Ask most folks about "fall color" and they'll picture trees turning shades of red, orange, and yellow. Here at the Haven, on the other hand, we think about all the plants that will bloom until frost. These provide honey bees with critical late-season honey-making resources; other bees and butterflies use these late bloomers as well.
I wrote about fall planting a few weeks ago. Here are some recent photos from the garden showing our version of "fall color."
Although they still go by the common name of aster, the New World plants in this group are now in the genus Symphyotrichum. Here's one of the largest, Symphyotrichum 'Bill's Big Blue' with many honey bees working its flowers. 'Bill' is a big guy, so be sure to give him plenty of room to spread and sprawl.
Pretty, easy-to-grow, and great for bees. What more could you want in a flower? We sow zinnia seeds directly into the garden. Do this in May for summer bloom and again in August for blooms that will go until frost.
One of the most beautiful and valuable plants for the California bee garden is ceanothus, also called California lilac or blue blossom. Most of the plants in this amazingly diverse genus are California natives. So admired are these plants by botanists and horticulturalists that they have their own book: Ceanothus by Davis Fross and Dieter Wilken (Timber Press, 2006, 272 pp.) Not to mention that bees love them!
The Haven's ceanothus species have been selected to provide flowers from January through September. March, however, is when many species and cultivars begin to bloom, so ceanothus is our March bee plant of the month. With a few exceptions, most ceanothus produce blue to purple flowers and are evergreen. They generally need full sun, well-drained soil, and limited summer water, although those tolerant of other conditions are noted below. If you come to the garden to see bees, check out these plants first. Many have a fragrance like honey.
The Haven's ceanothus include, listed in order of bloom:
Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet', Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet'. Full sun to light shade, 2 feet tall to 4 feet wide. Purple flowers from January to March borne on the full length of the stem. Away from the coast, this one does best with afternoon shade and some supplemental water (every 2 to 3 weeks). Tolerates a variety of soils.
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman', Ceanothus arboreus x thrysiflorus var. griseus. Full sun to light shade, 10 feet wide to 20 feet tall. Rosy buds open to purple flowers in February and March; the easiest ceanothus to grow and the most tolerant of garden conditions (i.e. regular watering and clay soil), although it will survive on normal rainfall alone. Can be shaped into a small tree.
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps', Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps'. Full sun, 6 feet tall to 8 feet wide. Reddish buds open to small, deep purple flowers from February to April. Does best in coastal locations, and survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Concha', Ceanothus impressus x papillosus. Full sun, 6 feet tall and wide. Pink flower buds open to intensely deep purple flowers in March. Tolerates some summer water and clay soils, although it will survive on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue', Ceanothus impressus x thyrsiflorus var. griseus. Full sun, 10 feet wide to 12 feet tall. Buds with a frosted white appearance open to purple flowers in March to May. Tolerant of garden conditions (i.e. regular watering and clay soil), although it will survive on normal rainfall alone.
Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus. Full sun, 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. White flowers in April. Survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Skylark', Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark'. Full sun to shade, 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. Light blue flowers in May to June. Does well in a variety of climates and soils. Survives on normal rainfall alone.
Ceanothus ‘Topaz', Ceanothus x delilianus. Full sun to light shade, 4 to 9 feet tall and wide. Blue flowers from June to September. This plant is the cross between a Mexican/Guatemalen native and a New Jersey native. A deciduous plant that needs regular water.
Chaparral currant 'Howard McMinn manzanita Wallflower
On President's Day we celebrate the achievements of our presidents, most notably George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. While their political and social accomplishments are well-known, many of our presidents have had connections to bees as well.
The Monticello web site tells us that Thomas Jefferson kept bees and owned the book Collateral bee-boxes: or, a new easy, and advantageous method of managing bees ; in which part of the honey is taken away, in an easy and pleasant maner, without destroying, or much disturbing the bees; early swarms, if desired, are encouraged, and late ones prevented (author Stephen White, 1759).
According to Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times by Rae Katherine Eighmey, our 16th president enjoyed cooking and his favorite food was apples. And we all know the folklore about George Washington and the cherry tree. Both these fruits rely on bees for pollination.
More recent are the current White House beehives.
While Washington, D.C. is currently snowed under, here in central California our weather is conducive to year-round honey bee activity. On any sunny day with temperatures over 55 degrees Haven visitors will see bees in the garden. Here are the red, white, and blue colors you'll see them foraging on this time of year:
Red (actually deep pink; bees do not see red):
Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum)
King Edward VII flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII')
Compact Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium ‘Compacta'); winter foliage is red but currently blooming with yellow flowers
Manzanita ‘White Lanterns' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘White Lanterns')
Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Howard McMinn')
Manzanita ‘Sentinel' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Sentinel')
Manzanita ‘Sunset' (Arctostaphylos spp. ‘Sunset')
Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus)
Blue (actually shades of purple):
Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Rosemary ‘Mozart' (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Mozart'); this rosemary cultivar has outstanding deep purple flowers
Wallflower (Erysimum spp.)
Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet' (Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet')
Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman' (Ceanothus arboreus x Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus)
Ceanothus ‘Julia Phelps'