Mild 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.
Some 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.
Here 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.
They 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.
It 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.
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.
Here on the West Coast of California, most of us know goldenrod only as a color of crayon. In most other parts of America though, it is a common wildflower that is colorful enough to be popular in home gardens. Yet, with more than a hundred specie, it is hard to say exactly which goldenrod, (Solidago spp.) the crayon color corresponds to. All are some shade of gold or yellow, but some are a bit more orange than others.
Most varieties of goldenrod that are available locally bloom in late summer or autumn. Some are still blooming prolifically now, on seemingly overloaded stems that stand taller than two feet. Shorter types that get only a few inches tall are probably unavailable. Perennial rhizomes spread slowly but surely, and can be divided to propagate new plants. Goldenrod needs full sun exposure, but not much water once established.
The blooms of goldenrod are just as interesting physiologically as they are colorful. The floral trusses of the most popular types are somewhat conical, but arching from their own weight. Each of these trusses supports a profusion of minute daisy-like flowers, which are actually composite flowers comprised of even smaller and more abundant florets! Bees and butterflies really seem to appreciate the floral redundancy!