I have heard it argued that California does not have autumn. In fact, I do like to think of California as having only three very distinct seasons: the rainy season, the wildflower season, and the dry season.

But it is now mid October, late into the dry season and it is hard not to call this autumn.  Late dry season perhaps ?  The native landscape has certainly shut down and gone into summer-dry dormancy, most dramatically noted in the beautiful sculptural native buckeye tree.

Aesculus californica, California buckeye or California horse-chestnut tree, deciduous in summer-dry climate garden
Aesculus californica, California buckeye or California horse-chestnut tree California Native Plant section of San Francisco Botanical Garden

And our native deciduous oak trees, particularly those in Northern California and Sierra mountains will show some fall color especially if it had been a good growth year and a normal wet winter the previous season.

Looking up at Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak tree with leaf pattern in fall color silhouette

But for those gardeners who know how to use a little bit of supplemental water in this summer-dry climate there is color to be found and taken advantage of.

Here Phormium ‘Guardsman’ with switch grass and a redbud tree shedding its leaves. The Phormium already has variegated color in it, and when back lit by the low autumn sun the colors will glow.

Colorful Phormium ‘Guardsman’ in summer-dry garden California garden in autumn

Ginkgo trees will not be showing their bright butter yellow leaves for another month but they are a classic for fall color tree in California.

Ginkgo biloba tree branch with leaves in yellow fall color in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Warm season grasses are by now full size and when combined into a meadow motif it surely says autumn.

Gravel path through California meadow garden in autumn with multi texture foliage colors, David Fross

Some of our native grasses will actually get some full color and here this Pinegrass looks fantastic with the maroon bark of Manzanita.

Calamagrostis rubescens – Pinegrass in East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden

Another native plant, the California wild grape (Vitis californica) will color up nicely in the garden if given a bit of summer supplemental water, as in this garden by David Fross.

Vitis californica, California wild grape vine in fall (autumn) color weaving through meadow garden

There are many non-native shrubs that show wonderful fall color and I actually designed my front garden entirely around fall color. There is a poster below based on one single day in my garden, November 19, 2011 which  did not even include this October beauty, a Smokebush, Cotinus coggyria ‘Pink Champagne’ as framed with a Muhlenbergia grass.

Cotinus coggyria 'Pink Champagne' shrub in California autumn garden with Muhlenbergia rigens grass
Cotinus coggyria ‘Pink Champagne’ shrub in California autumn garden with Muhlenbergia rigens grass

We often associate fall with fruit season but when I saw the bright orange fruit of the Jelly palm (Butia capitata) on the ground in Ruth Bancroft Garden, I had a new appreciation  of fall color.

Butia capitata, Jelly palm or Pindo palm, orange edible fruit
Butia capitata, Jelly palm or Pindo palm, orange edible fruit in Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California

A poster from my garden November 19, 2011

Poster print Leaves x9; fall foliage in Saxon Holt garden November 19. 2011
Poster print Leaves x9; fall foliage in Saxon Holt garden November 19. 2011

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