Monday, August 30, 2010

Salivating over Salvias

Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' and honey bee

Who doesn't love Salvias? They are low-maintenance, tough, reliable and lovely. There are so many varieties that you can probably find one that's perfect for almost any garden situation. I grew up in Nebraska, and for the most part, the only Salvia you ever saw were the bright (somewhat gaudy) red ones that were treated as annuals (I don't think any of the perennial salvias are hardy in that part of NE). Add to this the fact that their habit was a bit gawky...the stems were always bare for the first 5-6" above the ground, then a big clump of foliage and some papery red flowers...I was less than impressed. Then, around my senior year in High School, I discovered the blue version 'Victoria Blue' (I think that's the name) and was in love...finally a plant as easy to grow as the red Salvia had been, but in a color I actually WANTED in the garden!

Flash forward 15 or so years (gulp, has it really been that long) and now I'm in fabulous zone 8 and can grow practically anything my little heart desires (although as a recent post over at Danger Garden reminded dreams of a border of Echium remains, well, a dream). In any case, Salvias I could only gaze at wistfully in gardening magazines years ago are now all open to me!

Black & Blue Trio SalviaDiscolor
Right: Salvia Guaranitica 'Black and Blue' Left: Salvia discolor

Right before I moved out to Oregon, 'Black and Blue' Salvias were just starting to appear in Nebraska nurseries, albeit as very expensive and very not-hardy annuals. I just couldn't bear the idea of a $20 annual that I'd fall in love with and be forced to buy every year, or be subjected to pining over it every time I saw it around town. In Portland, however, it's pretty much hardy (if you can keep it from rotting in the ground during our very damp winters). It grows to about 4' tall and equally as wide. The striking beauty of the flowers is really impossible to capture in photos. The true-blue petals (a rarity in nature) emerge from jet-black calyces. The effect is electric in the garden, especially when planted en masse or in combination with yellow or orange. I don't have a perfect record of bringing them through the winter, but I'll never be without them...they are one plant I wouldn't hesitate to replace if it croaked.
Next on the list is a new Salvia to me, Salvia discolor. I got this plant from Joy Creek Nursery (located in Scappoose, OR). Named for the coloring of its leaves (silvery underneath bright green on top), it's not technically hardy for us here, but I'm taking a chance on it. It would be worth growing just for the leaves, but the flowers add and extra bit of flair. The petals are darkest purple, and unless you REALLy look closely at them, they appear jet-black for the most part...add to that the contrast between the black petals and the pistachio-green calyces and you've got a winner in my book.

Salvia Guaranitica 'Purple Majesty'

Here we have 'Purple Majesty', which for all intents and purposes, is a purple version of Salvia 'Black and Blue'. I saw these this spring on High Country Garden's website and knew I had to have them. They are really similar to 'Black and Blue', maybe a little bit bigger, and the blooms are the most perfect shade of purple you've ever seen. Seriously, they are sumptous, powers of hyperbole cannot begin to describe them :-) The flowers are a little sparse right now, but there's still a month of summer left, and if I can get them through the winter, I'm positive they will be stupendous next year.

SunsetCombo-focus on Purple Rain
Salvia verticilatta 'Purple Rain' shown to it's best advantage at dusk
We end the same as we started, with Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'. I remember seeing this on an old episode of Victory Garden back when I was still living in Nebraska. I remember being totally smitten with it. It's flowers are just so very romantic, so very cottagey. They are a lovely dusky purple...very subtle, and wonderful paired with almost EVERY other color. I have them sandwiched between Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Pennisetum and Persicaria. They look good with everything and are just so floriferous and hardy. I got mine just a month or so ago at a Lowes nearby. They were in the clearance rack (having just finished their initial flush of bloom) and were marked down to 50% off! I spotted them as we drove through the parking lot (we were there for some tile for the kitchen backsplash...BORING) and made a bee-line to them. I gave them a quick inspection and realized they were perfectly just need to dead-head them and they'd be good as new. I didn't have anywhere to put them at the moment, but grabbed 3 of them anyway. I popped them in the ground, dead-headed them and they were already in full bloom 2 weeks 'em! I have them positioned in a way that I think shows them at their best...backlit by the setting highlights all the fuzzy little hairs on them and they positively GLOW!

Sorry for the over-long, rambling post...but if you think this is should meet me in person ;-)


  1. Hi Scott, Although my S. g. 'Purple Majesty' sailed through the winter of 2008, I was not so fortunate with 2009's evilness. I miss it terribly but haven't seen it on sale anywhere this year. A stellar plant for sure.

    S. 'Discolor' also succumbed to winter a few years ago.

    'Purple Rain' is a bee magnet, isn't it? I love mine because it starts early and never stops blooming, it's low growing, drought tolerant... what's not to love?

    Do you grow any of the S. microphyllas? 'La Trinidad Pink' is a hybrid and the best pink of the lot if you ask me. I've had it overwinter now for three years. Because, like most salivas it's so easy to propagate I grow it in several places.

    Have you tried Salvia clevelandii? It has the best smelling silvery foliage of any plant I've ever grown, [well besides orange mint]. My plant wasn't hardy last year but I got another one and will try harder to keep it safe this winter.

    In case you haven't noticed, Salvias are very near and dear to my heart as well.

  2. Hey thanks for the link shout out! I have to admit that I'm not the biggest Salvia fan. I just haven't gotten into them. My first was Salvia argentea (because of the big leaves) and then recently I was gifted a S. clevlandii 'Alpine' it smells wonderful! But I will be very interested to learn how your Salvia discolor does over the winter because I am absolutely in love with it! Beautiful!

  3. My favorite will always be Salvia leucantha. It is massive here in the south and is just starting to show the flower buds around town.

  4. Yer from Nebraska, where I'm stuck? Surely you have Salvia azurea 'Nekan' sage then, a sky blue sport found in north Lincoln? (named after Nebaska / Kansas) I got a post on it somewhere on my blog.

  5. Now you got me wanting to add more to my garden. ;) I love that 'Bi-color' and 'Purple Majestry'. Wonder if their hardy in my zone 7b area. 'Black & Blue' is a perennial here and I love it.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! I love me some recommendations for new plants!

    Pam...The only place I've found Purple Majesty was mine from High Country Gardens (I heartily recommend them, I've not been disappointed in any plant I've received from them). I do love Purple's one of my favorite plants...for so many reasons...and hey, if it's good enough for Piet Oudolf, it's good enough for me ;-) I looked up Clevelandii just now and ZOMG...gorgeous...I'll definitely find a spot for that one. I've grown some of the microphyllas in the past and definitely will again, I think the hardest part is choosing a few (since I have such limited space). I'll look up La Trinidad Pink at the nursery this weekend...sounds like a winner!

    Danger...we can't all be crazy about the same plants or there would just be too many fights at the nurseries :-) I'm crossing my fingers over s. discolor...hopefully it isn't another sad story for the zonal denial memoirs.

    Compost...ZOMG...I love s. leucantha...what a plant! I grew one my first year here and totally fell in love with it. Sadly, it didn't make it through the winter that year (something that is pretty common in these parts) and I haven't had the heart to grow it again. I now have had to content myself with gazing wistfully at it growing in other's gardens online :-(

    Benjamin...Nebraskans forever! I was born and raised in NE...on an acreage a few hours northwest of Omaha...where I think we may have been more of a zone 3 given our extreme weather and VERY exposed location. I think I went through a phase when younger where I just REALLY wanted exotics and tropicals (because we always want what we can't have). As I grew older, however, I really started to see the value and beauty of midwest natives (something which breeders were already doing) and fell in love with NE's native flora. Sadly, I've never heard of 'Nekan' before...I'm going to have to find it online...looks a beauty! Looking at your blog lately I'm seeing that gardening in NE is MUCH different from where I grew up. The funny thing I've noticed this season is that I'm pretty much recreating a tall grass prairie (or my version of one) in my gargen...coneflower, rudbeckia, tons of grasses, helenium, eupatorium (and of course the state flower...goldenrod)...I guess I miss the old homestead more than I thought :-)

  7. My favorite Salvias are 'Black and Blue' which is perennial here as well, perhaps too perennial, and Salvia leucantha. Leucantha provides a much needed bridge into fall, plus they are very cheap if you buy them in the spring when they are sold with the herbs in little pots.

  8. Hi Scott,
    I have lived in southeast Nebraska, zone 5b all my life. I'd love to live in zone 7. I think any warmer, and I wouldn't be able to grow some of the plants I like. I'm not willing to live in a different state from my family, so we'll stay put.

    I used to grow 'May Nights', but it got leggy, so I pulled it out. I discovered 'Purple Rain' last spring, and it has done well here. 'Black and Blue' is no longer expensive. I grow it as an annual. I've never seen the silver or purple one. They are beauties. Thanks for stopping by my post about wildlife.

  9. Salvia Guaranitica 'Black and Blue', Salvia discolor, Salvia Guaranitica 'Purple Majesty'... Fantastic! I'm currently seeing a Red Salvia around that looks like 'Purple Majesty' as an annual but I'm not sure which one it is. I've never been overly impressed by 'Purple Rain' - Seems to get mildew at the drop of a hat and the flowers just aren't exciting enough for me to justify that.

    Salvia nemorosa ('Caradonna' in particular) are the most impressive hardy Salvias in zone 5 (I've seen them listed as hardy as zone 3, did you try any of them out when you lived in Nebraska?).

  10. I love salvias, too. Among my favorites are coral nymph, a coral pink, and Vanhoutii, a dark burgundy. Salvias are wonderful plants, and mine often reseed.
    Salvia discolor is a new one for me. It is so striking.

    Always Growing

  11. Thanks for more comments everyon!

    Les...'Black & Blue' is awesome...glad it overwinters well for you (even if too well). I totally agree about Leucantha...and will probably end up taking a chance on it again next year...I've seen it around town lately and it's just glorious!

    Sue...Thanks for stopping's always nice to see another Nebraskan! I know how you feel about moving...I do miss my family...I keep trying to get them to move out here! I agree about May Night...I grew it when in Nebraska and loved the color, but the show was a little to brief and it just looked bad the rest of the season. Zone 5b is actually a really great zone, you have so much you are able to grow, and the colder winters really help in keeping some things going.

    Andrew...Thanks for stopping by! I wonder what the red one is...could be Pineapple Sage...who knows...there are so many varieties, I can't keep up. I think you may have jinxed me...I went out to look at my 'Purple Rain' this morning, and it has a bad case of PM...ugh. Then again, I am sort of cursed, if a plant can get rust, PM, blight, mine will get it :-( I grew "May Night" back when I was in NE and I really like it, but as Sue mentioned in a comment above, it gets really leggy after blooming and doesn't really look good again until fall. Truly, there is such a big difference between zone 4 and 5...when I moved from my home-town to Omaha, just 2 hours away, I was so happy to find I could grow things that NEVER would have survived back home!

    Jan...Thanks for the suggestions...I'm going to look them up, I don't have any pink or red salvias at the moment...that burgundy is stunning!

  12. heг son Olympiс desires Ԁevelopeԁ the government financial aid
    96.Adult femaleѕ boxercise grojp lay claim itss prominent jewelry medal.
    Coach Aurora Outlet Mall "The normal agreement has been there ended up several funding abrasions.When i continued to wait pretty much one hour right after, and then relatively.