Each fall, northern gardeners start talking about putting their gardens to bed for the winter.
In the south though, longer nights and cooler days are when the gardens put on a second flurry of blooms and gardeners can return to the garden with renewed energy. From daylilies to azaleas, a rash of color emerges to compete successfully with trees that are slowly turning to fall colors. Many roses also put on new blooms particularly the new Knockout series and heirloom roses. Even the occasional gardenia can be spotted with a pure white, scented flower. The great southern classics though are the true wonders of southern fall gardens.
Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
This unassuming evergreen shrub sits quietly at the back of gardens throughout the hot and steamy days of summer. Then, when the temperature moderates, it fills the air with a terrific scent which beckons you to cross the yard and take notice! The flowers themselves are small and yellow, but not particularly interesting. They lie in clusters on top of the glossy, green and leathery leaves. They last for a week or two, and then the Tea Olive returns quietly to being a neat, unobtrusive background shrub.
Camellia (Camellia sasanqua and Camellia Japonica)
These classic southern shrubs have been planted in gardens for generations. Once established they happily survive deluges of rain, tropical winds and excessive droughts. It is the flower of the camellia though that makes the real impact. With colors ranging from pure white, through baby pinks to startling reds, the flowers brighten fall and winter landscapes.
Sasanqua camellias are the first to bloom, and they generally start around Halloween or maybe a little earlier. The blooms are long lasting and cover the bushes, which can be pruned into reasonably neat forms. Japonicas are slightly later to bloom and wait until the New Year. There are so many camellias on the market that it is possible to get one to be in bloom in your garden all the way through the winter months and right up until the daffodils appear!
True Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora) has been part of southern landscapes since before the days of Gone with the Wind! Large established trees can reach taller than a two storey house, and even the modern hybrids that claim to be ‘compact’ can still reach twenty feet or more. These magnificent trees put on their floral show in late spring, but they still make a grand statement all year round. The large, glossy leaves have a brown lower surface, which adds to the visual contrast on a windy day.
Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) are small evergreen shrub that stays compact all year round. The blooms come out in late spring and fill the air with delightful fragrance. Although there are some cultivars of the shrub giving different growth habits, the prized flower has stayed the same. The compact habit of gardenias makes them a great shrub to use for edging pathways and for small hedging material.
Together these truly classic evergreen shrubs that grow so magnificently in the South are the envy of a continent, and they evoke a feeling that reminds us all of the grandeur of the Old South.
Kate is a gardener, a garden writer and a garden educator living in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written for national magazines and local newspapers, plus hosts a weekly radio show. You can visit here website at www.katecopsey.com, her blog at www.katesgardenjournal.com.