If you are still trying to decide what to plant this fall for spring flowers, here are some favorites of expert gardeners.
Lady tulips in San Diego: In San Diego County, expert gardener and garden designer Charles Cozzens adores tulips in general and, when pinned down, one wild tulip named Tulipa clusiana in particular.
Unlike most tulips, this species which is native to Turkey and the Middle East, comes back and even multiplies year after year in Southern California gardens.
Also called the lady tulip, it is a dainty thing, a foot tall, on slender stems with shapely red-and-white-striped petals that close at night. Since the small brown bulbs stay in the ground from year to year, and because the foliage must be left to wither and brown naturally (in order to store food for the summer), he plants them under other flowering plants that will grow up and hide the foliage at just the right time.
His favorite, a "sweet combination," is to plant the Santa Barbara daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus , over the bulbs. This delicate-looking but tough-as-nails daisy gets cut completely to the ground in January. The tulips come up through the stubble and bloom in March. By then, the daisy has nice new, but low, green foliage.
By April, the Erigeron foliage completely hides the dying bulb foliage and where there were tulips, there are now hundreds of little white daisies.
He has also tried covering the tulip bulbs with a perennial veronica named Crater Lake Blue with good results. It, too, is cut to the ground each January. Two other fall-planted favorites of Cozzens are sweet peas and fall-flowering crocus.
Blue spires on the Palos Verdes Peninsula: Jane Wesley Brooks, whose Redondo Beach company, Color Gardens, plants dozens of colorful gardens each fall, has an immediate favorite--the Pacific strains of delphiniums. "You can't beat them," she says. "What else grows 6 or 7 feet tall in a few months and flowers most of spring and summer and is as exciting in a vase as in the garden?"
She plants from 4-inch pots in a soil that is heavily fertilized.
"Palos Verdes has a horrible heavy clay and it is difficult to fertilize plants once they're in the ground," She said. "So we sprinkle the long-lasting formulation of Osmocote on the ground and till it into the soil so there is a reservoir of fertilizer in each flower bed. Then we don't have to worry about feeding for about five months."
How much do they use? "About a half-cup for every square foot but we really just judge the amount by eye." So it looks about like pepper sprinkled on a fried egg? "Exactly."
She says that this near the coast, fall-planted delphiniums often send up an early spindly stalk which they just cut off at the ground, but by spring, even as early as January, they are getting huge spikes and lots of little side spikes follow.
She suggests they be cut and put in a vase. When the spikes are finished flowering, they are cut off at the ground but new ones soon take their place and this goes on into early fall, when these perennials are replanted.
Other fall-planted favorites? Iceland poppies and ranunculus, both of which are also planted in beds laced with Osmocote, though for these annuals she uses the other formulation of Osmocote that lasts three to four months.
'Really Green' in Pasadena: Joan Banning grows a remarkable garden behind a classic Pasadena bungalow that is full of unusual plants, so it is not too surprising that her fall-planted favorite is a little unusual--a nicotiana with green flowers.
She grows hers from seed saved from the previous year's plants, but plants are also available at nurseries. Just look for the nicotianas with lime green flowers. Magic Growers is one wholesale source if you wish to ask your nurseryman to order one.
Seed is also available from Thompson & Morgan (P.O. Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527). They call theirs Lime Green.
"It's a wonderful color in the garden," Banning says, "and it is stunning in bouquets." The remarkable Banning garden spawned an informal floral design business, Banning and Bradley.
Really Green is a tall nicotiana growing to almost 3 feet, but narrow in width. Space plants about 12 to 18 inches apart. Banning also likes the other nicotianas, which come in white and shades of pink and red, but not the short Nicki strain. "That dramatic height is one of their attributes."
A river of violas in Brentwood: The Ruth Borun garden in Brentwood has become one of Southern California's most photographed gardens because it is so flower-filled.
Many of the plants growing there are rare and unusual. There are exotic perennials and diminutive rock garden plants but there are also violas--plain white violas at that--and when pinned down, these turn out to be Ruth's favorites for fall planting. She grows them where they get considerable sun in winter and spring, but partial shade in summer.
"I plant them so they make a river of white that flows under a big camphor tree, between tufts of California native iris and small narcissus." It's a stunning sight and the plants are "certainly sturdy," she says, lasting well into summer. In fact, she just pulled out the last a few weeks ago.