People say we don’t have fall in southern California. I beg to disagree. Oh, people will disparage what they see as our lack of seasons; in fact, I recently observed a raging Facebook debate on this very subject; the natives were insisting that we do have fall here, while the transplants from other areas disparaged our Octobers as “just more tepid than summer.” And then they went on to wax eloquent about New England.
Now, having grown up in the Blue Ridge mountains, with its famous fall foliage displays, I do understand the yearning for home and the fall colors. And I also understand the profound sense of displacement when your surroundings don’t match your inner calendar. That happens a lot out here, and mostly we’re used to the complaining about it.
But fall does happen here, and I thought I’d devote the next couple of posts to an appreciation of what Helen Hunt Jackson (herself a transplant to California) called “October’s bright blue weather.” And that is indeed the first sign of fall: the right-on-schedule, deep blue sky.
Then the temperatures drop. Yes! It’s a cool-ish 70 degrees on my patio right now! And—get ready—it can get even colder.
Other seasonal markers are there once you know what to look for. Below, a native erigonum (buckwheat) in the late afternoon light. The Chumash made pancakes from it—I just like to look at it.
While we don’t have the flamboyant, in-your-face displays of fall foliage that other regions have, a number of trees here (which, okay, are all transplants) put on a lovely and reliable seasonal display. The following are worth looking for, and perhaps deserving of a spot in your home landscape:
The Crape myrtle (above) is one of my favorite trees; I can devote a whole post to their graceful structure and four-season interest, but for now, I’ll just focus on their fall foliage–which can be beautiful. If you’re planting this tree for fall color, it’s a good idea to pick it out in the fall so you can see what you’ll be getting.
Liquidambars (above, called sweetgum in other parts of the country) can turn a startling red in the fall, and in the winter, the bare tree will be covered, if you’re lucky, with the flocks of goldfinches that come after the seeds in the sticky balls. (These balls eventually make their way to the ground below, so do choose your location carefully—I notice they’re often perimeter trees, so that passers-by, rather than the homeowners, have to deal with the treacherous balls underfoot. Nice.)
Chinese pistache, above, is a lesser-known superstar; it blends in with any landscape in the summer, but in fall, look out. It turns the most amazing shades of red-gold, and will light up its location.
Birches, those landscape staples so beloved and so often stuck in the middle of lawns, turn a spectacular gold color this time of year.
Pyracantha (firethorn, above) and chrysanthemums (below) add a lot of seasonal color; pyracantha berries redden in fall and continue to brighten up the landscape all winter long. And instead of composting your Costco or Home Depot mums when they’re done blooming, stick them in the ground, cut them back in January, and prepare to be amazed next October.
Above, an example of both crysanthemum’s fall color and my poor planning–these guys are reaching for some sun owing to the great success of the shrubs planted nearby. Some of the mums have decided to take a nap.
So, yes, we do have fall, and it has arrived. Like the song says about love, it’s all around you. Let it show. And enjoy!