As the hot weather sets in, do you find yourself looking forward to autumn? Prepare now to greet the cooler temperatures by planting autumn-flowering bulbs, then sit back under the shade and wait for an outbreak of colour in March, April and, if you’re lucky, May.
Your garden can be an ever-changing kaleidoscope as the leaves on your trees turn from green to vibrant yellow, red, scarlet and orange and drift to the ground, while popping out of the earth are the pinks, lilacs, blues, creams and yellows of old-fashioned favourites such as nerines or autumn crocuses.
All about nerines
Nerines are the party plants of autumn, bursting out of the ground in whites, pinks, reds and yellows and proceeding to dance non-stop in your garden beds until winter.
The long, upright stems of these natives of southern Africa carry large, long-tubed, funnel-shaped flowers, then the six petals flare out and curl under, exposing the long, happily waving stamens.
In some species, the flowers emerge before the leaves, in others the two arrive together, with the long strappy leaves coming in shades ranging from deep to bright green.
They like a place in the garden that is sunny or in part shade. They are pretty hardy and can cope with moderate frosts, but end their party days if the soil gets too cold or freezes.
Plant the bulbs in well-drained soil with the neck of the bulb exposed.
All about autumn crocuses
Autumn crocuses, or meadow saffron, spring up without any foliage and stand tall and proud in a profusion of white, pink, lilac, pale blue and yellow flowers, their petals like chalices held aloft to celebrate the return of cooler days.
It’s a brief but commanding performance, lasting about three weeks, after which the flowers fade and the plant lies dormant until spring when the leaves appear.
Plant them 6-10cm in the ground in well-drained soil and keep the soil slightly moist while the flowers are growing, then keep dry when they are dormant.
Crocuses initially had a wide distribution in the regions bound by south-east Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus in south-east Russia and Iran, so are particularly suited to the climates of South Australia and West Australia.
Left to their own devices, they will create rich carpets of flowers in a fading summer border and give a promise of things to come in spring. After all, what is the point of tending a garden if not for the anticipation of that promise, then the joy in the realisation.
As you contemplate this promise, perhaps you can reflect on the history of the autumn crocus and its modern-day application. The pretty little thing is poisonous and was used in ancient regimes as a means of murder or suicide. These days, its qualities are used in medicines to treat conditions such as arthritis and gout. Let’s drink to that!
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