Well, of course there are flowers in the garden in October, though not a single mum. Also, no pansies, though I take no pride in their exclusion since the flowers are often marvelous. There are abundant choices to satisfy the most demanding gardener, despite a snobbish bias that they are too common.
There is only a single aster, though it has been divided several times and spread liberally around the garden. In the confusing and changing world of common plant names, the tall and rugged ‘Jindai’ aster (Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’, above) goes by Tatarian daisy. For most gardens this is likely to be the least favored choice of the splendid autumn flowering asters since its foliage is coarse and it grows far too tall (to four feet). In this garden its size assures its survival while more refined asters have been overwhelmed by exuberant neighbors. I have planted the splendid ‘Purple Dome’ and other fine asters in the past, and for my money these are superior flowers deserving of inclusion in any garden where autumn flowers are desired.
I am hopeful that Mahonia ‘Narihira’ (Mahonia confusa ‘Narihira’, below) proves tougher through winters than the marginal ‘Soft Caress’ (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’) that has failed in two recent cold winters, but also failed to thrive following warmer winters. ‘Soft Caress’ was at the top of my just-got-to-have list for a few years, but I was first disappointed by its lack of vigor as it expended energy recovering from mild winter temperatures. Then, in cold winters, it died, twice. ‘Narihira’ is rated with the same cold hardiness, but I’m hoping that in the breeding ‘Soft Caress’ became more tender and that the similar ‘Narihira’ might survive.
Other mahonias, also considered cold hardy only to zero degrees, have suffered minimal damage with several winter nights to four and five degrees below zero. ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ (Mahonia x media) will flower in late November, and often the blooms persist into January. The October flowers of ‘Narihira’ are smaller, and it is notable as much for its foliage as its blooms.
After a slow start due to very dry conditions, the autumn crocuses (Colchicum, above and below) have sprouted from beneath shrubs in every corner of the garden. Some, I’d forgotten about, but these were welcomed after recent rains, and in cooler temperatures the flowers last much longer than early flowering ones that suffered in heat and sun baked clay a few weeks ago.
I was surprised over the weekend to see flowers on the shrubby Gordlinia (x Gordlinia grandiflora, below). After giving it up for dead following the winter it has recovered nicely with many large white blooms in August. And this, I figured, was the end of it, since the flowers rarely persist long into September. But, now there are more, and several swelling buds that will assure more flowers in October. At least until frost, which can come any day now.
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Is it too late for me to plant flowers from seed now?
It is probably too late to sow seeds and expect flowers this autumn, but many seeds can be planted now. Some perennials seeds will germinate and grow small seedlings before the plants go dormant, and other seeds will remain dormant but sprout in the spring. If seeds go in now and don’t germinate until spring they are most likely to come up at an appropriate time when they will not be injured by late frosts, but this is also likely to be later than many gardeners prefer, which is why they start them indoors in early spring so they can set out plants that are further along.