In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2005
Regional Report

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Persimmon foliage is as close as we get to the glorious, colorful hillsides "back east."

The Colors of Fall and Winter

Weird weather occurs regularly in the gardener's world. It never seems normal. It's always hotter or colder, windier or rainier, sunnier or gloomier than it "should" be at that time of year. Our rain and fall chill came early this year, in October. But, since then, summer weather has returned, with daytime temperatures in the 80s. Nighttime temperatures, though not as chilly as they "usually" are by now, have been sufficient to stop ripening of summer vegetables and cue deciduous trees to color up and drop their leaves.

My growing up in Southern California -- in the very home where I returned 10 years ago -- left me fall-color-deprived, and so I glory in my persimmon tree's successful approximation of what covers hillsides in Pennsylvania and Oregon. I love the gradual turn from green to red, with all the rainbow between. And this year's too-hot-and-sunny-to-be-fall days highlight the brilliance both on the tree and as carpet after falling. During fall and winter gloomy weather, I relish these colors on as many plants as I can to help lift spirits and lend flashes of fire to complement our rich green surroundings (thanks to that October rain!).

Here are some of my favorites:
Succulents. Many exhibit their own version of fall colors by turning brilliant red and orange and pink, and sending up flower stalks. These hues add richness to the shapes and textures and profiles of their gray- and blue-green base colors.

Pyracantha. Growing up, I always thought of our plant as gangly and uninteresting for most of the year. But when fall came, the red berries perked up my walk down the driveway. The real treat, though, came in late winter, when the birds would forage the last remaining berries that had apparently fermented, because after gorging themselves, they'd fly off in a distinctly wobbly fashion.

Camellias. My Mom had alternated reds and whites outside our bedroom window, facing east and north and sheltered by our heritage oak. Now, some 50 years on, I've noticed more of the speckled and striped bloom sports over the long bloom season -- a cheery morning welcome!

Sweet Peas. Always a fragrant favorite, I plant two long rows -- one for our enjoyment looking up from the living room, and one for our neighbors to cherish from their breakfast nook. And, of course, we both snip as many as we can to perfume our homes, and keep new ones coming.

Citrus. Fruits that set last spring are beginning to color up, and even some errant blossoms brought on by the hot weather add splashes of cream amidst the bright green foliage.

Chard. With all the rainbow colors of newer varieties, a garden can have all sorts of colors year round. One of our community gardeners wasn't aware that chard is a nutritious leafy green; he'd been growing his by-now huge plants only for their beauty!


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