October, not all autumn, has plants that will make you think spring

October, not all autumn, has plants that will make you think spring

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

What a fortuitous occurrence is second spring. We’re in it now, though everybody thinks it is autumn.
Well, after all, October and April have just about identical weather, with day and night temperatures close to the same. And October is not all pumpkins, mums and golden harvests.
We are all celebrating (or bemoaning, depending on your bent) “fall of the year,” as days shorten and the weather becomes more amenable.
It is unadulterated felicity basking in such on the heels of our summer stink. Along with the pleasurable weather change come changes in our gardens and all of it is not bronze and red. On the face of it such as pinks and lavenders (the colors, not the plants) would seem incongruous in that fall of the year.
No so, however, to anyone who begins to pine for the next spring about two days after the summer solstice ends the old one, which, in our part of the world, coincides with summer’s first stifling heat.
There are a few (very) plants that have their seasons so skewed that they break forth from the ground at the opposite season from their kindred. There are even fewer of those that show their wares right on through the winter.
We’re not talking here of summer hangers-on or such as the autumn red surprise lilies that delight us for a few days. Those latter are ending, not beginning, their seasons, though their foliage is, admittedly, evergreen.
One of the true out-of-season plants is autumn-flowering crocus. There are many varieties of them, but only a few prove permanent.
About town there are several old stands of these, having survived for decades and multiplied prodiguously. There is a swath of them on property owned by Holy Cross Catholic Church that fronts on Pennsylvania Avenue. Other stands, perhaps brethren, are not far away on East Wood Street. I am not sure which variety these are, but their tiny pale lavender chalices against yet green grass literally screams spring, though it is not.
Throughout the years (30 at least) I have tried just about every variety of autumn crocus offered by bulb dealers and, alas, have failed with nearly all. They are all species, not hybrids.
One, Crocus speciocus, has stayed with me for a few years, but inevitably dwindles out. It is not too expensive, and is worth it to replant 50 or so every few years.
I am not sure of the species of those mentioned local plenteous stands (hundreds at each place) of fall crocuses but they obviously have been around with no care for a very long time.
In desperation, I begged some starts several times over the years from their owners  and a few (few!) of them are still with me, though they have never multiplied to any degree.
My spring crocuses in the same locale do. I would strongly advise you to try fall crocuses and perhaps, 20 years from now, your lawn too will be a sheet of color in October.
The arums are an abundant clan. Many house plants are arums, as are a lot of hardy ones.
One of the great foliage plants is Arum italicum, and particularly the variety Pictum. This has the ingratiating habit of sprouting forth its new leaves in September and October, right from bare ground or amongst other groundcover.
These arrowhead-shaped leaves can reach a foot long or more, green with white stripes running through them. They will stand up to nearly any amount of cold.
If temperatures drop precipitously they might fall over, but will rebound with warmer days. If, at worst, some are frozen, more new ones will take their place.
They are still in fine fettle by snowdrop time in January and February, and arrangements combining the two, or with hellebores and daffodils, are stunning.
In spring, big white spathes of flowers, resembling those of the houseplant “peace lily,” emerge from the leaves, the enclosed spadix then producing cobs of red berries. The foliage dies away, leaving spears of berries a foot or so tall, a striking sight, alone to show off. Then a dormant period sets in, from about June-September, when fresh leaves begin to emerge. If that doesn’t make you think spring, I don’t know what would.
Jimmy Williams is the garden writer for The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.

Published in The Messenger 10.16.12

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