Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fall Flowers

Summers heat has begun to subside and our days are turning mild and breezy. Once again it is a joy to be out in the garden among the flowers and bees while the sun warms work weary shoulders. Many of our favorite blooms are fading to seed. But there are still some garden stars to enjoy through the months of fall. Here are some ideas for both fussy gardeners and those who like to take it easy.

One of my farorite plants for autumn is the lovely and delicate California Fuchsia. They are also known as Zauchneria and Epilobium. But no matter what you call them, their firecracker flowers will decorate your borders from mid summer through mid-fall. They are perennials in most temperate parts of Northern CA (hardy to zone 7). You just have to plant them once and they will grace your landscape for years to come. These fabulous little flowers bloom in shades of red and orange, depending on the variety you choose. Their narrow tubular flowers are perfect for hummingbirds, who definitely love the nectar. If you plant blooming specimens now, those glitter feathered birds may visit your yard well into fall.

California Fuchsia is attractive in the garden, even when not in bloom. There are varieties that are used as ground covers and in hanging baskets. These creepers come with fuzzy or smooth, narrow, grey or green leaves. They look graceful spilling out of a container or over a ledge. I am particularly found of the grey leaved types. They add color and texture to the landscape even when they are out of bloom. There are other varieties that form what are called “sub-shrubs.” These plants grow up to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety. The taller specimens deserve a place in the middle of the border. There are varieties that range up to about 2 feet tall that look great inter-planted with roses. They can serve to hide the roses stubby ankles and knees. Just make sure you choose colors that harmonize in a way that pleases your eye. Read plant labels or catalog descriptions thoroughly, to be sure you choose plants that are right for the spot you have in mind.

Zauchnaria, as I am in the habit of calling it, can be planted anytime now through spring. If water is a problem in your area, plant in the fall after the rains have begun. (You may not get flowers this year if you have to wait.) By summer this hardy native plant will have sunk its roots deep enough to withstand most of what summer can dish out. The soil needs no special preparation and they are bothered by few pests. (The slugs don’t even bother the ones in my yard.) Good drainage is helpful if you can provide it. In the summer they prefer to be a little on the dry side, so consider the moisture needs of other near by plants when choosing Zauchnaria’s special spot. They love the sun, so give them plenty of exposure. If your plants get a little raggedy looking over the winter try to wait until the end of February before giving them a bit of a hair cut. That way you will preserve as many healthy stems as possible and you are sure to get a repeat performance of the autumn fireworks next year.

Another great fall bloomer hardy in our area is Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha). This sage eventually forms a fragrant shrub up to four feet tall and wide. The stems and stalks have a purple cast, and are covered with soft grey fuzz. The flower bracts are a deep purple, also covered with that same soft fuzz. The flowers themselves come in purple or white, depending on the variety. They also attract hummingbirds and tend to begin their show in late summer or early fall. In mild weather they may continue blooming through early winter. The leaves are narrow, long, crinkled, and a pleasant shade of green. Mexican Bush Sage is hardy to zone 8. It has few pests, it is drought tolerant, and it loves the sun. Much like California Fuchsia, it is not picky about soil, other than needing good drainage. While this plant is hardy in our area, you don’t often see it planted. So if you want something a little different look for Mexican Bush Sage.

Gaura, bee blossom, butterfly flower, or wand flower (Gaura lindheimeri) makes a great companion to either Mexican Bush Sage or California Fuchsia. It is a long lived perennial flower with slim flowering “wands” that grow from 2 – 3 feet tall. Many varieties have foliage and stems marked with maroon, making the plants colorful whether they have flowers or not. Gaura begins blooming in late summer and will continue throughout fall. Plants will live in sun or shade, but will flower best in a sunny spot. They are drought tolerant, have few pests, and the flowers range from white to pink, depending on the variety you choose. If you live in an area that gets a hard frost or snow, Gaura is likely to die back to the ground in winter. But rest assured, as soon as spring comes around the corner, your Gaura will come back to life.

If you are the “take it easy type,” are in a hurry for some fall flowers, and are on a budget, here’s a little secret you can use right now. There are two very inexpensive types of seeds you can purchase, and simply throw on the ground in-between your other plants and have flowers in about 6 weeks. This little trick will only work in areas that you water. It is fun to try this with your kids, and it might even make a nice class project. But you need to do it right away. Once it starts raining it will be to late to try this year.

This little trick starts at the feed store, or the bulk bins at the grocery or health food store. Look for the small black sunflower seeds they sell to feed pets, and also look for raw whole buckwheat. (You don’t want roasted buckwheat groats – they won’t grow.) Buy a quarter pound or so of each, and just toss them around where you would like them to grow. The sunflowers grow up to about 3 feet tall, and have flowers from 3 – 6 inches across. Some plants will have multiple flower heads blooming one at a time. And you should have your first flower buds in 4 – 6 weeks. They are really fast and fun. The buck wheat makes an attractive spreading plant with 2 – 3 inch heart shaped leaves and interesting jointed stems. They will begin blooming in about a month of being sown, when they are only 6 – 8 inches tall. They make sweet smelling crescents from an inch to 3 inches long, full of tiny white flowers. The plants will continue to grow until frost, forming a loose open network of arching stems and flowers. (Both the sunflowers and the buckwheat will need replanted next year, if you want a repeat performance.) Hurry, fall seems to be coming early this year.

If your local nursery doesn’t carry the perennials listed above here are some mail order sources: Forest Farm, http://www.forestfarm.com/ (541) 846-7269 They have several varieties of Gaura and Zauchnaria.
Mountain Valley Growers, http://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/ (539) 339-2775 They have one variety each of Zauchnaria and Gaura as well as two types of Mexican Bush Sage.

Next time we will be getting ready to grow some of the new colorful carrots for a cool fall crop. Meanwhile, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, Sept. 5, 2006. Posted here with permission.

No comments: