2016 Salvia update…

As I write today it is a cool 64 degrees with overcast skies.  We have had several lovely days as the result of a “Pacific trough”, whatever that is. Our temps will climb as the week progresses but I think we have hope of an actual transition to fall with nothing in the forecast over 88 degrees!

Last week I shared a little of my annual autumn reset routine for my garden. In addition to the cleaning up and cutting back I like to take stock of how the new plants to the garden have done through their first summer. I added many new salvias in the early spring, some of which I shared photos in my May 26th post. Although some have been less successful than others I lost only one for which there was no hope of return. I planted a leafy and flower filled Salvia ‘Heatwave Brilliance’ in a sunny spot near a large south facing rock to add a bit of color to an otherwise fairly sterile area. The snail social media must have blown up with the news–I can envision the Twitter handle @newfood! just lighting up the screens on all their teeny, tiny smartphones. The NEXT DAY I went out to poke in its newly made label and the foot tall and wide plant had been reduced to 6 or 8 totally naked stems and even those stems had been chewed down…OMG. This casualty was the only salvia snail activity I saw all summer. I could almost see a little banner declaring Go Big or Go Home! waving over the wretched remains of a plant so recently set that my trowel was still  pushed into the ground next to it.

The new salvias were planted in areas ranging from morning sun/afternoon partial shade  to  full day southern sun. Limited water was in play for all but clearly those planted in the baking sun had consistently drier soil.


In this photo there are four salvias from foreground to background: Salvia greggii ‘Raspberry’, Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’, Salvia ‘Heatwave Blaze’ and Salvia ‘Heatwave Glare’. You can barely see ‘Heatwave Glare’ (white) at the edge of the picture. This bed has morning sun until about noon and then is gradually shaded by the house as the sun moves to the west. The foliage is still fresh and green and they are fairly compact. While none of them is covered with flowers, the flowers are quite lovely both from a wide view and close up. I do have ‘Heatwave Blaze’ staked with a low half hoop just behind the edging as anything that might stray into the field of the string trimmer is doomed. Can’t say much for the lawn, can you? Here’s a little closer view of ‘Heatwave Glare’ and ‘Heatwave Blaze’.

This bed, which curves around into a more sunny area, also contains several varieties of campanula and hardy geranium, dianthus, cuphea, hellebores, calla lilies, penstemon, iris and roses has been a great success this year with a nice succession of flowering from spring until now.


In sharp contrast, this bed sits just in front of the shade canopy of a large sequoia and is in full southern sun all day. There are four salvias in the bed although only 3 are visible in the photo. Left to right they are: Salvia x jamensis ‘Shell Dancer’, Salvia microphylla ‘Ultra Violet’ and Salvia ‘Heatwave Glimmer’. ‘Shell Dancer’ is quite tall with lovely bicolor flowers. ‘Ultra Violet’ is a naturally shorter cultivar at about 12″-18″.  All three are leggy and look pretty beaten down. They will definitely get their trimming back to see if I can stimulate some fresh new growth and blooms in this slightly cooler weather.

I have long believed that many plants recommended for full sun cannot withstand our Central Valley scorching summer afternoons so it would be an easy leap to think that based on my garden these salvias will not meet my needs for full sun perennials. All of these featured today are from the greggii-microphylla complex of salvias which are native to the dry deserts of Mexico and have proven adaptability to harsh climates. I think the word ‘adaptable’ is key here. My morning sun/afternoon partial shade bed probably is closer to the greenhouse/commercial nursery conditions in which they were propagated and grown than to their native habitat. It is also important to remember whenever you add plants which are characterized as waterwise or drought tolerant that usually the words ‘when established’ are included. I’m willing to wait them out for one or two more seasons in hopes their performance in the full sun and drier areas will improve with time as they become acclimated to their planting locations.

These two are in conditions about midway between protected and extreme and have done nicely. On the left is Salvia ‘Fancy Dancer’ and to its right is Salvia greggii ‘Dark Dancer’. ‘Fancy Dancer’ sports the same bicolor pink blooms as ‘Shell Dancer’ but on a more compact plant. ‘Dark Dancer’ is quite tall at about 30″ and is uncharacteristically unfloppy for a salvia that tall. Is unfloppy a word?


Salvia ‘Mystic Blue Spires’ has been a winner for a first year plant! At about 24″ tall and wide this single plant has bloomed continuously since I dug it in. I have deadheaded the flowers as they faded but done no trimming of the plant otherwise.  Wilt on the hot days has been minimal considering it has had barely 4 months to establish its root system.  It is a bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnet. I love the bold color and plan to add a few more of these if I can find them this fall.

While not new in 2016 these two deserve a mention. Salvia melissodora, often called Grape Scented Sage, on the left is one that garden literature deems “challenging to grow outside its native habitat of Northern Mexico.” I planted a 4″ pot in an area of the garden we commonly refer to as the ‘death zone’–hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry. The little guy struggled for the first year then started to settle in gradually over the last 2. I now have a lovely 4′ plant which blooms sporadically throughout the year. The pale lavender clusters of grape scented blossoms are not spectacular but the plants soft green foliage looks pretty  good year around and will provide a nice backdrop if I can ever get anything else to grow in its corner of doom. On the right is an little guy with huge pink blooms (in relation to the plant’s overall size) which was an unmarked nursery find last fall. Its foliage indicates it is probably from that greggii-microphylla complex. It is encouraging that after a winter to settle in it looks much better than its newly planted cousins sharing a similarly hot southern exposure.


I’ll close with this snap of a bud forming on one of the Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ plants which have been so popular with the bees and hummers this year. This cultivar is usually sold as an annual though I have had some winter over successfully each year. As I was photographing other salvias for this post I noticed the bud color variegation, then quickly saw that all the buds were similar. I have grown this cultivar for over 20 years and never noticed the interesting bud. Sometimes we spend our garden hours looking at the big picture, creating  swathes of color, designing vignettes of foliage with contrasting color or texture or arranging plants to provide views at varying heights and forget to look closely at the very plants we are using. This bud reminded me to spend a little more time getting to know the amazing details that nature provides us if we just look closely enough.

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