Au­tumn bulbs

These are tough plants, able to brave the cooler months to bring un­ex­pected colour to your patch.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Autumn Garden -

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.


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 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.

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