It’s leaves that tend to take center stage in autumn, even in California. Grapevines, Boston ivy and liquid amber trees all turn brilliant colors with the season, while still other plants bear bright fruit or berries.
But some of us — perhaps even most of us — would like to see some flowers bloom in the fall, too.
It’s not an impossible request. There’s always something in bloom, no matter what month it is, and a well-planned garden should always have some seasonal color. With a few well-considered plantings, you can have all the flowers you want well into the latter part of the year.
Steven Popp, owner of Green Tiger Nursery in Prunedale, California, points out that by selecting the right plants, you can get two blossoming times for the price of one.
“There are hybrid rose species that will rebloom in fall, and double-blooming bearded iris,” said Popp.
The other happy circumstance for gardeners in coastal California is that our mild climate encourages a longer-than-normal blooming period, says landscape contractor and designer Rose Bruno, founder of Terra Bella Landscape Design & Installation in Carmel, California.
In fact, some fall bloomers are notable for their saturated, eye-catching color – no shrinking violets here. Bougainvillea, a subtropical vine with cascades of pink, magenta or red flowers, often blooms even more extravagantly come fall, when the fog retreats and the weather warms up.
Bruno suggests two South African natives for reliable fall color – lion’s tail, with multiple orange flowers on tall spikes, and gazania, often sold as an annual in nurseries here but happily overwintering on California’s Central Coast.
Popp says numerous species of ornamental sage bloom well into autumn, particularly cultivars of Salvia greggii, which come in many different colors, and Salvia spathacea, commonly known as hummingbird sage.
Other fall-blooming natives are yarrow, available in white, yellow, pink, red and terracotta shades; beach aster, which has lavender daisy-like flowers; and California buckwheat, a sprawling shrub. Popp notes that all three of these will attract beneficial insects to the garden.
Common sights around the Central Coast are bottlebrush, an Australian native that is widely planted here for its tolerance of drought and poor soil, and Amaryllis belladonna, also known as naked ladies. This unusual plant puts out leaves in the spring which die back, and then leaveless blooms in the fall; drifts of the pink trumpet-shaped flowers can be seen along many local roads.
Marigolds, native to Central America, also light up the garden this time of year. Popp suggests Copper Canyon marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), a shrubby perennial with yellow flowers and bronze foliage. Bruno also likes strawflowers and coral bells for colorful displays in the garden.
Tropical plants like hibiscus prefer warmer fall weather and will respond with extra blossoms, and fuchsias will do likewise. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), a native, is also a fall bloomer.
Varieties of succulents also send out blossoms this time of year. Popp suggests a sedum called “Autumn Joy,” which attracts insects and butterflies with its red or pink flowers, and Sedum telephium “Matrona,” which has a purplish cast to its leaves as well as bright pink flowers.
Some fun additions to the fall garden are red hot poker plants, which send up red, orange or yellow orange flower spikes, and society garlic, a cousin to the edible herb, which has grassy leaves and lavender blossoms. Another flowering shrub that gets attention in the fall is plumbago, which produces a profusion of pretty light blue flowers.
If some of these plants are hard to find, never fear. Local nurseries typically carry zinnias, an annual that comes in a wide variety of colors, and chysanthemums, another old reliable for the garden.
Interviews with Steven Popp and Rose Bruno, August 2013