Traditionally autumn is illustrated with New England foliage but every gardener in every region knows a different aesthetic. In the West, with so many different plants that grow here, we can have both traditional and nontraditional autumn color.

Autumn floral bouquet, with grasses, branches, seeds, foliage, leaves, flowers at Digging Dog Nursery

I did a recent post about California autumn and it seems so limited now that November is here.  Autumn keeps coming on, and indeed will probably not peak until late in the month. So I will expand by going outside California and include Oregon for this round of photos.

Here, in Hoyt Arboretum in Portland we see vivid oranges and yellows, first here in the staghorn sumac:

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fall foliage and branch pattern, Hoyt Arboretum

And here Cotinus ‘Grace’. Standing under these tall Cotinus and looking up with backlight, the leaves take on the luminescence of a stainglass window.

Fall color on Cotinus ‘Grace’ tall shrub underneath looking up, Hoyt Arboretum

Also in Portland is this marvelous garden design by Sean Hogan; and really and what makes it so wonderful this time of year is the borrowed scenery of Liquid Amber trees outside of the garden, which provides background color from both the front garden . . .

Yucca rostrata with Arctostaphylos (manzanita) against autumn trees foliage backdrop, in Portland garden in autumn

. . . and from the back garden:

Foliage textures with Nolina, Agave, Salvia, Palm, Musa in Kuzma Garden

Notice how autumn sage is still going strong.

Another Oregon garden that is enhanced by borrowed scenery of autumn is the O’Byrne garden and what they called the chaparral garden section of summer-dry plants.

The Chaparral (dry) garden O’Byrne Oregon with colorful autumn foliage hybrid poplar trees

The still green leaves and red fruit of their variegated Cornus kousa tree are also enhanced by the borrowed fall foliage beyond the tree.

Cornus kousa variegata, Variegated Cornus Kousa tree with autumn berries, O’Byrne garden

A few years ago I went to Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino to photograph autumn geraniums. I just could not stop taking pictures in the fall gardens there. Gary Ratway is a brilliant designer and his wife Deborah Wigham has a way with plants. These hornbeams columns with glowing with fall color.

Hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus) pruned as columns with boxwood ball evergreen shrubs by gravel path entry to Gary Ratway garden

I couldn’t resist these necklaces of a Berberis.

Red berries of Berberis (Barberry) shrub in autumn, Gary Ratway garden

And the fall bouquet that Deborah put together that day, November 5, was simply astounding.

Autumn floral bouquet, with grasses, branches, seeds, foliage, leaves, flowers at Digging Dog Nursery; design Deborah Wigham.

I don’t think any western garden is complete without ornamental grasses and autumn is when they really shine, especially when backlit as this Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberturm’.

Ornamental grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberturm’ or ‘Silver Tower’ catching the light in sunny garden

And grasses group together on a hillside garden meadow with flowering Salvia leucantha.

Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage flowering in California hillside garden among serpentine rocks with grasses, lavender, succulents and sculpture;

A truly unexpected autumn vignette is this Jelly Palm in Ruth Bancroft Garden, delicious orange fruit scattered the ground in the last post, but when I reviewed that file I realized the whole tree is fantastically set off by the colors of borrowed scenery.

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

And I must finish with a very classic fall foliage combination that would be at home in New England – this is the garden at Filoli, the way it will look later in November. 

Autumn (fall) color tapestry in California Filoli garden, Hydrangea, Japanese maples, Yoshino Cherry (middle yellow), dogwood, Ginkgo

I hope all of you have a chance to get out and enjoy the fall colors.  They are out there to be found. Go find beauty.


  1. Absolutely loooooooooooove the grasses on the hillside with the flowering Salvia Leucantha. That’s exactly what we need to do here on our property in Australia. Been looking for the right ‘look’ and this is it. I don’t suppose you know what some of the grasses are? And the Agave looks great in the corner there too. Thank you!

    • Thanks Kathy -I am afraid most of the grass you see is Stipa tenuissima which I *think * is banned in Australia and should be used with caution, as it can be invasive into the wild depending on your specific climate. I do not find it invasive in my own garden (or the one in this photo which is also in my County), but is does spread about. There are alternatives but too many to even attempt to list. Consult your local nursery folks and show the photo to them.

      • Thank you Saxon, that gives me a good starting point – so much appreciated. I’ve identified most of the other plants in your photo, we have an agave attenuata here that needs shifting so we’ll use that and get another. Salvia does really, really well, here and the wallabies don’t eat it, thankfully. We’ve had someone offer us a number of poa grasses they need to rehome and we’ll get some leucadendron too. We know the wallabies like it but if it’s surrounded by other plants, hopefully they won’t get to it. This really is perfect for the part of our property that is sloped and has granite rocks all over it. Thanks for replying.

          • I hadn’t till I saw you mentioned lavender under the photo. Yes, it has potential but I believe also burns well in bush fires so will tread carefully with it. But there are so many attractive lavenders these days, we may well do a small group of them.


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