The most exuberant, fresh plant in our October gardens are the newly arrived fall flowering bulbs. After a deep summer slumber, they awake and push out of the ground to dazzle and amaze the gardener, who often forgets they’re there. At least that was the case with my yellow Sternbergia lutea, which produced such a dazzling display of yellow flowers that it was impossible to miss.
So unexpected is the arrival that we often forget to consider companion plants to enhance the show. Or at least I am guilty of that oversight. Finding a suitable perennial that flowers in October, doesn’t get too tall, and looks equally fresh is no easy task. For my sternbergia I have settled on Gentiana x ‘True Blue’, with its incredible, royal blue flowers and late bloom. It’s always a gamble, will these two overlap in the next year, and the year after? The gardener can only try. I toyed with the idea of adding Nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’, a frothy calamintha-like perennial with pale blue flowers. One might have to edit around the newly arrived sternbergia as the froth may initially shield it. Something the gardener will be happy to do, revealing those incredible, yellow flowers.
The hardy cyclamen or Cyclamen hederifolium is also rising from bare ground to begin its prolonged flowering period. Flowers precede foliage, arriving on thin stems. The upside down flowers are dainty, which give no hint of how truly hardy the bulb is. The leaves arrive in late fall and persist all winter. A suitable companion could be evergreen, or nearly so. Hens and chicks would be a simple and effective cohort. The new Sunsparkler sedums or Sedoro’s may even be better. A cross between sedum and orostachys, both need excellent drainage, which will be suitable for the cyclamen. If it’s a shadier bed, use one of the tricolor ajugas, like A. ‘Party Colors’, or ‘Pink Silver’.
In small vignettes, at the edge of a garden path, these combinations will invigorate the gardener, and some of us need that.