Cyclamen

Autumn is not far behind cyclamen.

The advantage of cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, is nonconformity. Bloom begins in autumn when there are not many other flowers to provide color, and continues until spring. Cyclamen then defoliate and go dormant through summer while most other plants enjoy the warm weather. Even their red, pink, white, purple or salmon flowers are inside out, with petals flared back. The flowers can stand as high as six inches, just above the somewhat rubbery foliage. The rounded leaves are mostly dark green with silvery or gray marbling

If used as annuals for one season, cyclamen are uniform enough for bedding. However, if later overplanted with warm season annuals and allowed to stay through summer dormancy, regeneration the following season is variable, with larger and smaller plants, and some that do not survive. As perennials, cyclamen therefore work best in mixed plantings, where variety is not a problem. Cyclamen should be planted with their tubers about halfway above the soil level, and should not be mulched. Soil should be rich and drain well.

New Zealand Flax

New Zealand flax provides bold texture.

Simple old fashioned New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, has been popular on the West Coast for as long as anyone can remember. Big specimens are prominent in old pictures of Victorian era gardens. The upright and olive drab foliage gets as high as ten feet, and as broad as fifteen feet. Bronzed and variegated cultivars stay somewhat more compact.

Modern cultivars of New Zealand flax might be Phormium colensoi, or hybrids of the two species. They are generally even more compact, with more colorful foliage. Foliage may be olive green, greenish yellow, brownish bronze, rich reddish bronze or striped with like colors. Some bronze sorts are striped with tan or pink. ‘Yellow Wave’ has floppier foliage. 

New Zealand flax is a tough evergreen perennial. Its long and narrow leaves can be too fibrous to cut without scissors. These leaves grow as tall as they do from clumping basal rhizomes. Interestingly rigid floral stalks stand slightly higher than the foliage, with yellow or red bloom. After bloom, these floral stalks can be a delightful and bold dried cut flower, and work well with pampas grass bloom.

Japanese Aralia

The bold foliage of Japanese aralia is quite striking, whether kept low and dense, or suspended on taller lanky stems.

It may not grow too rapidly, but Japanese aralia eventually gets nearly eight feet high and wide, and commands a bold presence. The deeply and symmetrically lobed leaves can get as broad as a foot and a half, on long petioles (stalks). The foliage of ‘Vairegata’ emerges with a yellow border that turns pale white. ‘Moseri’ stays quite compact.

Plants grown for their foliage can be maintained by cutting the oldest stems to the ground as they begin to deteriorate, so that newer stems can replace them. Alternatively, lower growth can be pruned away as it develops to elevate the canopy and expose interior stems. However, individual stems do not last indefinitely, and will eventually need to be replaced by any convenient watersprouts.

Barberry

Delicate foliage hides sharp barberry thorns.

It certainly looks innocent enough. The modern cultivars of barberry, Berberis thunbergii, barely get taller and wider than six feet. Densely dwarf cultivars might not get much taller and wider than only two feet. Columnar sorts are quite narrow with mostly vertical stems. Even the old fashioned types get less than ten feet tall. Barberry is not exactly imposing.

However, like an angry chihuahua, it has a nasty bite. Its finely textured foliage obscures thin but very sharp spines. These spines are numerous enough to be visually appealing while the thin stems are bare through winter. Where necessary, they are sharp enough to inhibit encroachment. Unfortunately, these spines are annoying to handle while pruning.

Most popular cultivars of barberry have richly reddish or almost purplish foliage. Few are variegated with white. Some have bright yellowish chartreuse foliage. Formerly common green barberry is now rare. The small and neat leaves are obovate, and may seem to be circular. They turn vivid reddish orange through autumn, prior to defoliation during winter. Tiny red berries are rare.

Giant Chain Fern

Giant chain fern is remarkably resilient.

On the West Coast between British Columbia and Mexico, the largest native fern might be the giant chain fern, Woodwardia fimbriata. In sheltered and damp coastal forests, it can get taller than six feet, although it is typically about three feet tall and wide in home gardens. The lightly colored and almost yellowish green fronds generally stand upright and flare outward from the center. The foliage is doubly lobed and lacy, but quite substantial. The thick rhizomes spread rather slowly. Established plants are remarkably resilient. They can tolerate almost full sun exposure if watered enough. Those in partial shade can tolerate lapses of watering. However, they do not recover too readily from relocation or division.

Boston Ivy

Boston ivy gets colorful before autumn.

It is the ‘ivy’ of ivy league schools. Nonetheless, Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, is neither an ivy, nor indigenous to Boston. It is from eastern Asia, and is related to grape vines. It is related to Virginia creeper too, which is actually native to Boston, Virginia and the eastern half of North America. It has become popular locally for freeway sound walls. 

Boston ivy is an aggressive clinging vine that can climb to the top of a ten story building. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with that. It ruins wooden or painted surfaces, so can only climb concrete or masonry. It climbs over windows if it gets the chance. Thicket growth is difficult to remove if it is too high to reach. On rare occasion, mice can nest in it. 

Otherwise, Boston ivy works well on freeways. Although deciduous, its vines discourage graffiti. Even while bare, its texture helps to muffle sound. Its exquisite autumn foliar color might begin to develop as early as late summer, and lingers until frost. Boston ivy is quite resilient to neglect. Shabby plants generate fresh new growth after major winter pruning.

Naked lady

These naked ladies are not shy.

While so many flowers are finishing their bloom and leaving their drying foliage behind, naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is just beginning to bloom, naked of any foliage. Clusters of a few to several bright pink flowers stand on bare stems about two feet tall. Individual flowers are about two and a half to three and a half inches long, and resemble lily flowers. Foliage only appears after flowers deteriorate, and lasts only until weather gets warm late in spring. The strap shaped leaves are about a foot to a foot and a half long. Through summer, the two or three inch wide bulbs are dormant and bare, and seem to be dead with their tops visible at the soil surface, but retain fleshy roots below. They should therefore only be dug and divided if they get too crowded or need to be moved.

Saint John’s Wort

Saint John’s wort blooms somewhat late.

Although it shares the same common name, Hypericum beanii is not the same sprawling Saint John’s wort that is now so aggressively naturalized within some local ecosystems. It is shrubbier and much more docile. Mature specimens get no more than three feet high and wide. It should be evergreen here, but can get sparse through cooler winter weather.

Bloom begins in the middle of summer and continues at least to early autumn. Cheerfully bright yellow flowers are two inches wide, with five rounded petals around fuzzy centers. The light green and oblong leaves are about two inches long. Stems are rather wiry, and can eventually get shabby. Coppicing as winter ends stimulates fresher vigorous growth.

Saint John’s wort prefers sunny and warm exposure. It is otherwise not very demanding. Regular watering enhances bloom. Yet, established plants can survive without watering. Where coppicing (cutting back to the ground) in late winter is not a problem, Saint John’s wort performs well as a low hedge, or unshorn border. Frequent shearing inhibits bloom. Rust is a potentially bothersome fungal disease.

Black-Eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan epitomizes prairie style.

A flower that is so prominent in American culture should have a more appealing name than black-eyed Susan. Even the Latin name, Rudbeckia hirta, sounds bad. Is Becky really so rude? Did she hirt Susan? Well, black-eyed Susan is good enough to be the state flower of Maryland, and is one of the most popular of flowers for prairie style gardens of the Midwest. After all, it naturally grows wild in every state east of Colorado. Here in the West, it is a light-duty perennial that is more often grown as an annual. As a cut flower, it can last more than a week.

In the wild, the three inch wide flowers of black-eyed Susan are rich yellow with dark brown centers, and can stand as high as three feet. The typically smaller but more abundant flowers of modern varieties can be orange, red or brownish orange, on more compact stems. Gloriosa daisies are fancier cultivars, with larger flowers that are often fluffier (double) or patterned with a second color. Individual plants do not get much wider than a foot, with most of their rather raspy foliage close to the ground. All black-eyed Susans bloom late in summer or early in autumn.

Four O’Clock

Four o’clock is not obsessively punctual.

Most who enjoy four o’clock, Miribilis jalapa, do not grow it intentionally. It tends to sneak into gardens from outside, and then bloom too delightfully to be unwanted. It naturalizes, but not aggressively enough to be a weed. New seedlings develop tuberous roots during their first year. They regenerate to produce abundant seed as early as their second year.

Flowers are supposed to open at 4 o’clock. They may open earlier during warm or humid weather. They remain open through the night, and perhaps for part of the morning. Floral color ranges through white, yellow, orange, red, and many tints of pink. Flowers might be striped or spotted with the other colors. Individual plants might bloom with various colors. 

Mature four o’clock plants do not get much taller than three feet. They might sprawl twice as broad. Rich light green foliage is quite full, and obscures unexpectedly soft and lanky stems with knobby nodes. Bloom continues through most of summer, but decreases with increased seed development late in summer. All growth above ground succumbs to frost.