Horticulture Magazine

7 Autumn Flowering Bulbs For Late Colour

pink nerine flowers in focus

Spring and summer are when we traditionally expect to see bright and flamboyant blooms of colour in our gardens.

Looking out of my back door now, for example, in early August, I can see sunflowers, dahlias, and zinnias swaying in the breeze; their yellows and pinks competing vying against each other for my attention.

autumnal flowers in pots with pumpkins and heather
How to keep the colourful blooms through to autumn?

Also as I look out of my back door and into the garden, it strikes me that these blooms will soon start to fade. Their colours retreating away until next summer, bringing a completely different visual palette.

It’s a shame in some ways, but really it’s just the inevitable truth of gardening, and rather than mourn the passing of each flower each year, it’s a chance to think about what comes next.

And if you, like me, want colour in your garden for as much of the year as possible, the answer to “what next?” is simple: a selection of bright and beautiful autumn flowers for late garden colour!

In this article, we’ll look at seven bulbs that fit the bill for a lovely burst of late-in-the-year colour. After reading you’ll have a good idea of which bulbs to plant in your garden to help ensure that the passing of summer isn’t the end of the captivating floral displays in your prized outdoor space.

Let’s begin…

1. Autumn crocuses – colchicums

The plant purists amongst you will notice that the family colcicaceae, to which autumn ‘crocuses’ belong, isn’t the family iridaceae, of which true crocuses are members.

If you can move past this deception you’ll find an attractive flower whose September and October bloom provide a perfect backdrop for the rest of your autumnal flower display to build from.

purple and white coloured colchicums
A great introduction to autumn blooming flowers

The delicate purple flower which grows around a vibrant yellow core stands just a couple of inches off the ground, and looks great amongst grasses and other low-lying greenery.

These flowers prefer a well-drained spot and do best in dappled shade: imagine them growing in a little glade section under tree cover and you’ll get a good idea of their ideal growing conditions. Simply plant the bulbs 5cm deep with 15cm between each in August, and you’ll enjoy their bloom that autumn.

Watch out when handling these bulbs as they’re toxic to humans and animals.

2. Dahlias

Another colourful bloom with plenty of versatility is the ever-popular dahlia. If you’re looking for something with a range of colours and sizes to choose from, then you can’t go wrong with this flower. Take a look on the website of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), for example, and you’ll find 308 dahlias in the autumn season of interest bucket, as opposed to 309 in summer. Plenty to choose from!

Dahlia ‘Ellen Huston’ boasts deep orange-red bloom with flowers clocking in around 9cm wide. Their distinctly autumnal colour palette will look fantastic in any late-year display.

Or how about the ‘Wootton Cupid’? Similarly sized but with daintier pink flowers, these will look great alone or alongside other varieties.

Then you have the yellowy “Cream Alva’s”, the white “Figurines”, or the sunburst “Wootton Impact” – 15cm across with incredibly flamboyant bloom imitating bright sunlight.

These few varieties represent the tiniest selection of dahlias available for autumn displays, and we recommend getting yourself properly acquainted with the choices on offer.

3. Autumn snowflake – acis autumnalis

These white lantern-like flowers which droop from intriguing red-brown stems clearly communicate the fact that they’re built to thrive in autumn.

For the discerning gardener looking to send subtle signals with their displays, autumn snowflakes are a no-brainer: their entire palette evokes autumn and the absence of any green draws attention to the change in season in an unobtrusive but undeniable way.

Find a spot with rich, well-drained soil and pop in a few bulbs, then sit back and enjoy the clusters of autumn snowflakes that burst forth from the ground. Combine with other autumnal blooms around their September/October bloom time and you’ll be rewarded with an appealing and attractive display.

4. Nerine

Browse a list of nerine varieties and the accompanying images are a parade of pinks, from candyfloss through to flamingo. Names like “Bowden lily”, “zeal giant” and “low-growing nerine” jump out from the page, each an inviting prospect for creating autumnal colour in your garden.

pink Nerine bowdenii flowers
Nerine bowdenii – we like to think of this shade as ‘bubblegum’

If you consider pink to be an indispensable part of your garden’s aesthetic, then choosing a nerine or three is a must when designing your outdoor space. The RHS website lists 15 varieties well-suited for autumn blooms, meaning the handful we’ve named above barely scratch the surface of the options available to you.

Your nerines will bloom from September onwards, lending support to other bulbs in this list that bloom in and around the same month. Grow alone for a stunning pink display, or combine with other flowers for balanced and harmonious bursts of colour.

5. Sternbergia

These yearning flowers look a little bit like crocuses, making them popular contenders for late garden colour. Sternbergia lutea for example, also confusingly known as winter daffodil, is a cup-shaped flower of vibrant yellow: a shade that you’d definitely expect more to belong to spring.

Part of creating late colour in your garden is variety, meaning that a bold yellow can work very well alongside the purples and pinks we’ve seen so far. It’s also about establishing themes that run through the seasons, so that visual consistency exists within and between the different phases of your bloom.

By using a bright yellow like sternbergia, you can carry that spring and early summer strand of colour through to subsequent months. Doing this well will provide constant reward as you sit in your garden throughout the seasons and watch the gradual transition unfold.

6. Surprising snowdrop – G. reginae-olgae

Some plant names are adorably evocative of the way the plant looks and behaves, and the surprising snowdrop is a perfect example. Sharing some of their appearance with autumn snowflakes, these lantern-like flowers that droop from proud stems bring a completely different colour contribution to your autumnal displays.

The white flowers dangling from bright green stems would look far more fitting in a spring display – perhaps where the “surprising” part of the name comes from. With what we’ve just discussed about carrying threads of colour and shape through from one season to the next though, and it’s easy to see why we’re recommending this plant as one to consider.

Find a pot with full sun or partial shade and then sit back and enjoy the show.

7. Begonias

There are some flowers whose names will ring bells even for the non-gardeners amongst us, and we think begonia is in that list. The beautiful and fragrant begonia flower is enough to catch the attention of anyone who sees (or smells!) it and we’d be remiss not to include them in our list.

As with dahlias, the ratio of begonias with summer to autumn season of interest is very reassuring: the RHS lists an identical 94 varieties in each bucket.

For a selection of autumn varieties let’s start with begonia “sutherlandii”. This recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit – indicating particular suitability to British gardens – has dainty orangey-yellow flowers that tumble forth in early autumn.

Or how about begonia “fragrant falls”, whose larger flowers boast a palette encompassing lemon yellow, peach, rich pink, and everything in between?

If your key criteria when building an autumn flower display is variety and depth of colour, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better suited to your needs than begonias.

Autumn can be the prettiest season

While spring and summer definitely take pole-position in the eyes of most gardeners, the onset of autumn doesn’t need to be a forlorn occasion. Far from it, in fact.

There are hundreds of flowers available that will continue to bring colour and stunning aroma to your garden throughout autumn; some at the start of September to ease with the transition, others through to the first frosts and beyond!

In this list we’ve rounded up just seven options, but as we say there are literally hundreds. The selection here is intended to give a range of colours, shapes, and seasons of interest to work with.

But if you’re looking to create a rich and rewarding autumnal display, we definitely recommend getting your detective hat on and having a look at what other options are available to you.

Happy gardening!

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