If the only native plants you know are the ones you’ve seen on spring garden tours, you’re missing out. Although spring is the peak wildflower season, some of the most stunning and colorful plants don’t start blooming until midsummer and keep going until frost.
The most widely planted of the autumn stunners is Hummingbird Fuchsia, which comes in several varieties. Most exhibit flowers in the red-orange palette and foliage that ranges from gray-green to blue-green and silvery gray. You can also find white and pale-pink flowers. Some varieties can be 3 feet tall and a little floppy, while others grow only a foot or two. Select Mattole is the lowest-growing variety, with foliage and flowers less wispy looking than the other species, and it forms a neater clump.
True to its name, Hummingbird Fuchsia attracts hummingbirds. I can count on hearing the telltale whir of an approaching hummer whenever I’m in my garden in the fall. I haven’t seen the kind of territorial challenges that I’ve witnessed with Hummingbird Sage, but if you want to see hummingbirds, plant one of these.
Hummingbird Fuchsia tends to spread by underground runners, so you can expect each plant to spread at least 3 feet wide. It’s easy to rein in and not a thug, however. On the bright side, if you have a small garden, you can carefully pot up your extras and share them. To keep this perennial compact and floriferous, prune established plants to a couple of inches high in the winter.
Hummingbird Fuchsia is drought tolerant but manages occasional water well. I have a clump growing next to my purple potato patch and my summer squash plants under a perennial kale that gets regular water, and the fuchsia does not mind the extra moisture.
Fellow fall-blooming, drought-tolerant perennials include blue- to lavender-flowered California Aster and bright-yellow California Goldenrod and Gum Plant. All of these also tolerate varying amounts of garden water. Like the California Fuchsia, they may extend their bloom time in a particularly hot, dry summer if they get a little extra water.
Many native buckwheats in shades from off-white to pale and deep pinks also bloom from summer into fall. Some of their flowers may senesce into russet tones as the season progresses.
The Gum Plant and most of the buckwheats tend to boast strong stems, but the goldenrod and aster can flop over if they are not supported. Depending on your garden style, you may want to let the plants mingle and support each other, or you may want to provide stakes or supports.
For fragrance, the highlight of autumn is annual tarweeds. These tall, branched sunflower relatives sport sticky stems that when touched offer a pleasant resinous aroma. The daisylike flowers are bright yellow, often with a maroon blotch at the base of each petal.
Later in the season, you may get some fall color from deciduous native trees. The delicate leaves of the Vine Maple can turn rosy shades.