What’s Blooming Now: Late Autumn in the Pacific Northwest
November 6, 2018
Autumn flowers to brighten the dark days.
Heading into the dark winter months in the Pacific Northwest can feel daunting, but going outside — even just for a short walk in your neighborhood — can provide a much-needed respite.
Getting outside provides more than just fresh air and exercise, late autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the drama of seasonal changes in the PNW. From leaves blanketing the ground in brilliant colors to dramatic windswept skies, late autumn is a veritable feast for the senses.
While falling autumn leaves put on a great show, not all plants are preparing for winter dormancy at this time of year; in fact, there are many species that bloom in autumn and even winter! There are a multitude of colorful late autumn flora in the gardens and streetscapes of Seattle, you just have to know where to look!
Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia ssp.) are named for their striking blossoms that emerge in early October and resemble delicate, crinkly crepe paper decorations ranging from white to fuchsia pink. Treasured by gardeners, these trees boast a range of ornamental value including smooth sandy-orange bark, attractive slender trunks, and small shiny leaves that turn shades of purple, red, and orange in late October.
Shown Above: Crepe Myrtle – Lagerstroemia ssp.
A relatively recent transplant to the west coast, the first Crepe Myrtles were introduced in Oregon and Washington as late as the 1970s. For many years, gardeners and horticulturalists thought our climate was too cold to support mature Crepe Myrtles, which like hot, sunny conditions. But after successfully growing several cold-hardy cultivars in Portland, gardeners began introducing the tree further north where it is now a striking, and somewhat unusual, ornamental accent tree.
The most successful species of Crepe Myrtle for our region are cultivars of Lagerstroemia indica and Lagerstroemia fauriei. Great examples of species and cultivars that do well in our climate can be seen growing at Swanson’s Nursery in Blue Ridge, and the Center for Urban Horticulture in Laurelhurst, where they soak up the reflected heat from pavement in the parking lots.
For excellent year-round interest and a burst of colorful fall blooms, plant Crepe Myrtle as a single accent or trio in a sunny, hot location and water deeply during dry months, taking care not to wet the foliage.
A favorite of southern gardens that has been adapted to our climate, Turf Lily (Liriope ssp.) provides a thick, hardy evergreen carpet of slender leaves that can thrive in full sun to full shade. Growing between 12”-24” tall (depending on the species and cultivar) and spreading through underground rhizomes, Turf Lily is great for suppressing weeds by filling in gaps and edges in the garden.
Shown Above: Turf Lily – Liriope ssp.
Turf Lily gets its name from foliage that resembles a grass or sedge, with long flat blades that emerge in clumps and gracefully bend and sway in the wind. In addition to its attractive and dependable evergreen leaves, Turf Lily also produces elegant, upright clusters of flowers that range in color from deep purple to white, adding an unexpected splash of color to the autumn garden.
With a versatile range of species and cultivars, Turf Lily lends itself to any landscape, filling in bare spots or creating a lush edge for parking strips, borders and garden beds. While it is very adaptable, consistently evergreen and drought tolerant, the foliage may need to be trimmed back in the winter if it becomes brown or tattered.
We love the muscari species because it is a dependable grower in our climate and does not become too aggressive in mixed garden beds. Our favorite cultivars are Big Blue (L. muscari ‘Big Blue’) and Monroe’s White (L. muscari ‘Monroe’s White’) which provide consistently rich evergreen foliage and dependable autumn blooms.
Often overlooked in the landscape, the delicate and sometimes elusive Persian Violet (Cyclamen ssp.) is a delightful surprise in autumn and winter gardens. Dormant in summer, small white to pink flowers emerge close to the ground in early autumn and continue to bloom into winter.
Shown Above: Autumn Cyclamen – Cyclamen hederifolium
Spread through seeds and underground corms, the tender, pale Cyclamen blossoms appear as though scattered throughout woodland understories and dry shade gardens, creating a charming pattern among fallen leaves. While best grown in loamy, well-drained soils in dry shade, some Cyclamen species are widely adaptable to part or full sun locations, but will not tolerate waterlogged soil.
Ivy-leaved Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) has proven to be the most reliable bloomer in our climate and produces deep green, arrow-shaped leaves patterned with ornate silver markings that emerge after the flowers have begun to bloom in late autumn or winter. This groundcover is an excellent addition to any woodland garden that needs a little added interest in autumn and winter.