colchicumIt’s harvest season. Even those who don’t harvest anything more than a cereal box off a shelf know that autumn means decorative berries. But did you know it also can also mean the brightness of autumn-blooming bulbs?  Let’s finish this series on the fall garden (both online and off) with a few suggestions for both.


When you’re growing a plant for fruit (berries) as well as flowers, it is important to find out:

a) If it is dioecious (separate male and female plants);

b) If it needs a different cultivar or species flowering at the same time to set fruit; or,

c) If it’s self-fertile and berries on its own.

Don’t shy away from figuring out this little step – it’s the same process with many of our edible fruits such as the apple. You’ll still get flowers if you ignore it, but berries might never show up. Here are a few examples:

Ilex verticillata (Winterberry) – If you’re not growing this stunning native, you’re missing out on vibrant color for your garden and your holiday wreaths.  Female plants require a male within a quarter mile, and one that blossoms at the same time, so check recommendations for the female you’re considering. To get started, think about ‘Winter Red’ or ‘Winter Gold’ (male: ‘Southern Gentleman’) – all are easily found. If size is a concern, check out the Berry Poppins series from Proven Winners. Cute, compact and berries up the chim-chim cheroo.


I. verticllata ‘Winter Red’

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’– The name says it all. ‘Cardinal Candy’ has an attractive growth habit and berries beautifully when there is another cultivar nearby (like many viburnums).  Consider ‘Michael Dodge’ as a pollination partner here and your inside flower arrangements can sport golden berries as well as scarlet ones. Flowering AND berries – why aren’t we growing more viburnums than hydrangea? That’s what I’d like to know.


V. dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’

Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry) – A beautiful native that still feels ‘unusual’ in the average landscape, but shouldn’t be.  It’s available, it’s gorgeous, and it copes with varied conditions (though fruiting is fuller with regular moisture).  It’s also self-fertile, but berrying can be heavier if you grow more than one. Enjoy the standard species or branch out into ‘Purple Pearls’ (purple/black foliage) or ‘Welch’s Pink’ for true pink berries.  I’m trialing a purple foliaged hybrid called ‘Pearl Glam’ right now which will be available in the spring and boasts more of an upright habit.


C. americana at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Pyracantha spp. & cvs.  (Firethorn) – Firethorn is spiny and hard as nails.  It’s also beautiful, versatile, and berries in many shades of red, orange and yellow.  The strong woody stems will support themselves as a (heavily pruned) shrub or small tree – or you can use it to its full potential and train it against a structure. I grow the hybrid ‘Mohave’ against my barn for the orange-red berries (think Thanksgiving tables), but grow ‘Silver Lining’ in a mound to light up a bed with bright variegation in summer and bronze-red in the fall.  Firethorn can get fire blight, and the yellow-necked caterpillars love it – but it is a remarkably hardy specimen.


“Bulbs?” say you.  “That’s for spring and summer.”  Nope.  There are a host of early autumn flowering bulbs that you can find through specialty bulb suppliers to bring a bit of unusual to the landscape.  Let’s ease you in slowly however, with a couple very popular selections that you’ll need to order next spring for a fall planting (most suppliers are sold out right now).

Colchicum autumnale (Autumn crocus) – I was first introduced to these bulbs by a friend who insisted I buy some when they came up for sale in a plant club. I obediently complied, and a month later, huge iridescent petals in lavender-white were peeking through fallen leaves. There are many colors from pink to lavender, and planting them in a little corner that takes you by surprise in the autumn is my idea of joy.  (My idea of pure happiness is seeing them naturalized on a hillside recently at Chanticleer Gardens.) Foliage is almost hosta-like and appears in the early spring, dying back by mid-summer. They prefer a sunny site – plant them with too much shade and they will stretch and flop their pretty necks.


A hillside of colchicum surprises the October visitor at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA


Sternbergia lutea (Autumn daffodil – though apart from color, nothing like one) – Sternbergia really resembles a bright yellow crocus due to its smaller stature.  The upright, thin foliage complements the flowers when it doesn’t hide them (unlike Colchicum which prefers nudity when blooming). This is a big plus for this particular gardener who is becoming annoyed with huge swathes of pushy naked lady foliage taking up prime real estate in the spring garden (Lycoris squamigera).  Oooh.  Did I write that out loud?


The bright heads of S. lutea poking through the foliage of a neighboring plectranthus

There you have it, a smattering of colors for the autumn garden. Flowers, foliage, berries and bulbs, and I didn’t even touch on the trees.  We’ll save that for spring planting time methinks.