Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fall Color

Native Texans will automatically sense I'm joking around by invoking the term "Fall Color".  According to our State's many gleeful detractors, we not only lack authentic autumn weather here in Texas, but what with our prevalent cedar and live oak trees, we most certainly do not have anything that passes for Fall Color.

Up to a point, our detractors are correct.  Through October, much less September, our weather rarely calls for donning a sweater, unless like me, you're a bit sensitive to the chill provided by air conditioners.   And with the possible exception of a couple of the less common trees to our area, there are not a lot of leaves changing colors to signal winter is on the way.

Yet I maintain we do have our own set of color signifiers.  They just aren't going to be apparent if you are looking up.  In my garden spaces, rather than foliage displays, Fall Color is more about the appearance of certain blossoms that wait until summer's heat has abated.  Around here, these flowers are just as reliable a sign of the change in seasons as any flashy, look-my-leaves-are-dying tree.

One sure pop of color hitting its stride right now?  Hamelia patens, or Mexican firebush.  While this plant is native to Florida, it is a well adapted non-native, designated a Texas Superstar by Texas A&M.  Native or not, it does a great job supporting native pollinators and hummingbirds with its tubular blossoms.  A bit cold sensitive, mine has reliably come back from the roots after the harshest winter weather.  The protracted cold we experienced last year put a bit of a delay on bloom initiation, but there was no stopping this beauty.
Next up? Scarlet Sage, or Salvia coccinea.  This self-seeder resists deer and tolerates shady hillsides with poor soil, making it ideal for lining the drive up to our house.
I keep these trimmed down to prevent legginess but that is all the care they require.  Once the summer heat fades a bit these tough little plants reward us and the hummingbirds with weeks of blooms.  Fighting against my childhood indoctrination that you cannot mix red and pink, I've got both colors going out front.
Occasionally I gather the seed pods off a spire and sprinkle them into some new spot.  Maybe the birds are doing the same?  I don't care who is responsible, I'm just happy to have these pretties popping up in all sorts of relatively inhospitable places.
Perhaps you noted that blurry bit of yellow in the background of the photo above?  Let's pull that into focus next, for it deserves a view all its own.  I first noticed Lindheimer's senna on a trip The Hub and I made out to the Lake Buchanan area years ago.  It was an El Niño winter, and the senna bushes were blooming away in January.  I loved their leaves as much as their blooms, and was determined to introduce some into our spaces.
For a gardener on a tight budget, Senna is a very wise choice.  These tough natives produce readily collectible seed pods with a fairly sturdy germination rate.  You might need to buy one senna plant, but if you are patient and want more? You'll never need to buy a second one.

Speaking of easily propagated, no fall color lineup would be complete without making mention of Fall Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana.  
A distant relative of mint (those squared stems are a dead giveaway), this plant is predictably willing to spread past its point of origin, earning it the label of "potentially aggressive".  While this beauty does love to multiply, it is easy to pull out, and though it reportedly gets fairly tall in the moist shady areas it prefers, in my much drier sunnier spaces it maintains a more modest height.  I've read this is highly deer resistant, though I haven't put that to the test here.  Yet.  Hummingbirds love these freckled purple flowers and so do I.

Each year I cheerfully take the plants that have strayed past the bed border and transplant them into some new corner that could use a little pop of purple in September.  As it turns out, there are lots of those corners here and so far, the obedient plants have adapted to everything but the hottest driest spaces.

To continue our parade of Fall Color in Texas, I'd like to salute a small native tree,  the Texas kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana).  It might not sport brightly colored leaves, but its white bloom spires are every bit as welcome.
Mildly fragrant, these blooms are swarmed by pollinators for hours every day. Withstanding a blast of afternoon sun all summer long, this well mannered little tree blooms intermittently from May well through October.  I admire its delicate foliage in between flowerings, but it is hard not to be smitten with kidneywood's sweet white blooms.

Unless it is purple berries you'd prefer?  Then you'll appreciate the closer for my Fall Color roundup, the Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).  The name says it all.  See for yourself.
Deer love the leaves, birds love the berries, I love the look. Color? Beautyberry has your color right here.  If the spectacular magenta berries taste as delicious as they look, then it is no wonder the birds and squirrels fight over these. Preferring a bit of shade, these edge habitat understory natives bring their own light to the party.

OK East Coasters.  I've had my fun.  It is September again and you will have your annual run of glory days to boast of striking fall color. Your reputation is well deserved as far as it goes.  But please, don't ever try to convince me we don't have color in Texas in the Fall.  It might not be the leaves on our trees capturing the spotlight each autumn, but when it comes to color in the landscape?  We've got gracious plenty.


debra said...

Beautiful! And helpful ... I am all for potentially invasive plants =) And anything scented. This is a nice selection.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: That's why I like the "here's what is blooming today" meme on the 15th of the month - it gives a great overview of what is happening monthly. I'm never organized enough to participate but I do like to take stock seasonally at least. Happy Fall!

Tina said...

Thank you, fellow Texan! I get quite annoyed when someone (who's moved here from elsewhere...), lambasts our "lack of color." We have plenty and for longer than just a couple of weeks. So there! Nice choices for your photos--my lone surviving Lindheimer Senna is also blooming--love that plant! It's gonna get better 'n better these next couple of months.

TexasDeb said...

Honestly, by the end of August many years I wonder why I ever thought I could garden. Then September is followed by October and I relax and enjoy the survivors in all their renewed vigor and glory. These are truly some of our best weeks of the year. Enjoy!

Pam/Digging said...

We're on the same page; I'm posting about fall color tomorrow, in the form of oxblood lily and Amer. beautyberry. Like you, I often feel garden despair in August, but September is a turning point, and I walked around the garden in the 100-degree heat this afternoon and thought, hey, things are looking pretty good!

TexasDeb said...

Pam: T.S.Eliot may have famously written that "April is the cruelest month" but around here the struggle with whether we are looking at death or regeneration (and in a garden isn't it always both?) really happens for me in August. Yet I love summer, heat or no, and I'm always a bit sorry to see it leaving.

My oxblood lilies are always a few weeks later than yours as I've finally learned. I'm looking forward to your post!

chloris said...

You have some interesting September plants. Interesting that plants that seed around for you don't do it here. Physostegia never does, nor does Salvia, although it is very easy from cuttings. Hamelia patens is new to me and I am surprised that it is hardy, it looks so exotic.
A lovely post. Thank you. I love to see what people have in bloom in other parts of the world.

Anonymous said...

Chloris: Welcome! Nice of you to drop in! I was unclear perhaps - Physostegia spreads by root stolons rather than seed. Tropical salvia however, self seed readily here. Hamelia patens is native to Florida and dies back to the ground when we dip below freezing, but it has reliably reappeared every year once the weather warms. The hummingbirds love it and so do I.