These are tough plants, able to brave the cooler months to bring unexpected colour to your patch.
Autumn-flowering bulbs are a hardy bunch and can be planted almost anywhere – in pots or baskets, in garden beds and borders, under deciduous trees, and naturalised in lawns. Find one to suit your garden.
2 AUTUMN GEMS
Colchicums, or meadow saffrons as they are known (they are often called crocuses too, which they are not!) have globular purple, lilac or white blooms that burst out of the soil weeks before their leaves appear. During its short season, Colchicum autumnale makes a bold statement. Some, like prolific, easy-care Colchicum 'The Giant' needs no care and will even grow through grass and weeds.
The pretty autumn-flowering peacock iris, Moraea polystachya, outdoes almost every other bulb in the autumn garden with its long flowering season. It's ideal for rockeries or pots, and seeds gently into the cracks between rocks without becoming invasive.
CYCLAMEN FOR OUTDOORS
Cyclamen hederifolium, which hails from southern Europe and Turkey, is the hardiest of the cyclamen species. It's also the easiest of the dainty cyclamens to grow and will gently naturalise itself outside. It throws its first flowers up in January but peaks around April. Cyclamen coum is also hardy, flowering from late winter or early spring. It's a small plant, growing no more than 10cm high, and produces rounded heart-shaped dark green marbled leaves. Its petals are also rounded and range in colour from white to deep pink. Cyclamen coum grows in sun or part shade.
The cyclamens we see indoors at garden centres around Mother's Day come from the parent plant Cyclamen persicum. Called florists' cyclamens, they are typically grown indoors, though Cyclamen persicum does grow outside in southwestern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia and a few of the Greek islands. It will grow outside here too, so long as it's frost free, though it may survive short bursts of temperatures to around -2°C. If hit with a light frost, the leaves will go limp, but they should recover once temperatures rise.
Species gladioli are vastly different to the in-your-face hybridised glads synonymous with Dame Edna Everidge, but their subtle beauty is infinitely more charming. Gladiolus callianthus (pictured left), for example, has single, nodding, white flowers, each with a maroon throat and a heady scent. The flowers appear at the tips of tall stems, unfurling from late summer through autumn. Also known as peacock orchid, it's great for picking.
Gladiolus papilio has hooded blooms that are a subtle greeny yellow with a dusty purple blush. The flowers are carried on arching stems up to 1m high – up to eight flowers per stem – and appear in summer and autumn. They don't open fully, but the partially closed flowers are very appealing.
Planted in well-drained soil in full sun, this hardy plant will increase year after year, multiplying by underground runners. If your plants stop flowering, dig them up once the leaves have died down, divide them, add food to the soil and replant.
Gladiolus tristis is another worth seeking out, though this species blooms in spring or early summer. Its greenblushed creamy flowers are held atop 50-60cm high stems, permeating the night air with fragrance. It, too, is excellent for picking.
There are a host of nerines honking into autumn mainly in shades of smoky pinks and even purple in the new hybrids – bred from pink parent Nerine bowdenii and the more racy red Nerine 'Fothergillii Major'. The latter species is a fiery little number that loves the same conditions of bold, rock garden plants such as aloes and epidendrum orchids.
In their native Africa, the leaves of nerines follow when the weather becomes more humid but initially you get a dense bouquet of stars erupting from the ground. Like many bulbs, it makes an excellent cut flower.
In the garden, nerines prefer welldrained sandy soil and sun. They do well in containers, as they like being crowded.