When the weather starts to get cooler and the days shorter, many of us feel limited by the selection of plants available at garden centers and nurseries. Pumpkins, cornstalks and bales of hay are fine, but when it comes to colorful plant options, we’re left with boring ornamental winter kale and chrysanthemums. If you’re looking for some worthy options that will make your autumnal garden look more like a botanical garden rather than a garden center, keep on reading.
1. Rose Glory Bower (Clerodendrum bungei)
Also known as Cashmere Bouquet, the Rose Glory Bower is more likely to be seen planted in a large tub at a botanic garden than near your front entrance. Three rooted cuttings, planted in the spring in a large 30-inch pot, will quickly grow in a single summer to an impressive 5-foot high, bushy shrub that looks rather similar to a perfectly pink hydrangea.
Plants can be hardy to USDA Zone 7, but elsewhere it’s best when grown in a large pot where you can enjoy its late summer and autumnal display. This full and fast grower will illuminate your autumnal garden from late August until October with large, fragrant clusters of pink flowers and velvety, rich green foliage.
2. Flaming Glory Bower (Clerodendrum speciosissimum)
Similar in growth and habit as the first plant, this species presents a more tropical look with its bright red flowers and bracts. The Glory Bowers are a large plant genus, composed mostly of tropical vines, but be careful when searching for this plant, as its Latin name can be confusing — it is very similar to a common vine (Clerodendrum x speciosum).
Look for Clerodendrum speciosissimum at your favorite online nursery — rooted cuttings will do for a late-spring planting into pots. Three plants per pot will make a spectacular display by fall (and your hummingbirds will thank you).
3. Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus)
The Lion’s Tail produces an impressive display in just one growing season with rooted cuttings placed either in a perennial bed or a large container. A few small plants set out in the spring will transform as soon as the summer gets hot into a 5- to 6-foot tall display of roaring color. By September, each strong, woody stem becomes topped off with a fuzzy, orange “mane” of blossoms that appears in ascending whorls.
This South African native is not hardy (its roots freeze at temperatures below 20º F) but it is easily started from cuttings that can be kept indoors as houseplants until the following spring.
4. Pineapple Lily (Eucomis)
There are many species and selections of the uncommon bulb known as the Pineapple Lily (Eucomis). They are neither pineapples nor lilies, but who can argue that they are not compelling and striking when planted in the garden or in containers? The green-flowered form pictured above is a wild and large species called Eucomis pole-Evansii, which can grow 4 feet tall.
Thanks to recent Dutch breeding programs, you can choose from a wide range of forms, such as dark burgundy-leaved miniatures with speckled or wavy leaves. The bulbs are easy to grow — practically foolproof if planted in early summer in pots or in the garden. Most bloom in August and September. Bulbs are tender and must be lifted where there is frost, but they can be kept over in a cool, dry cellar or garage if set into dry soil for the winter.
5. Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia)
The king of the autumn container displays, Angel’s Trumpets are finding new audiences far beyond their tropical haunts in old gardens in the South or in tropical city parks. Even in the north, people are growing angel’s trumpets, tolerating their dropping leaves and bare woody stems in their basement or frost-free garage during the winter months, because their floral drama in late summer is unmatched by few plants, if any. Be prepared for a giant plant, which in turn requires a giant container. Your reward will be a traffic-stopping show when it blooms with long, pendulous and intensely fragrant blossoms that seem to arrive once in the spring and then again in greater abundance just before frost.
Brugmansias require muscles. You must be able to move the tall, tropical plants into a basement or garage where they may shock you by promptly dropping their yellowing leaves. Don’t worry. The shrubs will enter a dormant phase that will last much of the winter. Keep the soil nearly dry, and don’t worry about light — the bare shrubby branches can tolerate darkness until springtime. As the weather warms to safe, frost-free temperatures, it can return to the garden or terrace for a doubly impressive show. Although Brugmansia can root easily from cuttings, the best displays come from mature shrubs.
Photo credits: Matt Mattus
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