Perhaps you remember this box of precious finds from my post on the Spring Plant Sale at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Center stage is Salvia ‘Big Swing’, one of several totally new to me salvias I saw that day. I got it in the ground in my front garden in early May but of course failed to photograph it. As I gave it a good large open space the photograph would have only shown the velvety leaves about 6″ tall surrounded by a vast sea of humus!
It has been an exciting summer venturing away from the many twiggy, small leafed salvias I’ve grown for several years. Selections from the greggii and microphylla species are very successful here and bloom almost year around given periodic cutting back as the blooms fade. Below, Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ is my enduring favorite with its nice mix of flowers and brighter green foliage. It has also been tough as nails in terms of weather and water.
Feeling the need to expand my salvia horizons into some of the more tender perennial species I having been picking up whatever I find on my gardening travels, usually just a single plant to trial as I did with ‘Big Swing’.
Salvia ‘Big Swing’ originated as a chance seedling between S. macrophylla and S. sagittata and was brought to gardens by noted Bay Area salvia expert Betsy Clebsch. I also purchased a Salvia sagittata but it has not been as successful for me as ‘Big Swing’ which purports to be more compact than its parent.
The foliage was fast growing to a lovely mound of large, almost chartreuse green arrow shaped leaves. Both the leaves and stems are soft and somewhat downy. This is my second wave of branched flower stalks–the first flush having been cut back in August. The flowers are not especially numerous but prominently held high above the foliage.
The saturated cobalt blue flowers are almost electric and their shape interesting in the salvia world. On a breezy day the blooms appear as dancing butterflies atop the wiry stems.
‘Big Swing’ is a tender perennial having hardiness only to USDA zone 10a according to one of my references. Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, CA lists zones 8-10 which is more hopeful for me–could be dicey to overwinter in my zone 9 so I may cut back, mulch and cover before our cooler weather sets in. Even if I lose this one, I would gladly treat it as an annual just to be able to enjoy it every year. Finding it again locally will be a challenge but that is what road trips are for! On the other end of the weather spectrum reference notes that it may require some afternoon shade and adequate water in the sunniest climates. My ‘Big Swing’ is in true full sun (southern) until very late afternoon and has done fine within the parameters of my weekly automatic sprinkler schedule. Of note is that the parent species S. sagittata purchased and planted at the same time does get some afternoon shade and perhaps a bit more water. It is half the size and has very few flower stalks!
Salvia ‘Big Swing’ gets an A+ for performance in my garden. For interesting information about great salvias for your garden check out any of the books written by Betsey Clebsch including The New Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden (Timber Press 2003).
The last trip to our cabin in Fish Camp near Yosemite National Park had a few hours for leisurely walks and Yatzhee! on the wraparound deck but was mostly about accomplishing chores necessary for the coming winter. We take the removable snow rails down from the deck and pull out the painted plywood snow doors for installation on two of our three entry doors. With central heat and a nice wood stove, we make use the cabin every few weeks throughout the cold season. It’s impossible to know whether we will have 10 feet of snow or none at all and so the smart money is to be prepared for whatever comes well in advance the the first icy flakes.
In my 2018 post Dogwood day…Memorial Day I featured bloom photos from the lone Cornus nuttalii, Pacific dogwood, on our property. I’ve since found that we have one other but certainly that’s not really the making of a dogwood forest, especially when the spring blooms bursting out along the highway to our place have almost a wedding like feel. On this visit the dogwood’s leaves are starting to show their fall color.
Shaded by a high canopy of cedars, firs and pines it is a little hard to see the russet and purple tones creeping in.
I got pretty excited when I saw a number of seed clusters well within my reach–maybe I can grow my own little dogwood forest! I texted my native plant mentor Ann for counsel and spent a bit of time on a few California native plant propagations sites to get a sense of the best way to go. The consensus was that directly sowing the seeds would probably be more successful than trying to start in pots. I was amazed to learn that germination could take up to 18 months!! Seed collection is #1 on my to-do list for our next trip–hopefully I won’t have missed my window of opportunity.
Number one of this trip’s list was to take care of our wood supply for the winter. We are able to cut firewood every year in specific amounts and from designated locations on public lands with US Forest Service permits. Every couple of years we supplement that supply with a load of cured and cut almond.
In preparation for the new wood we shift the older wood remaining on the second set of wood cribs to the front one, making a nice open space for the new wood to be delivered. Even with two sets of hands this is a several hour job.
The weight of the wood truck (this one hauling 4 cords of wood stacked in the bed with vertical partitions separating each cord) dictates that the wood must be dumped at the TOP of our year old asphalt driveway–the truck could come down but would never be able to get back up!
Our wood moving method involves Dave backing up our truck to the pile. We then fill up the bed, drive the truck down the hill and back it up near the wood cribs and unload it into another pile…three times. A strong motivating factor is that we cannot drive off our property until the wood is moved.
Then that big pile gets stacked onto the empty crib. The whole process takes about six or seven hours. Dave is strong and I am slow but steady. I am not sure I would have survived “the olden days”. He always gets the honor of placing the last log. With every stick tucked in its spot both piles get tarps and bungee cords to keep the wood dry. We use these two wood storage stacks to refresh the smaller wood supplies kept closer to the cabin. I am here to tell you this work makes even the most strenuous garden tasks seem lightweight!
I have had several failed attempts to successfully grow Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’–most recently a couple of years ago in my back garden close to the fencing so as to provide a green backdrop for other lower perennials planted in the foreground. As much as I would appreciate it, few plants die with a definitive autopsy report conveniently attached to their crispy brown stems. I am reasonably sure this last loss resulted from the species’ need for more shade and less of our death star summer sun.
Not to be defeated and with a few large open areas in the new front beds having a high shade canopy from the Raywood ash, I threw caution to the win and bought 3 wee 4″ pots in late March. The ‘Limelight’ cultivar is known for the chartreuse calyces which form in the fall signaling impending bloom. Unlike many of my other salvias which bloom year round given periodic cutting back, this one appears to be a true fall bloomer. As spring and summer passed the three little plants grew and grew. I did a little pinching back to promote bushiness but not having any experience of when they would actually bloom I was perhaps too timid, worrying about nipping off soon to be bloom spikes.
Here you see one of the three, having grown to about 6 feet tall and 4 feet across. A second is directly behind it but on the other side of the ash’s canopy, near an open pathway which provides me access to the bed for tidying up and planting tasks. The inflorescences which eventually grow to 6 or 8″ in length started to form just a couple of weeks ago.
The calyces on all of my plants lack ‘Limelight’s signature yellow-green color. A little research leads me to believe my plants may actually be Salvia mexicana ‘Ocampo’ which is known for its dark purple to almost black calyces. So for all my self congratulation through the summer at these flourishing specimens I STILL haven’t been able to successfully grow ‘Limelight’! Regardless of what I call it, this salvia is a hummingbird and bee magnet. Its sturdy structure sways in a light breeze and the dappled shade makes the bright green leaves dance. I love it!
The third of my plants was sited in slightly more sun. All got adequate water (they are are not especially drought tolerant) due to regular hand watering to supplement the minimal automatic irrigation of the bed and I’d give their planting positions an A+ for drainage.
While the last of the plants grew as large, if not larger, than the two in slightly more shade; many of the new leaves emerged somewhat curled. Even as the entire plant looked on death’s door it continued to put on new leaves with some emerging curled or crispy dark brown. Through this seemingly torturous growing process it too began the process of forming bloom spikes along with its neighbors. As the siting of the struggling plant pretty much obscured its closest and better performing neighbor, I gave in and cut it back to about 15″ a few days ago. It is starting to put on a few new leaves but they too are deformed–any thoughts out there in gardening land??
For those of you who would like to try Salvia mexicana, (‘Limelight’, ‘Ocampo’ or a more compact form ‘Lollie Jackson)’ give your plant sun to bright shade depending on your summer climate and well-drained rich soil. Protection from frost is essential although most are root hardy down into the 20°s. Your reward will be a summer of beautiful clean foliage followed by stunning fall flowers buzzing with nectar loving pollinators.
In other salvia news…
This unidentified microphylla/greggii hybrid–maybe Heatwave ‘Blaze’–is putting on a fabulous show as you approach my front door.
Every year on the last weekend in September, one of my favorite road trip nurseries hangs the works of local quilters throughout its grounds and welcomes quilters and gardeners alike for a weekend of shopping, classes and special exhibits.
Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, California is a family owned full service garden center established in 1955 on a parcel of land home to dozens of majestic Valley oaks (Quercus lobata.) Once in the countryside, it is now surrounded by town and takes its role in this small community seriously, sponsoring many weekends of seasonal activities every year.
Alden Lane’s gift shops, houseplants and administrative offices are housed in a beautiful residence like structure with a Country French vibe–offering lots of “yard” spaces to introduce planting schemes. I had always assumed this to have been an original home on the property but learned on this trip that despite the building’s vintage feel, it was built only 20 years ago.
As you can clearly see, on this morning it was slightly overcast and very windy. The main nursery entrance is decorated with colorful quilts and seasonal pumpkins. The addition of huge swathes of dappled shade from the centuries old oaks made photography challenging.
If you could line up the far left of the top photo with the far right of the bottom photo you would have the full expanse of this oak branch which lies close to the ground. I can imagine having this unbelievable living sculpture as part of my garden would become a quiet place to sit in the shade and a magical climbing structure for anyone over 2 and under 90.
Despite bring pretty windblown and wishing I had brought more than a lightweight jacket, I spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds taking in the more than 250 fabric works of art ruffling in the breezes.
Alden Lane Nursery’s website http://www.aldenlane.com is full of information about upcoming events including October 12 & 13th’s Fall Festival. Their associated blog posts offer seasonal gardens tips and a useful monthly garden checklist. I am sure you will enjoy the wealth of gardening resources Alden Lane provides!