Last year, I visited Montrose and became bewitched by a charming little bulb I’d never seen before: Sternbergia lutea.
A diminutive amaryllid native to the Mediterranean, Sternbergia lutea isn’t widely grown, but it should be. It looks like a tall yellow crocus, but blooms in September. The blooms can be short-lived, but they are followed by grassy green foliage that persists through the winter, then disappears as the rest of the garden wakes up in the spring.
They like their summers dry–so dry, in fact, that the bases of oak trees provide ideal planting conditions –and prefer being left alone. Heavy clay doesn’t bother them, either. Don’t lime them, whatever you do, and keep them clear of automated watering systems.
I think they’d look spectacular mixed into a bed of black mondo grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens,’ which will tolerate the drought-like conditions the Sternbergias need in the summer, or another dark-leaved ground cover like Ajuga reptans ‘Mahogany.’ Alternatively, a broad-leaved, yellow-variegated ground cover like Lamium maculatum ‘Anne Greenway,’ would complement the blossoms handsomely.
Unusual garden bulbs make great garden plants. They’re easy for the novice gardener, cheap to buy and grow (many reseed or reproduce by offsets, and require little in the way of fertilizers or pest management schemes), and many bulbs can last forever in the home garden. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, carries Sternbergia lutea, among other terrific and unusual plants. And they’re not a sponsor of my site; I just like them.
What are your favorite plants for the fall garden?
I’ll have to track these down. Anything that does well in dry shade is welcome here, and I do have some patches of black mondo grass. My fall-blooming bulbs are colchicums, hardy cyclamen and autumn crocuses (which bloom in October, just as the yellow maple leaves are falling around them). I also have some nerines (N. bowdenii) about to bloom for the first time since I planted them several years ago. They are also amaryllis relatives.
I love them and I have seen carpets of them in France, but they obviously need more sun than I can provide. They always stop flowering and dwindle away here no matter where I plant them.
Lucky you can grow them, it’s yet another bulb I can’t have without a lot of fuss!
We were just re-reading Henry Mitchell on October bulb planting and googled Sternbergia lutea and found your site. We also miss him!
Wasn’t he wonderful? I love Sternbergia lutea; I am enjoying my first flowers now. They look lovely mixed with Crocus speciosus.
Hope you’ll drop back in again sometime!