November GBBD: Prime Time

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

I think Disanthus cercidifolius (no common name) has the best fall color of any plant in my garden.  It is also in full bloom right now (photo below).

It is the middle of the month and time to participate in Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day hosted by May Dreams Gardens where gardeners from all over the world publish photos of what’s blooming in their gardens.  I participate because it is fun and educational for me to identify what plants make my gardens shine at different times of the year.  I also hope that my customers will get some ideas for plants to add to their own gardens to extend their season well into fall.  I am also joining my friend Donna’s Word for Wednesday theme of texture and pattern at her blog Garden Walk Garden Talk.

My garden is located in Bryn Mawr (outside Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, U.S., in zone 6B.

The re-blooming tall bearded iris ‘Clarence’ is a star performer in my fall garden.  It got knocked over by our unseasonable snow storm so it doesn’t look like this now, but it continues to bloom.

In colder months there is a tendency to include GBBD photos of anything with a flower, and I may do that in January.  But fall is still prime time in my gardens (no hard frost yet) so I am showing here only plants that are at their peak between October 15 and November 15 (I do not take all my photos on November 15).  This means that they bloom now (or are still blooming), have ornamental fruit, or feature exceptional fall color during this period.  For more ornamental ideas for fall, see A Few Fall Favorites for Flowers and A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit.

Let’s start with perennials:

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium, continues to flower through November.

Yes, the snowdrop season has started with Galanthus reginae-olgae, which has been blooming since mid-October.  Fall-blooming ‘Potter’s Prelude’ has just produced its first flowers as has the giant snowdrop, G. elwesii, but they will be featured next month .

When I was touring Chanticleer this spring one of the gardeners gave me a clump of this very late-blooming monkshood, Aconitum sp.  I am not sure what species it is, but I am loving it’s dark violet-blue flowers.

‘Immortality’ is another re-blooming tall bearded iris that puts on a fall show.  I appreciate these flowers much more now when most other showy blooms are gone.

‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, shows up in the most unlikely places in my garden, here my terrace stairs, and produces generous quantities of blooms through fall.

Gorgeous ‘Moudry’ black fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, is one of the most asked about perennials in my fall garden and is well behaved here, but it can spread aggressively in some sites.

Hellebore season has started too with this little gem that was sold to me as Helleborus dumetorum (no common name), probably mislabeled.  Christmas rose ‘Josef Lemper’ has been blooming for quite a while but has no fresh flowers now.  I will include it next month.

Here are some trees and shrubs that I would grow for their ornamental contribution to the fall garden from flowers or berries:

The award winning hydrangea ‘Limelight’, H. paniculata ‘Limelight’, continues to produce fresh flowers late into fall.

Pond cypress, Taxodium ascendens, is ornamental almost all the time, but I would grow it even if all it did was produce these gorgeous cones.

Native green hawthorn ‘Winter King’, Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’, has produced a bumper crop of berries this year, which the robins are just starting to enjoy.

The flowers on my evergreen ‘Sasaba’ holly osmanthus, O. heterophyllus ‘Sasaba’, are small but they make up for their size with their heavenly fragrance which perfumes the whole garden.

The berries of evergreen Japanese skimmia, S. japonica, persist well into spring.

Disanthus cercidifolius is in full bloom right now.

The scarlet flowers are interesting and beautiful, but you have to get quite close to see them.

All my fall-blooming camellias are covered with flowers.  The first four pictured below are Ackerman hybrids, which are hardy in zone 6 see Fall-Blooming Camellias Part 1, and the final plant is one of their parents:

Camellia x ‘Elaine Lee’

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Joy’

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Darling’

Fall-blooming Camellia oleifera was introduced to the U.S. from China in 1948.  In 1980, Dr. Ackerman at the U.S. National Arboretum noticed that it alone survived the U.S. mid-Atlantic’s cold winters and began crossing it with non-hardy fall-blooming species to produce what are now known as the Ackerman hybrids.  My camellia in the photo above is a seedling from the original C. oleifera ‘Lu Shan Snow’ at the National Arboretum.

There are dozens of plants that are vying to be included on GBBD because of their beautiful fall color.  However, I have decided to showcase only the seven that I think are exceptional, including disanthus pictured above and at the very beginning of the post:

Our Pennsylvania native vine Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is underused in gardens especially when you consider its fall look.

Many magnolias, including star magnolia, turn a lovely yellow in the fall, but native hybrid Magnolia x ‘Yellow Bird’ (named for its yellow flowers) is the most beautiful.

Redvein enkianthus, E. campanulatus

Pennsylvania native oakleaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia, is ornamental 365 days a year, but it definitely reaches one of its peaks in the fall.

Another woody with 365 days of interest, coral bark maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, has stunning and long-lasting fall color.  For more information on this lovely tree, read Coral Bark Maple.

Pennsylvania native sugar maple, Acer saccharum, has gorgeous orange fall color.  Pictured above is a sugar maple tree in my garden that turns red instead of orange.  Sadly, when the iconic Princeton Nursery closed its doors, they had been evaluating it for seven years for possible introduction.

Enjoy your fall,  Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

92 Responses to “November GBBD: Prime Time”

  1. Your Pond Cypress is pretty sweet…but that Helleborus dumetorum is my fav. We recently planted Helleborus in our garden. Hope it does as well as yours. Matti

  2. I was entranced by your iris. Such amazing beauty! happy GBBD!

  3. Your garden looks stunning in its fall colors. Had no idea there were fall blooming snowdrops. I’m looking forward to reading more about them.

    • Linda, Because of the fall-blooming snowdrops, the snowdrop season really goes from mid-October through April. G. reginae-olgae is the first but there are more opening every couple of weeks. One of the reasons I got into selling snowdrops mail order is to make some of the rarer varieties available. Carolyn

  4. Carolyn I hope to one day visit your part of the world and walk the grounds of your nursery. It is just so full of variety and beauty. It brings so much joy to those of us who follow your blog. Happy GBBD!

  5. Can’t believe you have Irises and Camellias flowering at the same time – how beautiful! The cones on your Pond cypress are wonderful!
    Happy GBBD 🙂

    • Christine, The iris in their prime and the first camellia flower probably overlapped by a week or two but it is fun. I never saw the cones before this year, and they have been on for months, I think since spring. I just looked at them today and they are starting to dry. Carolyn

  6. What an amazing amount of colour you have in your garden, I was very taken with your Iris and once again with your Camellias, must find room for some here.

    • Pauline, I have been adding plants to the garden for the last 20 years with the idea of extending the season fully into fall and on into winter. I just started with the camellias, other than ‘Lu Shan Snow’, in the spring of 2010, but they are putting on a good show already. This was the best year ever for the iris. Carolyn

  7. I do like your tall bearded iris ‘Clarence, I didn’t realise they would flower so late, I’ll have to look at what’s available here. Some very lovely foliage too, I hope you join GBFD on the 22nd. Christina

  8. Hi Carolyn, you have many plants which are not favorable here, but among them i love your cones which are very unusual for us. And those grasses are also very beautiful. The rest are beautiful too but because i have seen them many times in blogs, they seem normal already.

  9. I had no idea that Winter King hawthorne produced the fruits you’ve described… my plant is very old (25 years at least) and I’ve never experienced its bearing fruit… Larry

    • Larry, Funny you should mention that. My ‘Winter King’ is about 15 to 18 years old. I planted it after seeing all the berries on the specimen at Longwood gardens. However, this is the first year it was ever loaded with berries, and I have always been disappointed before with a sparse showing. I am not sure why this year except that many of my woodies have more berries than usual. I hope it is not a commentary on the upcoming winter. Carolyn

  10. I LOVE all the fall foliage in your garden! It is so impressive. My hellebore are just starting to put out buds. Seems earlier this year than in years past. Happy GBBD!

    • Karin, I will have to check my hybrid hellebores. I was cleaning out the gardens yesterday and came upon dwarf fothergilla at the prime of fall color. I would have included it and am hoping it will remain colorful for December GBBD. Every shrub in my garden has to have at least two seasons of interest because shrubs take up too much room otherwise. Therefore, most of my shrubs are either evergreen, produce berries, or have beautiful fall color in addition to their flowers. Carolyn

  11. Mac_fromAustralia Says:

    Beautiful. I love the disanthus, fountain grass, all the gorgeous camellias, and those amazing cones!

  12. You still have loads of color at this time of year. Much is still in bloom as well. This time of year we really have to search for the blooms and hope a few remain after the frosts and snow, and it always amazes me the number that do.

    • Donna, Yes, there is still a lot going on—only the iris was really “cheating”, but it didn’t fit in October GBBD because the flowers weren’t open yet. I will probably be searching next month and regretting not including some things this month. My campanula ‘Sarastro’ is still blooming—what a great plant. Carolyn

  13. Ok tell me how to get my reblooming irises to actually bloom again..they never do…and I want some fall flowering hellebores and snowdrops when I come to visit or can I mail order them…wow…thx for the the fall show Carolyn…Happy GBBD!!

    • Donna, My re-blooming irises have not really put on that much of a show until this year. They are probably 4 to 5 years old. Clarence is in more sun so it re-blooms more than Immortality but other than that it must be some combination of fall weather conditions. You can mail order the snowdrops but not the hellebores. For fall-blooming hellebores I recommend the Christmas roses ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ which bloom in October and November. The hellebore in my post is just a rogue plant so its not available. Carolyn

  14. Your collection of blooms reminds me that fall can often be a second spring. BTW, it took me 3-4 years to get rid of ‘Moudry’.

  15. No need to hunt out solitary blooms in your garden Carolyn! I think I have fallen in love with that pond cypress, what extraordinary cones.

    • Janet, Because gardeners tend to shop in the spring and to buy plants that are in bloom, many people end up with not much going on in the fall. I have a spring open house sale at my nursery devoted to fall-bloomers, and it is a hard sell because people want to see flowers. I do have fall open house sales, but the fall blooming plants are not as available for purchase for resale at my nursery then. It’s a vicious cycle. “Regular” nurseries just give up because it is not economically justified to stock plants that you have to work to sell. Glad everyone likes the cones as much as I do. Carolyn

  16. 7aces/Darla Says:

    All is beautiful in your gardens, that black fountain grass made me gasp!

  17. What a lot of lovely blooms you still have! You’ve convinced me I need some re-blooming irises–what a welcome sight they must be in the fall. Love all the gorgeous foliage as well.

    • Rose, The re-blooming irises take some getting used to because they really re-bloom as big and beautiful as they did in the spring. There is a little bit of a feeling that they don’t belong there but that is quickly replaced with an admiration of their elegance. Carolyn

  18. Wow, wow…and wow! Almost speechless here. Makes me want to go outside and look a little more closely; there must be a few things still blooming out there somewhere! My monkshood is going strong…and some others too, however, I cannot see most of them because of the foot-high layer of leaves all over my yard! Guess that means I’d better get out there and check my Hellebores and Galanthus! Beautiful post, as always, Carolyn.

    • Jan, I think I sent you the fall-blooming snowdrop ‘Potter’s Prelude’ last spring so you should definitely keep an eye on it because it should start blooming any day now. I have a lot going on right now because I have planned for it for the last 20 years. Most new plants are required to have more that one season of interest before they can enter my garden. Carolyn

  19. What wonderful fall colors. I enjoyed visiting your garden today.

  20. I always look forward to your posts – they take me on a beautiful journey into a new garden and remind me to get out and walk around my own. Our own garden is just 2 years in the making, or rather 1.5 years in the undoing and half a year in the making! We intend this to be our last home so I love to see the potential evolution as I walk through your 20 year showcase.

    Disanthus are popular in the PNW since we have the perfect (acidic) soil for them. Witchhazels and Fothegillas likewise – and Camellias come to think of it!

    Those snowdrops were new to me and will be added to my wish list for next year.

    • Karen, I am so happy that viewing my garden is a beautiful journey for you. We actually bought the property in 1983, but I really didn’t know what I was doing until I started my nursery in 1992 and still there was a learning curve. My style of gardening is always evolving and improving. Now I am really focusing on the shrub layer. We have acidic soil here too so the same plants do well as do most shade perennials. Fall-blooming snowdrops are not generally available in the US, although I do sell them mail order in the late winter. Carolyn

  21. Oh my goodness–your garden is gorgeous! It’s still a little early for our hellebores here, but I am in love with your reblooming iris. Actually, I’m in love with your entire garden–what stunning photos! I completely forgot to include our camellias–they are full and lush and lovely, but generally our garden is sadly neglected right now. Must. Clean. Up. Garden! You’ve inspired me! Have a lovely day!

  22. I always mean to plant some cyclamen….

  23. You aren’t exaggerating about prime time! I think I need some of those Galanthus reginae-olgae. My Galanthus elwesii have started sprouting, but they’re nowhere near blooming yet. If your new Aconitum is tall (over 3 feet) it’s probably carmichaelii; if it’s shorter, it’s probably fisherii. I grow both species, and the blooms are very similar, although fisherii seems to start blooming slightly later.

  24. Thanks for showing that some of my favorites are already starting in your garden: hellobores and snowdrops, but also camelias, magnolias, … great your nursery’s landscape!

  25. What a great display of blooms. I was especially taken with your re-blooming irises! What a fun bloom to see in the fall! I’ve seen purple fountain grass, and love its looks, but have never heard of black fountain grass. How dramatic! But no more dramatic than your pond cypress. I’ve never seen this one either. So unique! Thanks for letting us see these unusual plants. (And, of course, the camellias are wonderful.)

  26. You have done it again, Carolyn! Disanthus cercidifolius is totally gorgeous. I just did a little online research, and to my delight it is available locally at one of my favorite nurseries! How could I have overlooked it thus far? Guess I will have another date with my pick axe!

    • Deb, I am so happy to be able to introduce you to another wonderful plant. Disanthus isn’t offered very much because its blooms are not conspicuous. However, it is in one of my favorite plant families, the witch hazels, which means it has spectacular fall color like most of its relatives. It also has leaves like a redbud–that’s what cercidifolius means–and I love that type of leaf. Katsura trees have similar gorgeous leaves. Does this mean you will “blame” me in another post? I can’t wait. Carolyn

  27. Louise Thompson Says:

    I know it’s become a pop favorite, so maybe not worthy to be included, but you do sell it, Caroline: hardy geranium ‘Rozanne’. Mine started blooming – in part shade – in very early May, and are still blooming, even after that 2″ of heavy snow we had!

    • Louise, I love Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and think it is the best hardy geranium on the market if you can only have one, but it isn’t blooming now in any of its locations so I couldn’t include it. Glad your ‘Rozanne’ is still going strong. Plants are often popular because they are great plants and there is a tendency to discount them once they become popular, but you won’t find me doing that. I talked about this in my Hostas for Fall article. I am not about new, new, new but about it works, it works, it works. Carolyn

  28. Such a beautiful post! The Disanthus is a knockout, for sure! I’m totally envious of your ‘Moudry’ Pennisetum…mine are nowhere near as full and lovley as yours…maybe next year 😉

  29. What a difference a few zones make. My garden is almost dormant while yours is still so colorful. The Disanthus is awesome!

    • Allan, If you walked around my garden it would be full of brown leaves from my 15 huge London plane trees, but I do have a lot of trees and shrubs that are at their height of fall color. There is also still a lot of green because, although we had a frost that got the annuals, it didn’t get perennials like garden phlox and brunnera. Then you would also see all the plants featured in my post that were included for just this season like camellias, but they are definitely islands surrounded by late fall. Thanks for stopping by. Carolyn

  30. Thanks for joining, Carolyn. I appreciate you participating.

  31. I agree the disanthus is stunning. I am most envious of the enkianthus. I’ve been eying them for quite some time but haven’t taken the leap due to our very dry summers here. Your garden is looking most happy! W

  32. Amazing November BD! You are making me want to drive out now, in addition to spring! 🙂

    I am assuming that the camellias you grow are all normally hardy to zone 6? I read through this article and your others and do not know if I missed that somewhere. They are just too good to be true where I live I think… Glad to enjoy yours.

    Wonderful post as always!

    • Julie, These camellias are hardy in zone 6. I have discussed this in previous posts but will add a reference here. They have also been successful in the coastal areas of zone 5B like Boston with protection. If you had a southeastern facing shady corner made by your house or two walls meeting, I think you could try one. Less hardy camellias here often die back in cold winters but then they sprout up again and are fine. Carolyn

  33. Absolutely fabulous bloom day blooms and autumn colours. I love the intense blue of the monkshood. I don’t think I have ever seen it before.

  34. Thanks for sharing all the beautiful fall colors in your garden. I still love all your camelias.

  35. I am so happy I stopped by your blog today – envious at the same time. I used to live in a little town in MI and many years we had beautiful weather into November and December and like you had many plants still blooming. Where I live now in the PNW there are very few blooms in my yard at this time of year, its just too wet out.
    You have a lot of beautiful color going on there, I love that Virginia Creeper.

    • BB, that is so funny because I always think of the PNW as gardener’s paradise, but I guess that’s for hardiness reasons. The mid-Atlantic is such an ideal place to garden because its the bottom of New England and top of the South in terms of what you can grow. You are the first to mention the VA creeper, which I think is gorgeous. Carolyn

  36. I want just about everything including your hellebore and galanthus. Do you really have H. ‘Josef Lemper’ blooming for about a month? I bought a hellebore in the supermarket that has been in bloom and appears to have niger traits. Hopefully it survives the winter (but I am thinking it was a greenhouse grown variety so it may not).

    I have seen G. elwesii for sale on one of the bulb sites. Does this species always bloom this time of year or does it depend on other factors? If they are reliable fall bloomers, I am placing an order!

    • Terryk, As far as I know, there are no non-hardy hellebores so the plant you bought in the supermarket can be planted outside. It is most likely that you got a H. niger/Christmas rose because they are the hellbores that are forced and sold in non-nursery stores. ‘Josef Lemper’ does in fact begin to bloom reliably in October (there are about 10 spent flowers on mine) and ‘Jacob’ in November. My G. elwesii has always started blooming in January and not in the fall, and I have another group that starts in February. I am not sure what is going on. It is still a great plant and you should still plant it. Carolyn

  37. I think I may have to add them even having something blooming in January or February is not bad. I may even have to look aroound the supermarket to see if they still have some of those left. Mine are white, I would love to add the green colored hellebores to my garden as I have some nice dark purple ones and think they would be a pretty contrast.

    • Terryk, What store was carrying the hellebores? Yes, green-flowered hellebores look great with the dark purple. If you visit my nursery, you will see Helleborus cyclophyllus planted with ‘Blue Lady’ hybrid hellebore—gorgeous. Although my G. elwesii usually starts in January, I looked at my photos and they started at the beginning of December last year. However, this is an early-blooming group. Another planitng from another source blooms much later in February. Carolyn

  38. I had this idea that you were a much warmer zone but here I see you’re only a 6. I’m just one zone away in 5 and yet it feels like a world of difference. Our trees have lost all their leaves now and almost every single flower has succumbed to frost. I see some lovely plants though I’d like to try like that native hawthorn. Would that grow here?

    • Marguerite, My area was always zone 6 with a minimum temperature of -10 F. Now I think I am in zone 6B, shading into 7 with the recent warming trends. Temperatures have not gone down to our zone low of -10 since the winter of 1993-1994 when a lot of plants were killed. If we do return to our “proper” zone, we will lose a lot because many traditionally non-hardy plants have become popular here like daphne, cherry laurel, nandina, etc. We still have not had a completely killing frost and the later trees are just losing their leaves. However, many of the plants in my post were added because they bloom now and don’t succumb to frosts. According to Dirr’s manual, green hawthorn is hardy in zones 4 to 7. Click here for a description of it in the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder, an extremely useful tool. Carolyn

  39. Carolyn your gardens make me drool whatever time of year. Who can resist the camellias and all the fall colours. Redvein enkianthus, E. campanulatus is the one that really caught me eye though and research from the RHS informs me it has the AGM award. It is just as lovely in Spring – one for my wishlist should I ever have a garden again

  40. So many lovely things – have never come acros pond cypress or disanthus before = very interesting and wish your nursery was near here.

    • Catharine, Pond cypress is a tree native to the U.S. and very closely related to the more common bald cypress. They are both wonderful trees and have numerous ornamental characteristics. Disanthus is just a very unusual member of the witch hazel family. Glad you liked them. I wish you could visit too. Carolyn

  41. Carolyn, I always enjoy reading your post. I’m sure if I lived near your nursery I would be a regular. ha. But then I would be poor. But happy. Thanks for all your splendid expertise in all things relating to shade.

  42. Enjoying your garden tour so much. Your camellias, irises, and the fall colours are lovely. My tropical garden remains the same all year round, so I truly appreciate the changes that your gardens undergo.
    Happy GBBD!

  43. Anne Randall Says:

    Carolyn, to let you know Galanthus Potter’s Prelude bloomed this day in sw Ohio and it is so lovely!! From you last year! Thank you– a Blessed sight. Anne Randall

    • Anne, Thank you so much for letting me know. Kind of flies in the face of all the “don’t sell in the green” propaganda coming from you know where. Personally, I think American gardeners would know best how to grow snowdrops in America. Others seem to disagree. Carolyn

  44. Amazing how much the cercidifolius looks like our redbuds!! Very pretty 🙂 I see that it needs acid soil, though, so I’m sure it would not work in my highly alkaline soil. Lots of pretty going on in your garden right now!!

    • Toni, In my quick search, it looks like most sources do not say that Disanthus requires acid soil. Most horticulturalists don’t know much about this plant so I would be skeptical, especially since Dirr’s Manual doesn’t mention this, and try it anyway. Carolyn

  45. Wow, so much going on in Bryn Mawr. Snow drops already, and as for the Pond cypress, Taxodium ascendens I have never seen cones such as these. alistair.

    • Alistair, I treasure my fall-blooming snowdrops because they really stand out. I bought the pond cypress because I had been admiring it for about 20 years at Longwood Gardens and finally had a place for it and a source. The cones were a wonderful bonus that I had never seen before. Carolyn

  46. There is always such a wealth of excellent plant information in your posts, Carolyn. I always find myself noting plant names and learning new things.
    Locally, I have been very impressed with ‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’. We have had several hard frosts and yet I see that it is still blooming in several local gardens. I like both irises that you have shown in this post. Next year I would like to get a few re-bloomers to add to my collection.

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