By Chuck Gleaves
I searched all the pictures I have taken in October over the last six years and found far more blooming perennials than I could mention here. Many of them begin blooming in August or September but carry on well into October such as Japanese anemones. One of my favorites is Anemone x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’. There are also lots of different Asters and ornamental grasses that meet this descripton. For example, I particularly enjoy my ground hugging Aster ericoides ‘Snowflurry’ in combination with various upright stonecrops like Hylotelephium x ‘Autumn Joy’. Curiously, despite the name (Autumn Joy) the upright stonecrop is finished blooming by October, but remnants of the flowers still make a nice companion for my Aster.
But what about the flowers that could be called denizens of October? What are some flowers that when everything is dying, suddenly you see this thing blooming amongst the ruin of summer? There is one plant that especially comes to mind, Aster tataricus (Tatarian Aster). It is defined by its late blooming season. Since 1992 I have photographed it in bloom on seven occasions and as late as October 28th, but never have I photographed it earlier than October 4th.
Another hardy perennial whose flower show is almost exclusively confined to October is a species of monkshood called Aconitum carmichaelii. A great variety of that species that Kingwood and I both grow is called Barker’s Variety.
I can’t include in this list a couple of the most glorious fall bloomers, a couple of non-hardy shrubby sages called Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage) and Salvia greggii (Texas sage), even though they are frost resistant and never stop flowering in the fall until they are frozen. Many gardeners find them so satisfactory they are willing to start fresh with new plants from the garden center every year. There is, however, another sage called yellow sage (Salvia koyamae) that has a similar late season flowering persistence, albeit subtle. It makes a nice groundcover even in heavy shade and has a pleasant display of yellow flowers well into October.
Finally, in this summary, there is the fall crocus. This is not to be confused with the autumn crocus which also blooms in the fall. The autumn crocus, despite the common name, is in the genus Colchicum and is widely planted for its typically pink flowers that emerge in early September and often last until October. The fall crocus, on the other hand has smaller flowers of varying color more like the spring blooming crocus but that almost invariably bloom in October. For me, the allure is that they are usually a pleasant surprise. Just when I think everything in the garden is just about done just the flowers, no leaves, of the fall crocus will emerge among the fall colors and fallen leaves. There are several varieties, but the two I am most familiar with are Crocus kotschyanus, which I grow, and Crocus orchroleucus which I enjoy at Kingwood.