soil over winter.

You’ve got just enough time to plant these and to be amazed in a few months time. Plant near the surface, with their tips just showing above the ground. Those gloomy days of late autumn will never be the same again.

Hardy cyclamen shine in a bright autumnal carpet

Cyclamen hederifolium has lovely pink or white flowers which shine brightly in a low autumnal carpet before the leaves come through. It’s a woodland plant so it likes the dry and partially shaded conditions you find under trees – and not many plants do that. It self-seeds easily and the ivy-shaped leaves (that’s what the hederifolium bit of its Latin name means) provide useful ground cover. Plant the corms so that the tops are level with the ground. And they prefer to be planted when they’re in growth rather than dormant.

Wild cyclamen in the grounds of Killerton Chapel, Devon. Autumn flowering.
Wild cyclamen in the grounds of Killerton Chapel, Devon. © Rod Allday and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

What else?

Other autumn flowering possibilities are two quite separate plants which are sometimes confused.

Step forward the wonderful autumn flowering crocuses, best under trees and shrubs for protection from heavy rains. These are crocuses (yes, I know, but please read on).

Step forward the colchicum. Although it is, confusingly and wrongly, also known as the autumn crocus, it is not a crocus. It’s sometimes known as meadow saffron or naked lady, because it flowers before the leaves come through in the spring. Colchicums don’t like the rain much either but can look good naturalised in lawns. Pinky-purple Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ is one of the most popular varieties.

Finally, plan ahead and beat the rush!

If you’re thinking about spring flowering bulbs, start ordering them now for planting in the autumn as stocks usually run low in September.

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