Celebrating the arrival of autumn

I know it might seem a little early, but the spring bulbs have already arrived at your local garden centre.

(From left) Allium schubertii; a nicely trimmed chicken topiary

Autumn is by far my favourite season, mostly because I don’t have to wait so long in the line at Starbucks to get my ordinary cup of Joe, as the young hordes that are usually ahead of me (in need of those time-consuming, custom blended iced drinks) are back in school.

Of course, there are other reasons to celebrate the arrival of fall – among them the cooler, more comfortable working weather, the welcome change in foliar colour and the beginning of the end of the lawn mowing drudgery.

It is also time for me to remind you that autumn is the season to:

• Buy those weird bulbs – I know it might seem a little early, but the spring bulbs have already arrived at your local garden centre. If you are just after a few tulips or daffodils to tuck in here or there, then you’ve got lots of time.

But if you are looking for those hard-to-find minor bulbs, new varieties or large-headed Allium (flowering onions),  then you had better make your purchases soon and store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant.

The reason being that many of these bulbs are either in high demand or short supply (or both), and they are often only on the shelf for about two weeks of the year before they are sold out.

Alliums, in particular, are easy to overlook at this time of year, mostly because they are late spring to early summer blooming, and many of us expect to have to plant them in March. Such is not the case. So if you want to have those giant purple orbs of ‘Globemaster’ or the seemingly explosive blooms of Allium schubertii, then you had better do your shopping early.

Also on the hard-to-get, sold-out-soon list: Galanthus, or snowdrops (especially the doubles when available); Eremurus, or foxtail lily; Leucojum, or summer snowflake; Eranthis, or winter aconite; blue hyacinths (common, but very popular) and any of the pink-cupped daffodils.

• Trim the topiary – Even if you don’t own a topiary chicken, September is a good time to do a little light shearing to get those cedar hedges and shaped boxwoods into form before it gets too cold.

This allows the newly exposed foliage to harden up before the frosts appear, lessening the likelihood of browned edges or wind-burned needles that you would have to look at for the rest of winter, or at least until the spring flush covers your ill-timed mistake.

For those of you with real topiaries, it’s not a bad time to get out those Christmas (sorry, I know it’s a dirty word at this time of the year) mini-lights and get them in place (after the trim), while the wires and your fingers are still pliable.

• Check-out the bud bloomers – Bud bloomers are a class of Scotch heather, or Calluna vulgaris, whose blooms never open, but their buds retain the colour for months on end.

Most flower from August to September, with those unopened blossoms persisting right into December.

At first, even I was sceptical, so I did my own trial with a bud bloomer called ‘Veronique’ in a winter planter last year, thinking that if any colour was going to quickly brown out, it would be a white cultivar.

Despite the high humidity and frequent overwatering, that little heather kept its pristine white buds right past Christmas, through to mid-January – that’s 4.5 months of seasonal colour in the worst of the wet and cold weather. You certainly won’t get that sort of longevity out of winter pansies or violas, at least not without a lot of deadheading.

New this year are the mixed bud bloomers, with one grower planting three different cultivars in each pot – one red, one white and one with gold foliage. This combination is really quite striking and it’s the perfect solution for a quick revamp of those tired planters by the front door.

Another interesting new introduction is a gold-leaved cultivar with pure white buds called ‘Anouk’. This member of the Beauty Ladies series only grows to about 30 to 35 centimetres tall and would make a great eye-catching groundcover for those upcoming dull green days of winter.


Mike Lascelle is a local nursery

manager and gardening author


• I’ve added a new story – Missing the Shared Experience – to my blog at www.soulofagardener.wordpress.com. I have also opened up a new plant selection site at www.mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com, where you will find both Calluna bud bloomers and Allium featured.

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