My sage advice to you is…

That you are sure to find something in the genus Salvia to delight your soul and your senses!  The diversity of this family of plants offers year-round interest with colorful flowers, dramatic foliage, fragrance and a welcoming hug for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

The natural habitats of over 900 cultivars of salvia are spread all over the globe with hundreds originating in Mexico, Central and South America alone. You may choose tender annuals to fill those garden spots needing a burst of color or hardy perennials which will reward you year after year demanding very little attention.  While many are rugged, unthirsty performers which will stand up to long, hot summers there are also many  tender family members requiring shade and a more moist environment.  All salvias are not created equal and that is truly a plus for us in the garden world.  A little education will help you find the right ones to meet your garden needs.  I count The Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias by John Whittlesey as an invaluable resource.  In addition, California is home to a variety of  nursery operations whose enthusiasm for salvias is evident in both the varieties they have for sale and their breeding efforts. The Digging Dog Nursery in Albion and Annie’s Annuals in Richmond are worthy of a visit. Flowers by the Sea in Elk has a comprehensive mail order catalog. Check them out at and be sure to look at their blog Everything Salvias.

Since any post covering all the salvias I would like to introduce you to would have to be book length I am going to focus today on a group called by academically minded plantsmen “the greggii microphylla complex”.  This is a confusing group of species which includes Salvia greggii, S. microphylla, S. x jamensis (a naturally occurring hybrid of the first two) and several others. There are many series of cultivars bred from various combinations of these species.  A few examples found recently in my retail haunts include selections from the Heatwave, Mesa and Western Dancer series.  These names commonly appear as part of the cultivar name although whether they are marked as greggii or microphylla is somewhat less consistent from grower to grower.  These are not the showiest nor most refined members of their clan but, in general, plants in this complex are hardy, rugged perennials with twiggy stems, small fragrant leaves with their flowers held slightly above the foliage on slender stems. Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ was my introduction to these shrubby salvias when I dug in a few 4″ pots in for color in the spring of 2010.  I added ‘Mesa Rose’ and ‘Mesa Purple’ to my southern exposure front garden at the same time but ‘Mesa Azure’ remains my enduring favorite.  Just by luck of the draw the other two colors ended up in a bed now dominated by a 20′ tall Raywood Ash (planted as a 15 gallon tree in 2010) and have lost most of their sun.  They are still lovely but flower somewhat less vigorously than ‘Mesa Azure’ which has grown in full sun with minimal water for lo these many years and only gets better every year.  I force it to rest most years by trimming it back in late November.  In mild winters it has burst back into bloom by late January and blooms on and on. The flowers are more purple than the name would suggest and they they tend to open a lighter lavender then age to a bit darker hue.Likewise new foliage is a lighter, brighter green before it hardens off a bit. Pictured below is the most mature of the Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ plants  I adore and two photos showing the interesting flower color variation.


The plants in this greggii/microphylla umbrella vary in flower color and somewhat in mature height. The ‘Mesa Azure’ is a bit less than knee height, receiving a bit of tidying up now and then to reduce its twiggyness and promote new growth.  Plants tags generally list heights as being 24″-36″. This year I have added many new plants from this complex to my garden and only time will tell in terms of their mature height and hardiness.  Just today I bought Salvia ‘Maraschino’ and its tag lists 36′ to 8′—now that is a pretty wide range!  I am going to give this new one a bit of afternoon shade per my internet research.  Toward the end of the summer I’ll report back to you how my new residents have faired. As the foliage is not spectacular on any of this group I have tried to give you a peek at the variety of flower colors available.  See some of my new friends below. Remember to roll your cursor over the photo for the cultivar’s name.

A little note–there are several S. greggii/microphylla cultivars in the light yellow, apricot and orange color ranges but all y’all know I just don’t do orange.  There are also several pale and medium blues on my acquisition list.

Just  to wet your appetite for Sage Advice part 2 I’ll leave with with a few additional photos  of salvias to desire–quite different from today’s group!  Can you identify any of these?

Nap time is almost over…

Just a short post today to follow up on the Getting your little ones on a schedule… post in which I chronicled my rose deadheading scheme for the Sunblaze miniature roses in my garden.  We are 5 weeks to the day out from when we put the little ones down for a brief nap with the mother’s never ending sense of hope that when they awoke they would be invigorated and reward me with another lovely flush of pink blooms.  On that same day I deadheaded the grouping of 5 ‘Iceberg’ standard roses which appear in the background of the miniature roses.  As you can see below, the ‘Sunblaze Pink’ and their friends are stirring now with each rose starting to show many groups of buds and lots of shiny new dark green foliage.  I am confidant that we will hit the six week mark with lots of open flowers! Clearly, the helicopter mom instinct I had to work so hard to squelch when my flesh and blood children were growing up has found a new outlet.  In the past few years each of my sons has conceded (maybe not in as direct a way as I would have liked) that I probably knew more than he gave me credit for in his teen and young adult years.  Growing plants in your garden is just like raising your children–give them lots of love, good nutrition and structure, nip them back when they need it and who know what wonderful rewards you will experience!

The bells ring in summer…

Hello, friends!  It is heating up fast here and soon instead of dreading the 90s we will be begging for them.  The foliage on the several species of Campanula in my garden always looks its best in the spring before it gets too hot but the flowers seem to respond to the warmer days with an explosion of nodding blue bells!

The Campanula, or Bellflower, family is vast and varied with over 300 species including creepers, trailers and taller upright ones like our grandmothers planted and referred to as Cups and Saucers. Most species have bell shaped flowers but many have flowers which start as bells then open into a more star like form.  As a family they like rich, well drained soil and full sun only in cooler climates.  In my garden they will tolerate morning sun only and probably would be happier (though not bloom as well) with no direct sun at all.  While I have had the more upright types in other gardens I have only a few of the lovely creeper/ trailing types now and they are a sight to behold in full bloom.  Although literature indicates they are attractive to snails and slugs I have not found that to be true in my beds–perhaps because I have many other lovely delicacies to munch on that they are just full by the time they get to the campanulas.

The upper left photo, taken about a month ago,  gives you a chance to see the lovely chartreuse green foliage born by Campanula garganica ‘Dickson’s Gold’. You can see by its neighboring photo that the clump has increased almost enough in size that we have to jump over it rather use the large stepping stones around which it is planted.  Although this clumping ground cover lives in my patio shade beds, it does receive a good bit of sun during some parts of the day.  Literature suggests that this cultivar, when planted in more shade, will have a more conventional darker green leaf.  That would be a crying shame!

The Dalmation Bellflower, Campanula portenschlagiana aka Campanula muralis, is a lovely small scale ground cover which spreads but is not invasive.  It is more lavender than blue and has very long trailing stems.

The Serbian Bellflower, Campanula poscharskyana, is a more vigorous ground cover for me.  This one is the cultivar ‘Blue Waterfall’.  It is exceptionally free flowering and will be covered with blooms for three or more months.  A light shearing back of the spent flowers will produce another, though less profuse, full of blooms. ‘Blue Waterfall’ coexists very peacefully with other semi-shade pants and is more reported to be drought tolerant than some campanulas.


‘Blue Gown’, another cultivar of Campanula poscharskyana, has larger flowers with a very distinct large white eye.


This diminutive beauty is a very recent addition to the Secret Garden behind our outdoor pavilion.  It is a hybrid of the portenschlagiana and poscharskyana species called ‘Birch Hybrid’.  I don’t know who Birch is but I know he is (or was) smart enough to know that both of those “p” botanical names would never fit on a plant tag.  The flowers are more prominently bell like than the others I have and the leaves no bigger than the nail on your little thumb.  I admit to playing it safe and placing it in full shade, given the lateness of its planting and the rapidly escalating heat.  Only time will tell how it fares but this sweet little thing has promise for a lovely small scale ground cover with a cottage feel.

I am always on the look out for campanulas to add to my collection.  They are not the flashiest flower in town but are solid performers providing my coveted blue and lavender blooms.  I love them for exactly who they are and isn’t that just what we are all looking for in life?

P.S. How many of your eagles eyes noticed in the first two photos the several hostas with actual leaves on them??  I think the snails must be monitoring the garden blogging world and have read my disparaging remarks about their seemingly ravenous attention to every hosta I have ever planted—trying to give me a break this year!



Around the world in 91007…

After resting up overnight in Pasadena the Ellen 5 journeyed a few miles to neighboring Arcadia (zip code 91007) to visit the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.  The Arboretum, as it is coined locally, is a 127 acre historical site jointly operated by the LA County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation.  The site’s interesting and lengthy history would fill many posts and if your curiosity has been piqued, you can check it out at

The Arboretum is made up of many distinct garden areas linked by paths and walkways.  Of note are the plant collections representing the perennials, shrubs and trees indigenous to the continents of the world far beyond what many of us will ever see in person.  After wandering through the Celebration, Weaver and Wedding Gardens we spent some time in the tropical greenhouses resplendent with orchids and epiphyllums.  Much of the infrastructure of the site is quite old and somewhat in need of attention but that fact is far overshadowed by the sheer volume and variety of mature plants to admire. To the delight of children and adults alike, the garden is home to MANY peacocks which we encountered at every turn.  We saw amazing displays and posturing from the males.  The few females we came across seemed to be using their brown color to camouflaged themselves against the color of the dirt.

We started our world tour in Australia.  In the spirit of full disclosure, we actually did not get all the way around the world as it would have taken several more days to see everything thing the 127 acres offered! In our hot, dry Central Valley of California we are seeing more and more plants of Australian origin in our retail nurseries so this collection was of particular interest to me.  Many Australian plants have very strong lines and structural elements even in the small 1 gallon size available for purchase.  To see the mature specimens was somewhat like viewing living sculpture. Here are a few highlights—for those I could find plant tags I have added a caption you can see by moving your mouse over the individual photos.

The plant collection from the Canary Islands yielded some plants I could actually identify!

When we arrived in Africa, we turned to one of our group for her special insight as she had just returned from an African adventure less than two weeks ago.  She recognized several of the large trees we saw and passed on what she had learned about their roles in the African ecosystem.  I was awed by the trees with massive twisted trunks and tall broad canopies–I could almost see the elephants or giraffes gathering for shade and to feed! For me, the Cape Chestnut pictured below was the ultimate specimen.  We saw its top covered by masses of pink blooms from a distance and felt compelled to hunt it down through several winding paths.  Below you see three of our group (still focused on their anonymity) admiring its grandeur and 2 images of its spectacularly detailed blooms:

Truly, our time ran out all too soon and we agreed a return trip was needed.On tap for our next visit will be the southern section of the site which includes Baldwin Lake, the Prehistoric Forest, the Temperate Asia Collection plus the roses, daylilies, citrus and so much more.  Baldwin Lake is the site of the circa 1885 Queen Anne Cottage featured in the opening credits of the vintage TV show Fantasy Island–can’t miss that.

I’ll close this garden travel adventure with images of a tree I have so missed since I left Southern CA in the late 1990s.  The almost florescent blossoms of the Jacaranda tree clothe the rather straggly tree each spring and they are a sight to behold.  Many communities in this area of temperate climate line the planted center strips of their busy roadways with these majestic beauties.  As the blossoms fade and fall, it almost appears to rain lavender petals and the flowers covering the ground under the trees form a field of purple!

The Ellen 5 get Rich in Pasadena…

A short 36 hours ago I set out, along with four friends, on a road trip to the beautiful city of Pasadena.  Our destination was the the historic Gamble House, where we would join others for an architectural tour of historic Pasadena with an emphasis on the works of architect brothers, Charles and Henry Greene.  This wonderful day was hosted by Fresnan Larry Balakian as one of the Parties for the Parkway which benefit the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.  This hard working non profit organization is dedicated to preserving and restoring the San Joaquin River and to creating and protecting the River Parkway.  The River Parkway Trust offers a variety of services in their three program areas of conservation, education and recreation.

The “parties”, held throughout each year,  offer small group activities and events from frisbee golf and “whodunit” murder mysteries to wine tasting and star-gazing.  For more information about the River Parkway or upcoming parties go to and click on the Parties booklet picture.

Although not strictly a garden gazing road trip I was anticipating seeing many glorious homes in historic Pasadena surrounded by interesting and lush landscaping.  The design aesthetic of the Greene and Greene homes was based on the straight-forword use of simple materials and motifs that represented what drew many Easterners to Southern California—sunshine, the out of doors and and the yearning for a connection of the home to its surrounding natural habitat.  The Gamble House is an outstanding example of the American Arts and Crafts style architecture born of this yearning.


The Gamble House was designed by Greene and Greene in 1908 as a winter home for  David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble Company.  The house, designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978, is owned by the City of Pasadena and operated by the University of Southern California. Although no interior photography is permitted we did tour the inside, viewing not only the stunning architecture but the home’s furnishings–also designed by the architects specifically for this project.

Back Garden elements echo the home’s materials and feel

Proceeding from the Gamble House to the big yellow school bus to continue our tour we found ourselves listed on the tour roll sheet as “Ellen-5” and thus became known as that for the rest of the day.  If you hang with this group for long enough you may see some subtle benefits to anonymity…but that is a story for another day.  We also made the acquaintance of a dashing young Pasadena Realtor named Rich who effectively became one of us for the rest of the day.  I am not sure but I feel he may have felt it was safer not to tell us his last name so he will always be just Rich to us!

In the morning portion of our tour we saw many of Pasadena’s loveliest homes, dating from the Victorian era to modern day but predominantly in the Arts and Crafts/Craftsman and Mediterranean styles.  We learned about the architectural phenomenon known as the Bungalow Court, which was born in Pasadena and we were able to view La Miniatura, an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright designed home dating from 1923.  The residential streets appear as leafy allees by design as each street was assigned a street tree which was to remain consistent from property to property.  Although a few homeowners have fallen off the wagon over the years, it is amazing to see streets many blocks long with both sides bearing beautiful mature trees of the same species.

After a lunch stop at the ArtCenter,  a world renown educational institution for artists and designers, we hopped back on our bus heading toward the Civic Center/Downtown area.  On the way, our guide showed us many homes of architectural note, including one of the Green brothers’ family homes and the neighboring cottages he designed and built for his two spinster sisters-in-law.  Everywhere we turned we saw the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement.  It struck me that our current trend of drought tolerant plantings and uses of boulders, ground covers and bark is very complementary to these almost 100 year old structures.  They are mostly low to the ground with an emphasis on the use of shingle sided exteriors, old brick, stone and dark wood. The more natural landscaping style almost creates the illusion that the  home and the landscape are a single unit.

Our stop at the Pasadena City Hall, completed in 1927, revealed to us a stunning structure in the Spanish Colonial Style.  We had a little time to spend in the building’s courtyard which is used frequently for weddings and civic events.  Work in recent years has brought the structure into compliance with modern earthquake requirements, plumbing and wiring needed for all those things we need to plug in to run a city.  I’d say it’s good for another 90 years!  The courtyard landscaping is formal, structured and restrained.  Of note are four symmetrical, rectangular beds of matched roses.  I wondered if they might be Tournament of Roses roses in a nod to that famous yearly Pasadena event. Our guide wasn’t sure of their identification (of course, we crawled around the bases a bit looking for the silver disc id tags to no avail) but graciously contacted me after we had parted, advising that they were identified to her as David Austin ‘Heritage’.  Neither she nor I are wholly convinced that it correct–anyone out there have a thought?  Check them out below.

All in all, the Ellen 5 plus Rich had a great day!  In the company of a congenial group, shepherded by great guides from Pasadena Heritage, wined and dined by Larry B., we got to see homes and gardens which had graciously aged and been lovingly restored by people who appreciated their history and beauty. What else could be better?





Are these cuties new to you?

Today I am sharing with you two lovely plants which have graced my garden for a few years now but were definitely opportunistic additions rather than specimens I went in search of!

The first came to me over the fence, so to speak, from my gardening friend Judi.  Actually it came in a lovely group of pass-alongs that traveled from her home in Orange County to mine here in Fresno–a rather long, wide fence!


This airy beauty is Impatiens balfourii, a reseeding annual from the same family as all those impatiens we buy at the nursery every year for our spring planting.  A few plant reference books I consulted list Balfour’s touch-me-not and Kashmir balsam as common names but I am not sure this plant, at least anywhere I have lived, is common to anyone.  I first saw it with Judi on a May garden tour in San Clemente four or five years ago in a setting where it had populated a very large area and waved in the ocean breeze.  The original seedling Judi gave me never did much but every year since I have had little colonies pop up here and there in the spring and they are always a delight. The one I photographed for this post is growing along with many succulents in a large fountain I planted a few years back.  The bowl sits several feet above ground so the breeze must have done the planting for me.

In sharp contrast to the fairy like quality of the Balfour’s touch-me-not I offer the structured and somewhat stiff Aristea ecklonii.


I picked up this plant, in a 4″ pot, at Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano, never having seen it in person. The promise of the striking blue flowers in the description was enough  for me to give it a try.  I have never found it in a retail nursery since I snapped it up 3 years ago.  Sunset’s Western Garden Book lists no common names for it although a couple of websites refer to it as Blue Flies, Blue Eyed Iris and Blue Corn Lily.  It is a member of the iris family and its foliage very much resembles that of the Moraea iris which is grown all over California.  Much like the Moraea, the individual flowers only last a few days but each flowering stalk has many six petaled blossoms, resulting in good blooming power over many weeks.  Removing spent flowers will prevent you from having a whole flock of seedlings to deal with.  I have generally let a few of the seedling grow out to pass-along to a new home.  The ones I don’t want are easy enough to pull out.  The photos do not do justice to the clarity of the blue flower–they almost glow at night. In my garden this tough performer sits in full sun all day and gets only minimal water plus a quick clean up of spent stalks in early fall.  This serendipitous purchased has far surpassed my expectations!



You can Gamble on this spring tour…


And you will always count yourself as a winner!  The last Friday of April on my calendar will always belong to the Gamble Garden Spring Tour in Palo Alto, CA and this year’s event was as inspiring and beautifully done as the many I have attended in the past.

I discovered the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden and Historic Home not long after we returned to California and my husband was spending a lot of time in research discussions with a group of physicians at Stanford Medical Center. With several days and nights to fill every few weeks I explored much of Palo Alto and the South Bay Peninsula.  Palo Alto’s climate is much more temperate than that of my Central Valley home and the city is home to innumerable beautiful private gardens as well as impeccably landscaped and maintained public spaces.  It is also Sunset magazine country–until just last year the corporate headquarters, including both the test kitchens and test gardens, was  just a stone’s throw away.  For my Southern readers– Sunset is the west coast’s Southern Living!

Left to the City of Palo Alto upon the death of Miss Gamble in 1981, the property has been established as a privately funded non-profit foundation which is managed as a community resource.  The Gamble Garden contains formal, woodland and demonstration gardens.  It is the site for both adult and youth educational programs and a hotline/plant clinic operated by the Masters Gardeners of Santa Clara County.  This amazing garden also partners with Children’s Librarians from the Palo Alto City Library in hosting monthly children’s story times.

The 2016 Spring Tour included 5 private gardens, the Gamble Garden, a Marketplace and plant sale and much more.  This year’s theme was “Gardens are for Living” and highlighted activity filled and family friendly outdoor spaces.  One of the most appealing and rewarding characteristics of the homes chosen each year has been their ‘walk-ability’.  This year three private homes plus the Gamble Garden were all within a 6-8 block radius.  The Gamble Garden is in a jewel of a residential area with interesting homes of all shapes and sizes, many dating back to the 1920s.  The neighborhood clearly values its outdoor spaces and is tremendously proud of the beautiful gardens on every street.  It is a mecca for interesting fences, gates and garden art.  So as you walk along with your tour booklet in hand, anticipating the next garden stop, you have the opportunity to see close-up all of the other homes and gardens along the way!  It’s a time to take photos of plants or architectural details you admire, chat with your tour companions on a lovely spring day and meet and greet other folks doing exactly the same thing.  My little group of four spent about a block chatting with a painter headed to a job site and also got a sneak peek at a monumental renovation as one of the construction bosses headed back to work in inside the gates.  As our last two homes would take us to a different neighborhood requiring a new parking place there was the perfect opening for a little lunch on the way.

Garden tours are never optimal for taking wide view photos as the gardens are filled with visitors, many of whom are trying to do the same thing.  Here are a few highlights for you to enjoy just as if you had been strolling along with us!

A single residence blends this very traditional arbor successfully with this unique sculptural fence and gate.  This homeowner has developed a very personal garden space which includes a front yard labyrinth, many stone and metal sculptures, a diverse array of perennials and mature trees and an underground cistern which stores rainwater captured from the gutters.  The zipper sculpture/fence was featured on HGTV in 2004—the tab on the zipper is the gate!

A narrow lot and side set front door makes the entrance to this lovely home’s back garden not much wider than a footpath.  I was amazed when the vista widened to a beautiful and large open space which included a pool, small playhouse and many interesting plantings.  The owners enjoy a serene outdoor eating area tucked up against the house where adults could mingle while the young ones have a spacious area to run and play.  This gigantic bougainvillea climbing the front facade gives you a hint at the tropical flair throughout the property.

Ok, guys, are you listening out there?  This landscape designer/homeowner redesigned his back garden as a series of rooms for year-round outdoor living as a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife.  The spaces include an intimate fire pit close to the house, many stone sitting walls and a stunning kitchen flanked by a gracious dining area, both covered by a pergola.  The view you see above left is from the dining area back toward the home.  The homeowner chose many California natives and designed the landscape to provide food, flowers and shade.  Loved this entire space!

Traditional architectural elements in the garden echoed those found on this stunning gray shingled colonial home.  Above you see the side yard transformed into a kitchen garden using raised beds and gravel pathways.  The back garden featured an outdoor kitchen and play structure.  I loved these very cool permanent bike racks placed just off the garage wall.

Now here are a few of the beautiful homes and garden elements we passed as we walked the tour route–I hope we will get to see some of these on future Gamble Garden Spring  Tours!