By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director
At Bellingrath Gardens, the colors of fall are shown to their full advantage in both flowers and in leaves. The English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) coined the expression “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” The same could be said for the myriad number of plants that exhibit multi-colored foliage.
Variegated plants have been prized and sought after by early and modern day plant explorers. Typically, variegation in plants is confined to leaves, but oftentimes, fruits can have interesting patterns of color.
Variegation in the plant world can be barely noticeable from narrow stripes along the margins of leaves to small blotches of color and all the way to dazzling multicolored leaves. To maintain variegation, plants are typically propagated asexually by cuttings or in some instances by tissue culture.
As we transition the Gardens to fall plantings, we typically install chrysanthemums when they are fully budded and just beginning to show color. To bridge the gap until the mums are in full bloom, we use variegated plants to provide color and interest in both full sun and shaded areas. The stars of this time of year are varieties of Coleus, Crotons and Copper.
In recent years, so many different varieties of Coleus have been available for sale in garden centers. Many of the newer varieties are sun tolerant. They are easily propagated and require little to no care. Although not significant, the light blue spikes of flowers are best pinched off to encourage the growth of fuller plants. Coleus are strictly annuals and need to be replanted every year.
At Bellingrath, we grow and maintain 35 varieties of Coleus. About every six months, our horticulturists replace the older stock plants and root new cuttings.
Crotons, with their exotic color patterns and leaf forms, provide bold color splashes in the garden. We use many multicolored varieties in both summer and fall plantings. As we transition the Gardens to winter, we simply dig them up and grow them in our production greenhouses. They make excellent container plants, but need protection from temperatures below freezing.
The other tropical plants we use for both summer and fall color are Copper Plants. Foliage color ranges from bronze red to yellow and even white variegation. We generally don’t try to save Copper when the Gardens are replanted for winter, but maintain stock plants in the greenhouses, from which we take cuttings for both summer and fall plantings.
The variegated colors will last until we set out the spectacular Fall Cascading Chrysanthemums display, which will be at peak bloom in the second and third weeks of November. In the meantime, the cooler temperatures make this time of year ideal for strolling through the Gardens and savoring the beauties of the season.