Autumn is on the way. If you have any doubts — look at what is flowering in the old established gardens of Leisure Isle at the moment. The banks of orangy-red Crocosmia aurea, with their dark green sword-like leaves, seem to encapsulate the last days of summer. These indigenous bulbs, known as Falling Stars because of their semi-pendant star-shaped flowers – definitely need to be saved for a rainy day. They grow successfully in semi-shade with some morning sun and if left undisturbed the corms will propagate very easily.
Contrasting with the orange Crocosmia are the mauves, purples, pinks and white of the various Plectranthus species, another late summer and autumn-flowering plant which prefers semi-shade and is also easy and rewarding to grow. Remember that they are essentially forest plants and love lots of humus and leaf mould for their fine roots – a wonderful excuse not to sweep up all the autumn leaves! An added reason to grow these plants is to attract the Garden Commodore (Precis archesia archesia) butterfly to your garden as its larvae feed on the species. This attractive butterfly has different colouring in summer and winter, and I have already seen the winter form (brown, maroon and blue) – are we in for a long cold winter? Talking of butterflies – the Cape Autumn Widow (Dira clytus) can also be seen fluttering over grassy areas – particularly kikuyu – another clear indication that autumn is upon us. This dark brown butterfly with prominent eye spots can usually be seen in the cooler times of the day from late February to April.
Then of course there is the beautiful March Lily (Amaryllis belladonna) with its large scented trumpet-shaped pink flowers carried on long stems before any leaves appear. They like growing among rocks; can tolerate arid conditions and generally require little attention. Apparently they flower prolifically in the wild after fire – so there should soon be a wonderful display on the Cape Peninsula mountains after the recent dreadful fires. In the wild, seed dispersal is timed to coincide with the onset of the first winter rains in late March and April. In gardens, quicker results are achieved by dividing bulbs from the large mother plant during the dormant period and creating an extensive display of these gorgeous flowers, as well as being able to give some bulbs to your neighbours.
‘Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower’ Albert Camus
Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photos: March Lilies flowering after fire, Kogel Bay, Colin Paterson-Jones
Garden Commodore in winter form. Q Grobler iSpot