I'm not sure what it is about most of us that makes us SO Utilitarian, but it seems like every year the theatrics surrounding which plants to choose for our gardens heightens to new levels. Our culture is full of phrases like more bang for your buck (which translates to: buy plants that bloom every day of the year) or the early bird catches the worm (if the plant doesn't start blooming in spring and bloom till frost forget it) or two wrongs don't make a right ( if you chose a plant last year that only looked spectacular for two months don't buy that one again). I, too, have been guilty of excluding plants from my garden because their performance may be two blooms shy of the mark (that unknown quantity/quality we are sure is out there but can't seem to define OR locate). I have described many plants as blooming all the time or, on the reverse side of the coin, as shutting down in the heat, a condition which obviously must be avoided at all costs. Right?? 

Several years ago I was interested in building a Pergola. I had seen one somewhere and loved the idea but wasn't really sure what comprised such a structure. I mean, let's face it, in California we have DECKS. The book I purchased to enlighten myself (I am, quite frankly, addicted to books) was called Pergolas, Arbors, Gazebos and Follies. I was pretty sure I understood Arbors and Gazebos but what a Folly was I had no idea. What I discovered was kind of hard for my conservative nature to understand. Basically, a folly is a joy that goes nowhere. For example, a pathway that leads to a dead end where maybe a secret statue is hidden. It's a thing of beauty or humor that just is. Usually they are grand, always they are fun. 

It wasn't long before I realized that some of the plants I had been chastising were superb follies. Now I cherish those that will only grace us with their bounty for a short time in the fall or those that give us spring and fall bloom but prefer to remain mute in the blazing hot summer. There are even one or two we grow who never bloom here because our first frost comes too early but whose foliage adds wonder to our gardens. I say the more folly the better. Let the revelry begin.

 
 

Firstly for Fall

MEXICAN  BUSH SAGE
 (SALVIA LEUCANTHA)

Velvety soft Mexican Bush Sage

 
 

The most striking plant for fall has to be Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage. This is a tall, stately plant with multitudes of long, velvety, purple flower spikes. A native to Mexico, it thrives equally well where temperatures remain above freezing and where temperatures reach into the teens. If the temperature threatens to dip below15 degrees a 6 inch layer of mulch or an upturned 15 gallon pot will help protect the crown. Here, even a brief dip to 5 degrees did not kill our plants. We had allowed the spent canes to remain towering over the crowns. The first winter it is especially important to keep a close eye on the temperatures. Although Mexican Bush Sage can be maintained in temperate climates as an evergreen, it is more beautiful when cut back to the ground in winter. The fresh growth easily reaches the desired height of 3-4 feet in time for its spectacular fall extravaganza. 

Mexican Bush Sage comes in two flower colors. On both varieties the calyx, the little papery shell that holds the actual flower, is purple. On the regular variety the flower is white and on the other, All Purple Mexican Bush Sage, the inch long flower matches the calyx. The flower spike continues to get longer, eventually reaching two feet, as the flowers open progressing from bottom to top. Both varieties are luxurious to view. One plant wills spread out to about 4 feet in diameter as the crown grows larger each year. It is never necessary to dig it up and divide it. And except for the pruning of its dead flower canes in winter, it is maintenance free. Many people prefer the softness of the purple and white variety claiming that the all purple is too intense for many color schemes. And, while it is true it screams purple it is my choice for planting as a backdrop to our next winning folly, the California Fuchsia. All Purple Mexican Bush Sage and Mexican Bush Sage, the purple and white flower variety, can be planted together and when they grow together it appears different flower spikes have formed on the same bush. Another folly!!

 
 

CALIFORNIA FUCHSIA (EPILOBIUM CANA)

 
 

California Fuchsia is a riot of lipstick orange, two inch long, tubular flowers. This planted together with Mexican Bush Sage is not only a visual paradise but is also a virtual airport for the equally riotous and colorful hummingbird. They soar and fight and hover, enjoying their fall folly and adding to ours. There are several different varieties of California Fuchsia, Epilobiums, but the one I think is the best suited for ornament is the E. Cana. This gray, needlelike shrub reaches about two feet and flowing waves of flower stems add an additional foot or more to the plants height. When the plants have finished flowering, they benefit greatly from a severe pruning. Cut about two-thirds of the height off, leaving a mound of soft gray. When the weather warms it will quickly grow and provide attractive foliage through spring and summer. California Fuchsia and Mexican Bush Sage have similar temperature restrictions. California Fuchsia does not loose its leaves here, even at 15 degrees. The two plants are a study in contrasts beyond their colors. Mexican Bush Sage stems are tall and stiffly erect while California Fuchsias are arching and full of motion. When all is said and done, the small gray dome of the Fuchsia provides cover in the garden for the bare spot left by the herbaceous or very low to the ground crown of the Sage. For an outstanding trio add Pink Gaura. Gaura is a treasure that exceeds the boundaries of fall. It is, however, of great size by this time of year and makes its most spectacular show.

 

Lion's Tail (Leonorus ocymifolia)

Both Mexican Sages make good cut flowers, while California Fuchsia does not. For that perfect autumn orange bouquet grow Lion's Tail. It makes a good cut flower for the vase and an excellent dried flower for crafts. And, while All Purple Mexican Sage looks great planted with California Fuchsia, the regular Mexican Bush Sage is complimented by Lion's Tail, also sometimes called Lion's ear.

The beauty of fall blooming Lion's Tail.

Here in Zone 8, Leonotis ocymifolia is a herbaceous shrub that grows to about three feet. It is hardy to at least 15 degrees. It can remain evergreen but, like Mexican Bush Sage, looks better when pruned back to the ground and allowed to grow fresh in the spring. It's two inch long leaves are dark green and about 1/2 inch wide with a slightly toothed margin. It's flowers are soft, fuzzy orange whorls that ascend in pom-pom like fashion up the stalk. Each pompom cradles multitudes of flowers rotating around the head. One pom-pom is followed by another and if you want to dry the flower it should be cut when one or two bottom pom-poms flowers are fully open and one or two of the upper ones remain yet to unfurl. Mint-Scented Lion's Tail has a totally different look with more structural branches which form a many armed vase. The flowers are in slightly larger whorls but they are further apart and there are fewer pom-poms. It's still very striking and has the added benefit of having a minty fragrance. The leaves are oval instead of linear and measure only about the size of a nickel. I want More Follies!

Fall's Follies also include our two favorites Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage), and Tagetes lemonii (Tangerine Scented Marigold). Fall's Follies are carried to grossly indulgent heights by the continuing performance, or a second show in fall in warmer climates, of Erigeron karvinskianus (Santa Barbara Daisy), Gaura, Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage), Maraschino Cherry Salvia, Wild Watermelon Salvia, Salvia transylvanica (Transylvanian Sage) and Tulbhagia violacea (Society Garlic).

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