On Saturday, Montrose hosted a short tour to see the snowdrops at their best. At least, it’s their best between now and, say, Christmas. I expect to see them blooming in the woods throughout the winter and into the spring.
Nancy started with a packet of snowdrop bulbs purchased at the local feed store. She tended them, divided them, shared them, transplanted them. At some point, the casual interest metamorphosed into a passion.
On my second or third day at work, I helped to weed the ridge pictured here. Microstegium grew in billowy clumps, camouflaging English ivy and the foliage of various species of cyclamen. Out came the Microstegium, just before it set seed, as well as the ivy. The fallen leaves remain to decompose on their own schedule.
At the time, I found no evidence of snowdrops anywhere. My colleagues promised it would be lovely in time. (And it will look even more heavenly when the Podocarpus [left-hand side] fill in behind them.)
I know of four Galanthus species in the garden (G. elwesii, G. nivalis, G. reginae-olgae, and G. woronowii) but I am sure there are more. Then, there are named varieties and the charming mutts begotten of self-hybridizing.
I particularly like them grouped amongst Pulmonaria.
I’m sorry if you had to miss it (Susie and Erica…). Hope you can come next time.
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?
Late last year, I stopped by a favorite nursery and binged on plants for which I did not have a place prepared in the garden. Among the must-haves that found their way into my cart were Habranthus robustus, the nodding rain lily.
Zephyranthes sp. and Habranthus sp. are two genera commonly known as rain lilies, because they come into flower after summer rainstorms. Interestingly, they don’t respond in the same way to a shower from the hose or watering can–even if the water comes from a rain barrel. I am fascinated to know how these plants know the difference between the water sources. I have read a suggestion that it’s to do with nitrogen in the rainwater fixed by lightning, but they bloom after storms without lightning as well.
I am not sure why it’s called nodding rain lily–I didn’t observe the blooms nodding downward to any extent, but perhaps mine were duds. The position of the bloom, though, is one way to tell the genera apart: Zephyranthes species’ blooms tend to face upward, while Habranthus species’ blooms face outward, like those of their relative, the amaryllis.
The bulbs begin blooming in late summer, when little else shows up, and will often multiply steadily if planted in a happy spot. Unfortunately, I think mine may have been lost to last winter’s polar vortex. Plant Delights Nursery and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs carry lots of these fascinating plants, which are hardy between USDA Zones 7-10. I have read that Zephyranthes citrina is hardy to Zone 5. I’m keen to repopulate my garden with them all, but I may have to wait until next spring. I hear that another polar vortex may be in future this winter.
Have you ever grown shallots? I haven’t, but I’ve just ordered my first sets to plant this fall. I love the way they taste, so I’m excited to try them.
Shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are botanically related to onions and garlic. They are native to Central Asia and have a very mild, delicate onion flavor that is wonderful in salads and egg dishes. They grow like garlic, forming clusters of offsets (small bulbs that form off the main bulb). Inside the bulb, shallots are layered like onions.
I’m growing French gray shallots (Allium oschaninii), which some consider to be the “true” shallot, and French red shallots, the ones most often found in grocery stores and markets. The red shallots are supposed to be easier to grow, but the gray ones allegedly have better flavor. The red shallots grow larger; the grey produce prolifically.
Like other root crops, they like well draining soil amended with lots of organic matter. My raised beds should suit them very well, as they contain equal parts composted manure, decomposed bark, and washed sand. I’ll perform a soil test before planting to make sure the pH is appropriate. I cannot plant them until mid-October, but if I wait until then to order them, they won’t be available. I made that mistake last year.
What crops are you trying out in your fall garden this year?