Our autumn colors are just going over. There’s scarcely reason to have any ornamental garden in October and November. Just drive through our countryside and view all the reds, yellows, bronzes, russets, and on ad infinitum.
The poor violets, pinks, whites, purples, orchids, and other spring and summer colors have done their best to keep us content for months, but what now? We’re sated with fall colors, but they are all on the hot end of the spectrum. Or are they?
I’m here to tell you there is some “spring,” even if it is ersatz, around at this late date. It is harder to find, grant you, but it is there.
There is something about spring colors in fall that evokes nostalgia from spring 2018, but, in addition, there comes with it anticipation of more of the same in spring 2019. Yes, it is on the other side of a long, cold winter, but that just makes it more satisfying when it does arrive.
We have several (100 or so) fall blooming crocuses. One is Crocus specious, which bears two-inch flowers on the ends of unusually long (for a crocus) stems, up to six inches. The blooms are a bright violet, and resemble a species tulip. They make quite a show, even from a distance. I had visitors a while back and some were astounded there was even such a thing as fall blooming crocus.
Our other fall flowering crocus is a pale purple, maybe mauve (what a pretty word), and it has shorter stems, 2 inches or so, as is more befitting the genus. I am not sure of the botanical species; it originally came from a plantation of them here in town some years ago. They are almost identical to my favorite crocus, the spring blooming Crocus tommasinianus, otherwise known as “tommy” crocuses, that are much more prolific and spread much faster than the fall kinds. Anything you can get in fall, however, that makes you think of spring is worth it.
There are a few other fall flowering bulbs, but I have tried them and found them wanting, for me at least.
What about the pink I mentioned? You have to go to a shrub to get it. I have a young specimen of a form of our native beautyberry (not to be confused with beautybush). The wild form bears deep purple berries in clusters around the stems. The variety ‘Welch’s Pink’ has sure enough true pink berries for a few weeks before severe freezes do them in. A white variety is available, but I have failed to find it.
A Japanese beautyberry offers forms with white berries. These are displayed in clusters on top of the stems, not all around it, but very prolifically. These beautyberries seed with abandon, and usually come true from seed. Another, more common, one has stunning berries between turquoise and pink, a striking color not found in many berrying plants of any season, not to speak of fall.
Then there are the fall blooming camellias. They are in as we speak and will be until Christmas or even later if hard freezes do not occur. Breeding of cold hardy camellias has been going on for a number of years, many of them from the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
‘Winter’s Star’ is a pink one and is just starting in our garden, with numerous 3-inch flowers on an evergreen bush now 10 feet tall. Like it is ‘Winter’s Snow,’ which is a similar size and covered with white flowers.
A caveat: Be double sure the camellia you buy is rated hardy to at least zone 7, and preferably zone 6. The two mentioned have stood well below zero. There are numerous camellias around that are brazenly sold here that are not winter hardy. Read the label.
I have found camellias easier than azaleas, faster growing and with attractive evergreen leaves. They like the same conditions as azaleas, part shade, good drainage and shallow planting.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.