What's Blooming in October

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Posted by @LarryR on
Although our gardens are still officially beset by this year's drought, and we're still about eight inches shy of our average annual rainfall, we've been blessed with some pretty generous rains lately. And despite numerous frosty nights, our gardens are not yet bereft of blossoms. Come on in, see what's blooming, and check out the winner of last month's What's Blooming contest.

Crocus sativus in our herb garden


ne of the most interesting autumn crocuses blooming in our gardens at the moment is Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus. Each bulb produces as many as four blossoms, each of which has reddish-orange stigmas at the end of its styles.

Unknown in the wild today, the saffron crocus is thought to have originated in southwest Asia.  History first records its existence in an Assyrian botanical text written in the 7th century BC. Having been traded and used for over four millennia, it eventually made its way to the western world—initially to Greece—via various early trade routes.  Aside from flavoring food, "saffron threads," as the harvested stigmas with their styles are called, were used as a dye for clothing, as an agent for perfuming ancient Roman baths, and as a hair dye for ladies at the court of Henry VIII.  The king eventually forbade its continued use for that purpose, fearing that its popularity would cause a saffron shortage and deprive him of this coveted spice.

As a flavoring, saffron imparts a fragrance similar to that of new mown hay and has a slightly bitter taste.  Threads must be harvested by hand, and one ounce of saffron is equal to approximately 14,000 threads.  No wonder unsuspecting first-time users experience sticker shock when they purchase either the threads or their powdered form!  The finest saffron threads available can cost close to $50 for 0.5 gram.

Propagation of the saffron crocus is exclusively via offsets of the mother bulb, as this crocus species cannot reproduce sexually and therefore produces no seed. 2012-10-18/LarryR/48b977

(Please click on the photos below, not only to enlarge them but to bring them into sharp focus.)
Last month's mystery blossom, Petunia 'Merlin Blue Morn'
Lynn's favorite Sempervivum blossoms: 'Red Cobweb' above and 'Red Summer' below
Goldenrod Solidago 'Peter Pan' is one of the newer garden-worthy goldenrods.
Hyacinth bean Lablab purpureus along the roof of our cottage
New England aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae receiving a visit from a monarch butterfly
The two plants below are always the last ones to burst into bloom in our gardens before a killing frost.  Perhaps their color is a sign that winter's white world lies ahead.
This pass-along iris is a reliable fall rebloomer in our gardens.
Upright Lespedeza japonica 'Albiflora' is a lofty lespedeza that stands over six feet tall.

Congratulations to the winner of the September What's Blooming contest, valleylynn, who correctly identified the mystery blossom as Petunia Merlin Blue Morn (photo at left).  I asked Lynn to tell us a bit about herself, both as a person and more specifically as a serious gardener:

How did you come to be a gardener?

Both my mother and grandmother loved to garden and encouraged me by giving me packets of seeds to grow. And my dad found such joy in growing a vegetable garden. It seemed to be a labor of love for him.

How long have you been gardening?

From my earliest memories.

If you had a chance to give just one piece of advice to a beginning gardener, what would it be?

I'd say to stop and really inspect the beauty of each plant, up close and personal. There are treasures waiting for you to discover.

Why did you choose a photo of Hen and Chicks for publication?

They come in shades of red, pink, white, and very pale green and have such an intriguing beauty for me.

Do you have a favorite flower?

It's the one that is blooming and catches my attention. I can’t choose just one. They are all my favorite for the day I see them. I do have a special fondness for my hardy succulent Sempervivums. They provide me with year round enjoyment, only to be hidden on occasion by snow in our area. It is fascinating to watch them change leaf color from season to season. They are the chameleons of my garden.

Do you grow vegetables as well?

We only grow a few things now, like tomatoes and peppers. We do have apples, figs, blueberries, wild plum, Chilean guava, pineapple guava, the old Concord variety of grapes, native huckleberries, wild blackberries and a new shrub this year, Tasmanian Pepper Bush, which will be used for seasoning.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I have two Certified Therapy Dogs that I do volunteer work with. And of course participating at All Things Plants.

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about you?

That God never fails to meet my needs. 2012-10-18/LarryR/48b977

A close runner-up in September's contest was duane456.  We asked him if he had a favorite flower photo.  He responded with a seasonal collection of photos, among them some of my personal favorites. Here they are in the column below:

Duane's Favorites

Spring: Delphinium 'Pacific Giants' 
 Summer: Dahlia 'Fire and Ice'
 Fall: Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'
All year: Salvia 'Hot Lips'







Culture for this plant is very easy.  It blooms during the summer season and does well in hot weather, as long as it's watered regularly.  Daily deadheading assures that the plant looks tidy as it continues blooming.  Be sure to click on photo to enlarge.

Scroll down to the forum at the end of this article.  Click on the thread, "October Contest Entries."  (The thread may not appear immediately after the article is published.  If there is no thread by that name, please start one and name it "October Contest Entries" if you'd like to identify the mystery flower.)  Enter the name of the plant pictured above.  Please be sure to include the cultivar name.  This photo appeared on the ATP website this month.  In order to win, you must name not only the cultivar but must also describe where it appeared and the name of the person who posted it. (The person who posted the photo is not eligible in this month's contest.)  The winner gets to select a photo of a blooming plant from her/his garden, to be published in next month's What's Blooming article, along with a brief interview.  Check back often to see if there is a winner.  If readers are having difficulty, I may provide a hint.


Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, owned by Larry and Wilma Rettig, South Amana, Iowa, has been featured in local and national publications, on the Internet, and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in its Archives of American Gardens.  Larry and Wilma grow over 300 varieties of flowers, trees, shrubs, and vegetables. Since 1986, they have maintained a seed bank that preserves vegetable varieties brought from Germany to the Amana Villages during the 1850s.


My first encounter with saffron took place at the tender age of three or four.  Until I went to school, I knew no English.  My matriarchal grandmother insisted that our family speak only the Amana German dialect.  And so it was that I learned German nursery rhymes instead of English ones.  I can still recite this one verbatim, clapping my hands to its rhythm:

Backe, backe Kuchen,
Der Bäcker hat gerufen.
Wer will guten Kuchen backen
Der muß haben sieben sachen:
Eier und Schmalz,
Zucker und Salz,
Milch und Mehl.
Safran macht den Kuchen geel!

Translation: The baker calls out, "Let's bake a cake/pie. (Germans make no distinction between the two.)  If you want to bake a good cake/pie, you must have seven ingredients:  eggs and shortening, sugar and salt, milk and flour.  And saffron to make the cake/pie turn yellow!




Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
October Contest Entries by valleylynn Nov 17, 2014 8:56 PM 25
Saffron crocus by CarolineScott Oct 27, 2012 9:47 AM 3

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