Fall is my favorite! I love the merging of offshore, salty summer breezes with a hint of fall crispness, the leaves are starting to turn and there are spiders everywhere. Halloween is just around the corner! Tomatoes are still in abundance, but there is a whiff of winter squash and greens on the horizon. As a horticulturist, landscape designer and avid cook, I find the intersection of the seasons refreshing and irresistible; an endless combination of colors and flavors await the soil and the saucepan.
Yes, even in Orange County we have seasons – at least in the garden we do, and certainly in the kitchen. In September, fresh summer produce is still super yummy, but production is slowing down. As the temperatures cool, our dry fall season allows for many green vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, carrots and, my most favorite, arugula, to thrive.
Because my favorite fall dish is a soup (of any kind), which I can cook in advance, I’m allowed more time to play and plant in the garden. It’s a good thing too, ‘cause I need the extra time with the shortening days. Fall is, hands-down, 100% the absolute best season for planting. As the temperatures cool, our Mediterranean climate keeps the soil warm after summer allowing the newly planted plants to develop stronger, healthier roots. And, with the rainy season closing in there will be ample water for those roots. While there may be more hot spells on the horizon, it is relatively easy to get plants established now.
The very best plants to plant right now include California natives, anything and everything originating from a Mediterranean climate and cool-season veggies and annuals. Because I prefer to dedicate my higher water needs to my veggie garden, I keep few annuals, in very select locations, to enjoy the seasonal color. A few favorites include Cyclamen, Pansies (‘cause the remind me of Alice in Wonderland) and Ornamental Cabbage and Kale.
The rest of my garden requires very little water.
Like most, my garden is continually evolving and I have a lot of work to do! New plantings galore! Excited to begin, I’ve complied a list of every California Friendly, low water, Mediterranean plant I would plant now, given a limitless budget. I’ve decided to list my favorites that begin with the letter “A” (my list got far too long without the edit). I can assure you they will all take root, grow twice their size by spring, and put on a beautiful show of various flowers once the winter weather has passed. Without further ado, we begin with the Acacia family.
Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’
A low-growing, mounding shrub appropriately named after my favorite character from The Adams Family. With tight growth to 2-to-3 feet tall by 4-to-6 feet wide it’s perfect for full sun to part shade in a well-drained soil.
For a taller small tree or large shrub, Acacia vestida beautifully grows up to 15’ tall. Its willowy growth habit is complimented with soft, year-round grey foliage and plumes of golden flower orbs in early spring.
Another one of my Australian favorites is Adenanthos cuneatus ‘Coral Drift’
This low-growing shrub can reach 2-to-4 feet tall by 3-to-5 feet wide. Soft silver-gray leaves will blaze pink new growth, hence, the common name Flame Bush.
Nature’s way of adding sculpture into a garden is through the addition of Agaves. They come in all sizes and various colors allowing them to blend into all garden types. First up is, Agave ‘Blue Glow.’
This agave, quite literally, glows when the sun shines through it. It’s the perfect pairing with a native ceanothus, or all by itself. Designed with a leaf-tip spine it can defend you from naughty neighbors, and it grows as a singular sculpture with a non-suckering habit.
Conversely, the star-like Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ showcases four colors: lime green, forest green, chartreuse and reddish hues while keeping a compact stature of 12” high and wide.
Next up is Agave ‘Ray of Light. Its cream colored margins appear masterfully painted and the rosette is perfectly symmetrical. Slowly clumping into a 4 foot mound, it will produce many pups for sharing with friends.
Agaves are not to be mistaken with my other favorites from the Aloe family. Though they share similar characteristics in their water-storing capacity, Aloes compete with their sometimes year-round flowers and their flexibility (not too spiky for kids).
Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’ has a unique coloring; rich warm reds with blue accents. This little aloe only grows 12” high and wide and will bloom through fall and winter. (Side note, I really want to find (or make) a dress copying this pattern for my husband’s Christmas party, wouldn’t that look hot!!!!)
Like Aloe ‘Christmas Carol’, Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is small enough to fit in any garden. They are strategically scattered throughout Rogers Gardens because they bloom nearly all year long.
With ample sculpture in our garden, thanks to the agaves and aloes, we can add the softer, larger flowering perennial called Asclepias physocarpa.
Asclepias physocarpa is also called Balloon plant or Hairy Balls because its rather ordinary small white flowers develop into unusual pale green seed capsules covered in rough hairs that swell to three inches across in late summer. Seed capsules are also used in fall cut arrangements to add a little ‘funk.’ To complement its ‘cool’ factor, this asclepias is a food source for the caterpillars of Danus butterflies, and serves as a Monarch butterfly food and habitat plant. Give this plant ample room to grow up to six-feet tall in well-drained soil and full sun.
Departing from the wild and crazy Balloon plant, I want to share a sneaky staple that every garden should have, Astelia banksii.
Astellia banksii grows natively in the coastal forests of my favorite country to visit, New Zealand. It shines on the darkest of nights and grows to a size of 3-to-4 feet high and wide. The silvery/pale-green foliage and narrow slightly re-curved leaves complement greens of all hues, in any garden (including gardens with Agave ‘Joe Hoak,’ also pictured).
Stay tuned for the rest of my favorites, B-Z, or come by and geek out with me about everything we can plant in fall. Writing must end so planting can begin!