French Marigold

Marigolds bloom with cozy autumnal color.

The Maya cultivated marigolds long before the French. After all, the ancestors of modern French hybrid marigolds, Tagetes patula, are endemic to Mexico and Guatemala. French horticulturists merely developed the hybrids that are now most popular. The largest might grow a foot high and wide. Otherwise, almost all grow lower as compact bedding plants.

Although many varieties of French hybrid marigold are available, their floral color ranges only through yellow, orange and red. Ruddy brown is merely dark orange. Creamy white is merely very pale yellow. Combinations of color within this minimal range are amazing nonetheless. White is rare only because richer traditional colors remain so very popular.

French marigolds are technically warm season annuals. With frequent deadheading and grooming, they can bloom from spring until frost. However, since they perform best while young, they are more popular as a shorter term annual. They often replace warm season annuals that finish a bit early, while the weather is still too warm for cool season annuals.

Torch Lily

Torch lily might bloom for autumn.

Technically, it should bloom during spring and summer. Torch lily, Kniphofia uvaria, does not seem to know that though. Some bloom for late summer. Most are presently in bloom. Old fashioned sorts that survive without irrigation may bloom through winter or whenever they want. Modern cultivars are likely more predictable and punctual with their schedule. 

Torch lily, or red hot poker, blooms with densely conical floral spikes of many narrow and tubular flowers. Bare stalks boldly support bloom as high as five feet. The grassy foliage below forms dense mounds that should not get much higher than three feet. Established plants can survive without watering, but appreciate it through the arid warmth of summer. 

Floral buds are generally orange as they develop, and then fade to yellow as they bloom and age. Since floral spikes bloom upwards from the bottom, they are yellow at the base, and orange at the tip, like candy corn. Some cultivars are more reddish orange at the tip, or creamy white at the base. Others are rather uniformly orange, yellow or creamy white.

Autumn Sage

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Salvia greggii is a modest sage.

Perhaps in the wild, it blooms in autumn. Where it gets watered in home gardens, even if watered only occasionally, autumn sage, Salvia greggii, blooms all through summer as well. If pruned back severely over winter, it starts to bloom even sooner in spring. The tiny flowers are red, rose, pink, peach, very pale yellow, lavender or white. Some poplar cultivars have bi-colored flowers.

Compact autumn sage that does not get much more than a foot tall is uncommon. Larger cultivars get four feet tall and broad, with more open growth. Most get about three feet high and a bit wider. Without severe winter pruning, stems can eventually get twiggy, with sparse foliage on the exterior. The tiny aromatic leaves are less than an inch long, and visually resemble oregano.

Even though it is not native to California, autumn sage is popular for native landscaping because it does not need much water. Just like native sages, it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Lemon Bottlebrush

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Hummingbirds enjoy red lemon bottlebrush bloom.

As its compact cultivars gained popularity over the years, the formerly common lemon bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus, became passe. Most are mature specimens in old fashioned landscapes. It is unfortunate. Only lemon bottlebrush and weeping bottlebrush can grow as small trees. (However, lemon bottlebrush is now classified as Melaleuca citrina. Most Melaleuca get notably larger.)

If competing for sunlight, mature specimens of lemon bottlebrush can almost reach upstairs eaves. Well exposed specimens may not get much more than half as tall, with mounding form of about equal width. Removal of low growth to expose sculptural trunks and handsomely shaggy bark promotes higher growth above. Shearing of hedges should not be too frequent to allow some bloom.

Bright red bloom is sporadic through the year, and gets more abundant as summer becomes autumn. The small and staminate flowers are densely set in cylindrical ‘bottlebrush’ formation. These blooms are about two or three inches long, almost as wide, and popular with hummingbirds. Dense evergreen foliage is aromatic. Individual leaves are narrow and about two or three inches long.

Chrysanthemum

41022Mild autumns and arid summers keep chrysanthemums on a different schedule here than in most other regions. They can get planted in spring to grow through summer and bloom through autumn; but because they can take a bit of work, they are more often planted while blooming in autumn. Although commonly grown as autumn annuals, they are perennials that can regenerate next spring, grow through summer, and bloom even better the following autumn.

Centuries of development in Japan have produced more varieties of chrysanthemums than can be documented. There are really some weird types grown for cut flowers or by hobbyists. Garden varieties are mostly limited to simpler flowers that do not need much thinning or staking. Color ranges through all sorts of hues and shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and bronze, as well as a few purplish colors, cream and white. Many have yellow centers. The aromatic foliage is alluring to some, but objectionable to others.41022thumb

Sasanqua Camellia

81219Some might say it blooms very late. Others might say it blooms very early. Regardless, sasanqua camellia, Camellia sasanqua, blooms in autumn or early winter when not much else is blooming. The abundant two inch wide flowers can be pale pink, rich pink, white or red, all with prominent yellow stamens. Some are fluffy with many petals. Others have only a few. Alas, fragrance is rare.

Each cultivar of sasanqua camellia has a distinct personality. Some are strictly upright, and can eventually get somewhat higher than downstairs eaves. Others are too limber to stand upright on their own; so they grow as low mounds, or espaliered onto trellises. With proper pruning that does not compromise bloom too much, some can be pruned as hedges, or as foundations plantings.

Sasanqua camellia has been in cultivation for many centuries. Prior to breeding for bloom in the past few centuries, it was grown for tea and tea seed oil, which is extracted from the seeds. This oil is used for culinary purposes and cosmetics. The finely serrate elliptical ‘tea’ leaves are about one to two and a half inches long. The glossy evergreen foliage is appealing throughout the year.

Japanese Anemone

81128Here it is, three quarters of the way through November, and this Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis or Anemone X hybrida, is finally finishing bloom. It should have finished a month ago, but does not always stay on schedule here. Each cultivar exhibits a distinct responsiveness to the seasons, so others finished a while ago. The deciduous foliage will eventually succumb to frost.

Once they get going in a spot that they like, Japanese anemone slowly spread. Although not considered to be invasive, they can be difficult to get rid of if they creep into spots where they are not wanted. Because they bloom so late in summer and autumn, they get divided in spring. Even old colonies may never need to be divided, but can be divided if more plants are desired elsewhere.

The elegance of the foot high foliage seems contrary to its woodsy and unrefined compatibility with taller shrubbery and small trees, like rhododendrons, Japanese maples and hydrangeas. It is an excellent seasonal understory. The limber stems of the white or pale pink flowers get about twice as high as the foliage. The one and a half to two inch wide flowers are either single or double.

Japanese anemone wants rich soil, partial shade and regular watering. It can be happy in full sun exposure if it does not get too warm and dry.

Showy Stonecrop

60914They sure took their time getting this far along. The bluish green succulent foliage of showy stonecrop, Hylotelephium spectabile, (formerly Sedum spectabile) first appeared at ground level in early spring, and has been growing into rounded mounds so slowly that it now stands less than three feet high and wide. Smaller types are half as big. Blooms are only now beginning to turn color.

Broad and flat-topped floral trusses of minute flowers are almost always some sort of pink. Sometimes, they are almost terracotta red. Sometimes, they are somewhat peachy. They might even be blushed with a bit of lavender. ‘Stardust’ blooms white. The biggest blooms can be as wide as five inches. If not pruned away as they fade, the blooms (according to some) dry nicely by winter.

New growth starts to appear from the ground almost as soon as old stems die in late winter. Established clumps can be divided in spring every few years. Even small plants can spare a few small pups that will grow into new plants. Stems might get taller in partial shade, but might also need to be staked as they bloom. Bees really flock to the flowers because not much else blooms so late.

Lion’s Tail

80919It does not get much more orange than this. Lion’s tail, Leonotis leonurus, tends to start with a relatively light duty bloom phase in the middle of spring, and then continue blooming in increasingly prolific phases until it finally culminates with the most spectacular bloom phase of the year about now, late in summer or early in autumn. The bloom is about as bright orange as California poppy!

Deadheading and pruning between bloom phases is not as simple as it might seem. Cutting back too aggressively postpones the next bloom phase. Bloomed stems should instead be cut back just below the deteriorating blooms. This unfortunately allows maturing plants to get somewhat overgrown and in need of more severe pruning over winter, before their first bloom phase of spring.

By now, well blooming plants may be as tall as six feet. As they mature, plants tend to get a bit wider than tall. The narrow evergreen leaves are about three inches long. Bloom is typical of related salvias, with dense tufts of tubular flowers neatly arranged in tiers on upright stems. Lion’s tail just happens to bloom with distinctively wide floral tufts. Cultivars with yellow or white flowers are rare.

Autumn Sage

50909Perhaps in the wild, it blooms in autumn. Where it gets watered in home gardens, even if watered only occasionally, autumn sage, Salvia greggii, blooms all through summer as well. If pruned back severely over winter, it starts to bloom even sooner in spring. The tiny flowers are red, rose, pink, peach, very pale yellow, lavender or white. Some poplar cultivars have bi-colored flowers.

Compact autumn sage that does not get much more than a foot tall is uncommon. Larger cultivars get four feet tall and broad, with more open growth. Most get about three feet high and a bit wider. Without severe winter pruning, stems can eventually get twiggy, with sparse foliage on the exterior. The tiny aromatic leaves are less than an inch long, and visually resemble oregano.

Even though it is not native to California, autumn sage is popular for native landscaping because it does not need much water. Just like native sages, it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.