March 12, 2024

With its effortless collision of four consonants, ‘Herbst’ has always been one of my favourite words in the German language. It is a reminder of a past in which autumn was also simply known as ‘harvest’ within English, and I do wonder whether we might benefit from a renewed association with the biological (and practical) rhythm of the year.

Aside from the last of our pears, we’re confined to harvesting a wave of autumn flowers at present – although the beautiful South American ‘iris’ pictured above (the slate-grey form of Cypella coelestis) doesn’t quite play along as a cut flower (with each bloom fading by the afternoon).

The beautiful yellow amaryllid shown above (Sternbergia lutea) has gradually increased from a small number of bulbs that we acquired from Kellydale Nursery years ago, with a drift of these now emerging amidst native meadow grasses outside our kitchen.

Within the dry shade of the breezeway between our house and studio, the yellow flowers of Epimedium davidii are a particularly welcome sight this season, after our stock plants of this mesmerising Chinese woodland flower dwindled to a perilously small clump.

The diminutive Mediterranean bluebell pictured above, Prospero (syn. Scilla) autumnale has already been producing its upright flower spikes for weeks, and shows no signs of slowing down. This easily-grown species is little-known within New Zealand, but has significant potential for cultivation (including demonstrating admirable fortitude when faced with competition).

Many bulbs at this time of year dispense with the formalities of foliage; as in the case of the Habranthus brachyandrus in the image above, which has flowered for the first time since growing it from seed.

The most spectacular blooms that are out at the moment have been a work in progress for some time. Bessera elegans (pictured below), started sending up its elegant inflorescences weeks ago, and these have finally opened fully over the course of the last few days.

This graceful Mexican bulb comes from a summer-rainfall climate, and therefore resents too much winter moisture. However, now that we have a good number of bulbs, we have started to experiment with whether we can cultivate it on a steep bank adjoining the studio (where water can drain away freely in winter). Time will tell.