Between the Rows: Blooming time isn’t over yet

  • At the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, spoon mums are a bright pink next to blue/purple asters. These flowers generally stay abloom well through October. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/PAT LEUCHTMAN

For The Recorder
Friday, October 27, 2017

If I asked a gardener to give me a list of flowers that bloom in the fall, she might sigh and run out of names after chrysanthemums and asters. But there are many plants that will bloom well into October. Not only perennials bloom in the fall, but even a few annuals, like my nasturtiums and marigolds.

Most of us are familiar with the potted chrysanthemums that are available in September and October at garden centers and supermarkets. These exclamations of brilliance in shades of gold and ruby are not really intended for the garden. These potted plants are grown by the thousands to be sold in full-bloom and then set on porches or tucked between foliage plants in the garden for an instant application of brilliant color. They will certainly continue blooming through October, and maybe vie with jack ’o lanterns for attention on Halloween.

However, chrysanthemum are natives of China, where they have been bred into many species that can grow quietly in our gardens until midsummer, and then begin a great show of color and form. Garden catalogs, like Bluestone Perennials and King’s Mums, will give you a large selection of the many mum cultivars. I have grown Alma Potschke in my garden for many years. She is a substantial lady, growing 3-feet-tall or taller and loaded with brilliant red/pink flowers through October, until she is done in by light frost.

I’ve also grown spoon and quilled mums, like the golden Fine Feathers and spider mums with graceful, thin florets that have a more delicate grace than the more familiar mums.

The very late blooming Sheffield daisy is a chrysanthemum, and it’s one of my favorites. The Sheffies, with their pink petals around a yellow center, don’t start their rambunctious blooming until October, but I think they are worth the wait. They will bloom until a hard frost. They are strong growers, and I have been able to divide clumps just about every year and donate them to friends and plant sales.

Dahlias, natives of Mexico, are sometimes mistaken for chrysanthemums, but they are a bit more tender than mums. They grow from tubers, not root clumps, and cannot be planted until the soil is warm in the spring. As I write, they are blooming in a magnificent array of colors on the Bridge of Flowers and in a friend’s Greenfield garden. Some dahlia varieties can be so tall and so laden with blossoms that they need to have sturdy staking provided at the time they are planted.

Asters are familiar fall bloomers. While I think of asters as being tall, I am very happy to have the Wood’s Blue aster acting as a green ground cover until it turns into a river of blue in late August. It is likely to bloom through September; this one is a good spreader.

Boltonia is a false aster, but it is beautiful in fall. It begins blooming in late summer and continues until frost, producing clouds of small white aster-like blossoms with yellow centers. It blooms exuberantly on the Bridge of Flowers but also tolerates wet sites and can be included in a rain garden.

Less familiar bloomers are tricyrtis, toad lilies, autumn crocus and colchicum. I always seem to forget about my planting of toad lilies tucked in near some low-growing primroses. The clump of these late bloomers has become substantial, with 3-foot-tall stems and deep green leaves. My toad lilies are spotted blue and white, but there is a pink and white variety, as well. Sprays of about 10 flowers are carried on the tall stems. This flower should be planted at the edge of a border where the complicated flower can be fully appreciated and admired.

Colchicums and autumn crocus look very similar and bloom at the same time, but colchicums belong to the lily family and autumn crocus to the iris family. Both should be planted in August. The first summer they are planted, they will bloom in the fall when temperatures begin to cool. They will not have foliage, but send up stemless blossoms of blue/purple or pink. Each bulb will send up several shoots and each will have a blossom. Because there is no stem, these flowers are only about 6- or 8-inches-tall. The following spring, they will send up foliage that will die down and disappear sometime in August. Then, once again, the flowers suddenly erupt with spring-like verve.

Cooks should be aware that the Saffron Crocus can grow in our area. Like the other autumn crocus, they should be planted in August. They will bloom later in September, and then the little stigmas can be harvested and dried for use in recipes calling for saffron. American Meadows, located in Shelburne, Vermont, sells Saffron Crocus. They say that a bag of 15 bulbs will produce 30 stigmas, or maybe more. However, they also say that these bulbs may only blossom a year or two. Even so, if it is the saffron you want, the price of about $17 for a bag of 15 bulbs would be worthwhile. This is something to remember when you are making up your plant order in the spring.

While we will soon say “farewell” to this year’s blooms, we can enjoy thinking about new blooms for a long season next year.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com