The comfortable days of October are the best days to plant. This is true not only from the standpoint of Valley gardeners, but from the standpoint of trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, bulbs, just about every perennial and many annuals as well. The day temperatures are mild now and so the possibility of plants going into shock is much less than it was during the summer months that just ended. The ground is still storing warmth accumulated during the summer, and root growth proceeds at a phenomenal rate. In fact, up to 80 percent of a plant’s annual root may occur during the fall season.
Whether you desire a garden of color or of fragrance, you can create it easily enough with the sampling of plants available in the fall.
If color is your passion, snag some snapdragons or plunge into pansies. Know that snapdragons come in various sizes. Tall types grow to 3 feet, intermediate varieties to half that size, and dwarfs to less than a foot. All sizes are available in white, yellow, orange, pink, red and mauve. The tall snapdragon varieties make excellent cut flowers.
Do not plant snapdragons, which are annuals, in the same spot from one year to the next. Spores of the rust fungus build up in the soil and will make the second year’s crop every bit as sorry looking as the first year’s was beautiful. In the spot where you plant snapdragons in 1999, plant them again in the year 2001 or, better yet, 2002. If possible, avoid overhead irrigation with snapdragons, as this practice contributes mightily to the onset and spread of fungal rust.
Pansies come in two major denominations: solid colors and blotches. Pansies with black blotches on their petals are sometimes called “faces” because of their large size compared to solid color pansies. Two of the more intriguing pansies have small-sized petals in baby blue or rose with dark blue and dark red markings respectively. Here again, make sure you change your pansies’ location from year to year to avoid buildup of fungal spores in the soil. Both pansies and snapdragons prefer full sun but can sustain a slight amount of shade.
While snapdragons and pansies can be found in just about every color – and come into bloom in the first days of fall – the vividness of their display is subdued compared to that of the English primroses, which usually start to flower a month to six weeks later in the season. For a blast of primary colors in the shade, nothing comes close to the English primrose, with its bloody red, sun-drenched yellow, and true blue blooms. Smashing pink, royal purple, and dazzling white are also part of the primrose spectrum.
A bedding plant, a bulb, a vining annual, and a California native – all customarily planted in the fall – will be worthy additions to the garden of fragrance. Matthiola (matt-ee-OH-la) or stock is a spicily fragrant bedding plant that will delight the olfactory-oriented gardener. Its flowers are white, pink, lavender or red. It prefers full sun but can handle a tad of shade as well.
Freesia (FREE-zha) is a charming bulb (well, it’s actually a corm) plant with charming trumpet-shaped, delicately scented flowers. Its colors are as varied as those in a rainbow with an affinity to the quality of color encountered in snapdragons. As is the case with virtually all bulb plants, freesias make excellent bouquets for vase arrangements.
Is there anyone who does not like sweet peas? No chain link or wooden fence, no unadorned block or stucco wall – as long as it is sun-exposed – should be without fragrant sweet peas scaling its heights this fall and winter. If you want to do yourself a favor and give your family a gift, go into a nursery or home-improvement center and procure a few packets of sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) seeds. For this investment of a few dollars, you will have scads of mellifluous flowers for many months. An added bonus of sweet peas is the abundance of seeds, which are easily harvested from brown pods produced next spring or summer. You will never have to go to the nursery again when sweet pea planting season comes around.
The tree anemone (Carpenteria californica) is a shrub with white, poppy-like fragrant flowers that appear each summer. Like virtually all California natives, the tree anemone is most successfully planted in the fall. In the Valley, it grows best in half-day sun or slight shade.