I can’t get Jimi Blake’s HuntingBrook Garden out of my head…that’s a good thing, though a little odd since I’ve never been there. The images and ideas, the energy that both Jimi and his sister, June, who gardens nearby, projected at the NPA Study Weekend was infectious and inspiring. Their gardens are both beautiful and, obviously, central to each of their lives. They are dynamic, like the minds of each of them, endlessly creative and curious…botanical dabblers of the highest order. Apparently, their gardens don’t stand still. No plant or bed is ‘safe’ from revision, in part or from wholesale revision. I have no pictures, their’s, however were gorgeous and seductive. I have to rely on the few they have posted to their websites. Please, go to them. (Jimi’s HuntingBrook Garden.)
Of the two, Jimi spoke first, his topic, Salvias, those that he’s found to be worthy of a place in his garden. With such a relatively large garden he can ‘trial’ many plants, and, if you’re like Jimi, evaluate them in terms of both aesthetics and performance. He loves Salvia…there are nearly 1,000 species and who knows how many hybrids and selections! He grows many from seed, others he’s rooted from cuttings, like minded Salvia-philes gift him with treasures and Jimi works them into his beds, artfully. You won’t see any sterile lab like rows, he trials them in mixed borders and beds. In Seattle he presented his ‘winners’, 33 different species, hybrids and selections. The list is comprised primarily of plants ‘durable’ enough for his conditions with long bloom periods…with a few exceptions, late bloomers, and those of short duration…need not apply.
I too grow/love Salvia though with the limitations of a small garden and the conditions of climate and soil that come with gardening here in Portland…but wait a second, he’s in Ireland, Ireland!
We’ve all read books, attended talks featuring beautiful plants and visited gardens filled with plants that would fail for us at home, so before we take his list, source them and plant them out, we need to find out whether these will perform similarly for us? Our garden conditions can be very different. We all ‘know’ that Ireland is cool and wet, right? so it’s interesting to note how many of these are heat lovers, many being from Mexico, the southwestern US and places of much lower latitude, yet they perform for him. Others he’s chosen are from high in the Andes or from cool/moderate cloud forest areas. His garden lies a few miles SW of Dublin, just shy of 53ºN latitude…for us west coasters, that would position us on Attu Island near the end of the chain of Alaska’s Aleutian’s. How does this effect anything? Day length! Jimi’s garden gets 16hrs and 53 mins of sunlight on the summer solstice, June 21, where we max out at 15 hrs and 38 mins. His garden receives sunlight for almost an hour and a half longer than we do then. More energy to grow. Between the Spring and Fall equinox his garden receives greater benefits from more daylight hours than does mine. Yes, the difference diminishes the closer the equinoxes are. True, the sun is at a lower angle for him, but he gets more hours of light during the growing season than we do. Remember seeing those giant vegetables they grow in Alaska’s short summers? Another factor is the warm ocean currents that flow up from the equatorial Atlantic moderating Ireland’s climate. It makes a huge difference. County Wicklow has even more going for it in terms of gardening. This is from its Wikipedia page:
“Wicklow is sheltered locally by Ballyguile hill and, more distantly by the Wicklow mountains. This sheltered location makes it one of the driest and warmest places in Ireland. It receives only about 60% the rainfall of the west coast. In addition because Wicklow is protected by the mountains from southwesterly and westerly winds, it enjoys higher average temperatures than much of Ireland. Its average high in August of 21.2 °C (70.2 °F) is a full 1 °C higher than the highest average month in Dublin, only 50 km (30miles) to the north.
While its location is favorable for protection against the prevailing westerly and southwesterly winds that are common to much of Ireland, Wicklow is particularly exposed to easterly winds. As these winds come from the northern European landmass Wicklow can, along with much of the east coast of Ireland, experience relatively sharp temperature drops in winter for short periods.”
Sounds kind of like Portland. only our daily average high is 10º-12ºF warmer in summer when they average 2.5″- 3″ of rain each month, in fact it receives about this amount nearly every month with October and November the exceptions accumulating an inch or two more for each. They average 37.5″ of rainfall per year, but it’s more or less evenly distributed over the year. We have to water due to increased evapotranspiration over our ‘dry’ summer months. Their average daily winter low temps are at or above 37ºF so only very slightly above ours around 35º- 36º. When the USDA growing zones are applied to ireland it turns out that much of the country is zone 9a! Always remember that we, and they, do freeze. Most of Portland remains within USDA zone 8a with the occasional colder winter extreme some years, while other years we’re more mild and remain within zone 9a.
In a genus of around 1,000 species it’s nice to have someone sort through and evaluate them for their garden worthiness, first. Here’s Jimi’s list of Salvia with my annotations and links to a picture for each, which may take you to catalog or a blog. Most of these are border plants and will do well in well drained, rich, moist soils. Several will be drought tolerant in the PNW, I’ll note the those:
1, Salvia fulgens Mex., shrub zn 8-9, perennial zn 7, too 5′, cardinal red, 2″ flowers lt. summer to freezing, drought tolerant though better with some irrigation
*2, Salvia curviflora Mex. zn 9 (?), to 3’x3″ plus with flower sprays of hot pink/magenta from late spring, with moist, rich garden soil, full sun
*3, Salvia ‘Amistad’ hybrid from Argentina (thought to be S. guaranitica x S. gesneriiflora), evergreen zn 9, hardy to zn 8 (according to Annie’s), to 4′ tall, blooms May to freezing w/ large, deep purple flowers and black calyces
*4, Salvia involucrata ‘Boutin’ both of these are interesting in that Flowers by the Sea says they are winter bloomers while Annie’s says the species is a long bloomer…June to November. Quite a discrepancy! All are big.
5, Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii‘ zn 8-10, to 6’!, blooms late, winter into spring unless cut down by hard frost!
*6, Salvia stolonifera Oaxaca, Mex. zn 9, maybe colder (FbtS claim zn 7), herbaceous, a low growing, water loving spreader w/ ’round’ leaves from the ‘cloud forest’, well drained, moist, w/ some shade, tall spikes, too 2′, of bight orange flowers July – October.
7, Salvia oppositifolia Peru, zn 9, 7,000′- 12,000′, rare in the trade, to 3′ w/ soft orange flowers in pairs on ‘opposite’ sides of the inflorescence. I wish I could better remember Jimi’s photo as the few on-line are a little confusing. This species may be a form of S. tubiflora that comes from a relatively lower elevation near the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world. Plant accordingly with good to sharp drainage. Other sources say this is in the coastal mountains and receives regular cloud/fog condensation but is otherwise dry…confusing. My ’97 edition of Betsy Clebsch’s, “A Book of Salvias”, is of no help and the next addition, apparently mis-labeled it! First offered by Western Occidental Nursery in the ’70’s. Clarification, please!!!
8, Salvia subrotunda Argentina – Brazil border , zn 9b, maybe zn 8a, 3′ -5′, can reach 8′ tall (Giant Brazilian Sage), a larger ‘version’ of S. coccinea, blooming Spring to frost with red-orange flowers, w/ green heart shaped leaves, sun and regular water, some shade in hot areas
9, Salvia coccinea ‘Yucatan’ zn 9, maybe a bit colder, short lived perennial, can readily produce seedlings. to around 3’+ tall, bright red as the specific epithet implies. Several forms are available, but I didn’t see one called, ‘Yucatan’.
10, Salvia exserta (S. praeclara appears to be the correct name) Bolivia zn 9 – 11. Grows quick from seed flowering to 5′ within a few weeks, growing to 8′ tall. Prefers well drained, rich, moist soil, to full sun.
*11, Salvia ‘Magenta Magic’ Australian hybrid (probably of S. chiapensis, allegedly hardy to zn 8a, so says Monrovia, and S. leucantha zn 7b) to 3′ tall, w/ fuzzy magenta flowers, summer to heavy frost, full sun to part, somewhat drought tolerant.
*12, Salvia ‘Raspberry Truffle’ hybrid including S. gesenerifolia and maybe S. mexicana, zn 7-9, too 4′ tall, with thick clusters of large, deep purple flowers supported by bracts that are almost black, Thick ‘netted’ leaves, with purple undersides. Fall through March…this one would seem questionable here as far as flowering goes. Full sun, well drained w/ regular water.
+13, Salvia blepharophylla ‘Painted Lady’ Mex. zn 7- 9, this more floriferous, compact plant is slightly less hardy than the species type, herbaceous, growing to 1 1/2’+ tall flowering early Summer to late Fall with red-orange flowers, leaves with marginal ‘eyelashes’. Somewhat drought tolerant and can take some shade.
+14, Salvia microphylla ‘Cerro Potosi’ S.m. ‘Hot Lips’ is an over used work horse in PNW gardens, many others selections are available. All of the S.m.’s are very drought tolerant. Hardy, zn 7-9, if given full sun and good drainage. too 18″ tall.
15, Salvia microphylla ‘Bordeaux’
16, Salvia microphylla ‘Maroon’
+17, Salvia x jamensis ‘El Durango’ (the only site I could find that had a picture of this variety!) hybrid of western N.A. species S. greggii & S. microphylla resulting in heat and drought tolerant progeny. zn 7 to 2′ tall, full sun, well drained,
18, Salvia x jamensis ‘Shell Dancer’ a hot fuchsia- pink that fades to a pinkish cream on the bottom half of the lower lip with the characteristic toughness of all of this hybrid family of crosses.
19, Salvia microphylla ‘Flower Child’ very floriferous, compact, lavender to pink form, w/ blackish calyces Spring to Fall, prefers regular water. Smaller, denser than the species. Xera approved for the PNW!
20, Salvia ‘Crazy Dolls’
+21, Salvia buchananii no longer found in its native Mexican region, zn 9, grows to 3’+, herbaceous, tolerant of some shade, can bloom May – October, w/ 2″ long arcing magenta flowers from purplish bracts. Ideal container plant in partial shade.
+22, Salvia mexicana ‘Lolita’ Mex., zn 8, it is interesting to note that ‘Lolita’ is on his list, not ‘Limelight’, which has popularity behind it. I’ve grown S.m. ‘Limelight’ which grew slow and was very late to flower on the southeast side of my house…it also died, though it didn’t get much supplemental water and may have been ‘weak’ going into the winter.
*23, Salvia x ‘Mulberry Jam’ hybrid involving possibly S. involucrata and S. chiapensis, zn (7) 8a- 9, mulch over crown recommended, grows to 4′, blooming reddish/magenta in summer-fall. Full sun, well drained wi/ regular irrigation.
+24, Salvia elegans ‘Tangerine’ Mex. zn 8, grows to 24″, more compact, smaller in features and longer blooming than other selections, w/ citrusy foliage. Bloom season from May to hard frost.
25, Salvia guaranitica ‘Super Trouper’ Mex. zn 8, to 4′. I’d never seen this plant before. We mostly grow +S.g. ‘Black and Blue’, +S.g. ‘Argentine Skies’ and I’ve also tried +A.g. ‘Omaha Gold’. ‘Black and Blue’ is a durable well known performer. Flowers by the Sea offer 10 different forms of S.g., prefer regular water, full sun, well drained soils
+*26, Salvia patens ‘Guanajuato’ Mex. zn 8, these can grow to 5′ tall and boast 3″ gentian blue flowers. best with well drained, moist soils and full sun. I used to wrongly try to grow these, 20 years ago, in my too dry hell strip with insufficient water, thinking, it’s Mexican….
27, Salvia patens ‘Southern Lilac‘
*28, Salvia libanensis Colombia, zn 8, grows 5′-6′ tall where it’s endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, the seed first collected in 2012, produces large, dark red, flowers. Annies describes it as a zn 9b plant that can bloom year around if it doesn’t freeze down. Does well in a large, 20gal, pot w/ regular water and part/sun part/shade.
+29, Salvia splendens ‘Jimi’s Good Red’ US Atlantic coast, zn 9, commonly used as an annual and selected by seed producers into a small compact forms, ‘Jimi’s Good Red’ and other available forms can be larger, to 3′. ‘Jimi’s’ is his own selection and not commercially available. This may approximate it, S.s. ‘Faye Chapel’
*30, Salvia sagittata Ecuador zn 8, grows 3′-4′, it bears smallish, rich, intense gentian blue flowers well displayed on long, arching, floriferous spikes late Summer through Early Winter w/ lime green leaves. Grow in full sun w/ regular water.
31, Salvia digitaloides China, rare in the trade, growing in cool, dry, shady pine forests, grassy hillsides, valleys; 2300-3400 m. Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan blooming July – September w/ soft yellow flowers with strong hair stems and leaves having a maroon mid-rib to about 2′ tall.
32, Salvia ‘Brown Owl’ hybrid between Salvia ‘Sari Czelek’ and possibly S. nubicola, a zn 5 or 6 Himalayan that likes some shade and cooler temps, from Marshwood Gardens in New Zealand. An oddity that appealed to Jimi. Grows to about 3′.
33, Salvia dombeyi Peru & Bolivia zn 9, this woody, climbing/scandent plant can reach 20′, with support, in frost free areas, forming 5″, crimson, hanging flowers w/ dark burgundy calyces from August to November. Prefers rich, well drained moist soil. This is the tallest growing plant in the Mint Family, which includes 6,500 species. It also has the longest flowers of any of the species.
Winnowing: The Process
I’ve marked each plant that strongly appeals to me with an (*) as I review their qualities. This puts them in the ‘to be considered list’, later to be culled or saved if: they fit aesthetically in the bed, I have the space, I can actually provide the conditions that they will perform under, they are available, and I am willing/able to protect them over winter.
When I do this, I’ll also consider the other Salvia I already have, or have grown in the past, that I still like and did well….I’ve marked these above with a (+). A few of these remain in my current home garden. S.g. ‘Black and Blue’ may still grow in the Park Blocks in front of the Portland Art Museum where I planted it many years ago, but I think I’m done with that one here at home.
1, In particular Salvia chiapensis, which is a ‘parent’ of some of those above from the mountains of southern Mexico, is an admirable plant. Salvia buchananii, is as well, but seems aesthetically very close to S. chiapensis.
2, S. discolor, from the Andes, is unlike any Salvia I’m aware of and is beautiful and well worth growing, even with the extra ‘attention’ it requires as a zn 9 plant.
3, S. africana-lutea with its unique ‘rusty’ hawksbills, these are perhaps more oddity than beauty. I’ve had this one survive two winters on my south sloping bed, though those were mild, for us, winters. I’ve cut this and others back roughly, potted them and stuck them in my cool lighted basement during the cold stretches. I did this last winter and my plant has been growing well this summer, at 2 1/2′ and just starting to bloom in mid-July.
4, Salvia barrelieri (barrel-ee-ear-ee-eye) North Africa/Morocco, zn 6b…I should try this one again, the guys at Xera like it. I planted it probably 15 years ago, in a poorly suited spot and lost it, surprise, surprise! I droughted it out…yes drought can be used as a verb.
5, Salvia elegans ‘Aurea’ zn 8, i grew this a couple of summers prior to ’08 and the recession which saw the demise of more than a few nurseries and spurred a return to more conservative buying at some of our local garden centers, shrinking the choices of available plants. I’d grow it in large pots, its chartreuse/yellow foliage contrasting with the bright red flowers of this variety late summer through Fall. I didn’t take cuttings, and now rarely see this plant locally available the last several years. Three varieties are available: Golden Delicious, Tangerine and Honey Melon, each w/ varying statures and periods of bloom. It is also a culinary herb selected for their variable scent. Tangerine is hardy to zn 8 and is a more compact plant to only 2′. The other two I’ve noted are zn 9.
6, S. x ‘Wendy’s Wish’ zn 9, to 3′ tall, from Australia is also floriferous and dependable enough for me to dig or take cuttings from as well each year. I posted earlier on ‘Wendy’s’ hardiness leaving it out in a larger pot one winter with several consecutive freezing mornings one down to 25º and two others down to 28º, without damage. In well drained soil it should go colder.
7, I also have a soft spot for Salvia x jamensis ‘Sierra San Antonio’, though I haven’t grown it for a while, the flowers have a beautiful subtlety that blends easily with other plants.
8, I really should try Salvia ‘Silke’s Dream’ again, it’s a zn 7 grower that died for me in my parking strip. It’s a drought tolerant hybrid, S. darcyi x S. microphylla, that I’d planted in my hell strip within a thick, and competitive ground cover of Stachys byzantina ‘Primrose Heron’, which probably compromised it’s establishment, it actually benefits from occasional supplemental summer water.
9, Salvia nipponica, was my first foray into Asian species and, failing to recognize its requirements as a Japanese woodlander, it died long before I could wrap my brain around the idea that many Salvia are not full, sun, drought tolerant plants from mediterranean or drier/desert climates.
10, I grew Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’ a couple of years in my parking strip…a beautiful woody, drought tolerant, and fuzzy, compact form of the species. From Mexico, it’s a solid zn 8 beginning its blooming in August. It’s a winner here on the west coast with good drainage and full sun.
11, Salvia spathacea California, I just planted this one in my east facing, morning sun, shaded by my house and a Cornus, xeric bed, and am trying hard to get it established without over watering and killing it!!! It can be a beautiful plant, evergreen, growing from 1′-3′ tall and blooming for a couple of months in spring. Very drought tolerant and prefers the dry shade of native Oaks in CA…thought I’d try it anyway.
12, Then there is Lepchinia hastata, a genus found only in the new world Americas, that is very easily mistaken for a Salvia. These are sometimes known as the Pitcher Sages. This one, thought by some to be a Hawaiian native, though others believe to have been brought there…is a surprisingly solid zn 7 plant if you give it good drainage. In my case the soil is kind of heavy but it’s on a south facing slope…this seems to do the trick, as it blooms mid-summer through October while growing to 4′ with a sturdy habit. L. hastata and 4 other Lepchinia are native to parts of California I haven’t tried any of the other species.
Then there are the ones I haven’t grown, aren’t on Jimi’s list, that I’ve read about elsewhere, or seen growing in other gardens….This would include
1, Salvia cacaliiifolia, from the mountains of southern Mexico, zn 8, a slow spreader that grows to 2′-3′ with gentian blue flowers late season with moisture under a high canopy.
2, Salvia confertiflora, Central and South America, zn 9, growing to 5’+ with 1 1/2′ sprays of fuzzy brownish red inflorescences. It does well in the Bay Area, where I’ve seen it in utilitarian plantings as well as gardens, standing out from its ‘bedmates’ in the San Francisco Botanical Garden with its unique flowering habit.
3, Salvia darcyi Mexico, zn 6, or colder, likes it hot and dry and reportedly grows to 4’x7′ blooming throughout the summer well into fall with bright red/orange flowers.
4, Salvia koyame Japan, zn 4, a woodland species that will want moist soil through the summer while it blooms with soft yellow flowers on 2′ stems.
5, Salvia nubicola Himalayas, zn 6b. This plant can perform with some shade. Like other Himalayan monsoonal plants this ‘wants’ moist soil during the growing season. Grows 4′-5′ tall w/ robust upright sticky stems, buttressed by a wealth of yellow-flowered spires, each with uniquely colored blooms featuring tiny maroon spots plus an apple green calyx. This is one of the parent’s of ‘Brown Owl’ above.
6, Salvia oxyphora, Bolivia, Peru zn 8a, this one grows from 3′-4′ tall with fuzzy pink flowers starting in June in North Carolina and continuing well into fall, contrasting with black-green corrugated leaves…sounds very cool.
The longer I look, the more desirable plants I find! Decisions! Decisions! This is a very difficult genus to ‘winnow’ through.
These will then go into a broader list of possibilities I’m looking at from other genera. Infatuations come and go and have included Penstemon, Poaceae and a flirtation with Bamboo, Crocosmia, Senecio, Palms, Agavaceae, Amaryllidaceae, Eryngium, Araliaceae, Solanaceae, Bromeliaceae, Cistaceae, Arctostaphylos, Grevillea, Hedychium, Musaceae,, with many minor distractions along the way. The novelty of Southern Hemisphere plants lingers as I add to my South African and American indigenes, including a still young Greyia sutherlandii, Berkheya, Ruellia elegans and Cantua buxifolia, Sacred Flower of the Andes, Fuchsia boliviana, both of its color forms, and the rare and extinct in the wilds of Chiapas, Mexico, Deppea splendens, which I lust after even more since seeing it growing in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a true tropical at zn 10! as well as particularly seductive west coasties that are brought to my attention,…Its an ever changing list, that ebbs and flows, some leaving no trace at all in their wakes while others never leave entirely….I have a limited attention span and just because I choose a plant, plant it and, it succeeds, doesn’t mean that it has gained ‘garden tenure’. My garden is also quite small so, consequently, my knife must be sharper! I have very few plants that have been in the garden for the nearly 30 years I’ve been here. This is a continuous process for me of review and ‘editing’.
While this process may seem tedious and unduly time consuming, it also helps me better understand the plants I’m inviting into my garden and increases their chances for survival. When I don’t do this, it has often been that these plants become ‘mistakes’. They won’t fit into the theme and their presence creates a visual conflict or confusion. When it works, the vision is clearer, more coherent and it ‘reads’ better. Visitors may not know why, but I think that it works better for them. Other times my new plant ‘guests’ may become lost and overwhelmed, as they are unable to compete or tolerate their neighbor’s transgressions, or they themselves become the thugs. Some invitations are extended for relatively brief times as I know the relationship isn’t going to work out, but my attraction to the plant is so strong, that I include it anyway…for a time, before I remove it and toss or it give it away. Not all of our relationships will be life long.
What’s the point of gardening if we don’t allow ourselves to get swept away and make entirely unreasonable decisions…just go in with your eyes open! Passion and joy are an inexplicable and of inestimable value to our lives. I’ve no real interest in only growing what is safe and in this regard, Salvia, is a stand out genus
A Few Nurseries that specialize in or carry many Salvia
Annie’s Annuals, Richmond, CA. currently listing 96 Salvia, not all in production, a diverse on-line, mail order nursery.
Blooming Nursery, Cornelius, OR, currently list 82 Salvia in their catalog, wholesale, widely distributed to garden centers in the western region
Digging Dog Nursery, Albion, CA, carries 62 some varieties and species at their nursery on the Mendicino Coast just east of Albion and features can’t miss display gardens. It is north of Elk and Flowers by the Sea. They are open to walk in customers and do a big mail-order business.
Dyson Nursery, UK, Great Britain, carry over 250 different Salvia, importing???
Flowers by the Sea, Elk, California, carry some 490+ Salvia species, hybrids and varieties. A family operated, mail order, specialty Salvia nursery on the Mendicino Coast south of Fort Bragg near the small town of Elk, south of Albion. Their site also features a ‘blog’, ‘Ask Mr. Salvia’, with articles on many topics Salvia related, interesting and helpful.
Joy Creek Nursery, Scappoose, OR, currently offers 46 different Salvia on their list, retail and mail order, in addition to a wide array of other plants and very nice display garden
Las Pilitas Nursery Santa Margarita, CA, carries 39 California native species, selections and hybrids of their native Salvia, for those of us in the arid west with the conditions to grow them. Several are very intolerant much beyond their range of conditions especially regarding rainfall and irrigation.
Marshwood Gardens, Invercargill, New Zealand, offers 42 Salvia, including ‘Brown Owl’ an ‘accidental’ hybrid of their own nursery. Presumably, this is where Jimi saw this.
Plant Delights, offers 37 some selections from their Raliegh, North Carolina, location and mail-order as well.
Sue Templeton’s Unlimited Perennials, Australia. Salvia specialist mail-order nursery, don’t know what’s possible for shipping to the US. Their list includes 260 some Salvia selections.
Cabrillo College Botanic Garden, Watsonville, CA offers a two year degree in a variety of horticulture programs. The school manages a botanic garden that includes one of the largest Salvia collections in the world. They have periodic sales and have produced several successful named Salvia cultivars.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA, focuses on the native flora of California and the Baja region, which includes the native Salvias.
University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden, where you might want to check out their Aromas and Succulents Garden in addition to their natives and amazing Australian and South African collections!
There’s always room for another Salvia
This is an addendum which includes other Salvia I’m considering as I pour over Flowers by the Sea’s catalog…it’s fascinating and mind boggling! I did a search of their zn8 plants to 3′, that can take part shade for a couple spots in my garden and have added them to S. cacalifolia, S. nubicola and S. oxyphora already listed above.
Salvia patens ‘Dot’s Delight’
Salvia x ‘Mellow Yellow’ – for woodland gardens, a cross between the Chinese species S. bulleyana and S. campanulata