Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’…

Our so-far mild winter is allowing us to continue work on our final front yard lawn removal. We’ve had just the right amount of rain to loosen up the soil and make digging less onerous but not so much that we have lost too many work days to puddles, sogginess and sinkholes.

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We are marching steadfastly from west to east with my sweet Dave in the lead, having both the tools and muscle. You can barely see him in this photo sitting on the ground behind the red wheelbarrow. This being our fourth time to the party he has got a pretty good system. The lawn was chemically treated in early fall–lawn removal by sod cutting machinery is not such a sure thing with a common bermuda lawn. The roots can be very deep and any small viable bits left behind will roar back as soon as growing conditions are right. I swear there have been viable bermuda roots found in fossils from prehistoric times!

He has divided the area into smaller, more workable sections. First, he uses a hula hoe to scrape off any above ground dead grass up into piles. To not sacrifice so much of our topsoil he then sifts through these piles, separating grass remains from viable soil–that’s is what he is doing sitting on the ground in the photo. The good soil is then moved off to a tarp to be reincorporated later. Next he tills the area and again picks out any grass roots, rocks, etc. including copious wads of the green netting that was the original sod’s underlayment. Step three is to double dig the section–one shovel depth’s down worth of soil is dug and off loaded to the side and then the newly exposed surface is dug a second shovel depth’s down. The rock, roots and various leftover construction material removal continues throughout the process. All the previously off loaded soil is returned to the bed and dug together along with whatever amendments I have selected for the area. I am exhausted just outlining the process! The last step is to grade the section to flow smoothly into large untouched areas at the bases of our mature trees.

As Dave prepares the beds I follow behind adding the plants. As with the areas already finished I am concentrating on more waterwise plants–hoping to create a balance the water needs of the existing mature landscape and the new. Unlike last year, my back yard holding area is not so flush with “plants in waiting” so planting is going slowly. Lots of bearded iris and daylily divisions have gone in along with a number of my favorite salvias. I am trying a few more new selections such as Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’ and Ceanothus ‘Hearstiorum’, both plantings of which will be in the bed’s ground zero for all day ¬†southern sun. Once these are established they should be very low water users which will allow me to eliminate several pesky, always broken, curbside sprinkler heads.

I am on always on the hunt for plants. Our recent Southern California overnight yielded two nursery stops and a few selections were checked off my acquisition list. Not to be found–and no surprise given the time of year–was another¬†Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice’ to echo the one planted to the west of the front walk last year.

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I probably should read my own blog archives so I can remember if ‘Dara’s Choice’ was purchased locally or, more likely, one of the salvias I bought at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s 2017 fall plant sale. The single gallon can specimen was quite small and unremarkable when planted but over the year it has grown to a beautifully shaped, slightly weepy mound with clear medium green quilted leaves. And in the last couple of weeks it has come into bloom. Not really a show stopper but not every plant has to be covered in big, blowsy flowers to have worth in my garden.

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Mid photo you can see there are a good number of gracefully stalks bearing the small pale blue whorled blooms. The layered foliage performed very well, even though in the ground only a few months, throughout our very hot and dry 2018 summer. Its graceful appearance on the slope is worth repeating in the area we are now working. A little research reveals ‘Dara’s Choice’ to be one of the black sages, botanically Salvia mellifera. Apis mellifera is the scientific name for honeybees to which this plant is highly attractive. The foliage is wonderfully fragrant and its relatively low, mounding profile and broad spread makes it a great salvia selection for well-drained, sunny slopes. I am hopeful I will find one soon and who knows what other interesting plants I will meet along the way! Give us a few more weeks on this project for a complete coverage of what we’ve added to the mix of shrubs and perennials.

Falling into the new season…

With the advent of a few cooler days–read that as high 80s and 90s–I am anxious to get out in my garden. June 1st through August 31st tallied 53 days with temperatures over 100 degrees, with a not quite record breaking run of 30 consecutive days between July 6th and August 4th. I am not sure why I am compelled to cite these statistics–Fresno’s summer weather is largely unchanged from when my family first moved here more than 50 years ago. I am going to have to go with my ability to get through the hot and dry days on my hands and knees as the wild card; I am still going to blame that on Mother Nature, just a different department…oh! did I mention no rain since March?

The new front garden west bed which replaced a failing area of turf weathered the summer pretty well. The pic below which I shared in an April post was taken in March after the bed was partially planted with a Heinz 57 selection of waterwise woody and tender perennials, daylilies, iris divisions and anything else I ran across that looked good to try.

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At this point I was still considering a wide stone path from the street (near the eventual home of my in-progress Little Free Library) to the walk leading to my front porch and was visually defining the space with the brick.

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After my first planting wave I went ahead and mulched the bed down closely following the last good spring rain and in anticipation of the dry days to come. Notice the Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ which was part of the original small half circle bed at the base of the crape myrtle tree has come on strong after a late winter cut back. The stone path is still under consideration.

The bed filled in nicely as May turned to June…

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Even though this bed is south facing all but the very front has periods of dappled shade throughout the day. I abandoned the idea of the stone path and simply mulched everything down. The area had 2 sprinkler lines-one for the original bed perimeter and another for the turf. We were able to eliminate a number of heads immediately and have flagged the rest to watch through the summer. Although little in this area is thirsty, even drought tolerant plant material needs adequate water to get established.

Both the new and old plantings performed very well.

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I got good bloom periods from the daylilies, a variety of perennial dianthus, the new stand of lavender and a few of new semi-woody salvias. Only the Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ which I was coveting for its burgundy foliage has been almost a total failure. I lost 2 of the original 3 planted. Replaced those and lost them again! In the very first pic of this post you can barely see them newly planted in the lower left corner. I am on the lookout for additional replacements and hopefully can get them in the ground soon enough to allow the roots to get well established through the winter.

Most of the plant material tolerated our dry heat really well for being in the ground less than 4 months as summer peaked. I did a little bucket watering here and there and believe that the bed will hold up next year on its own with only occasional irrigation.

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This is how the bed looked a few days ago. Yes–I finally got my Little Free Library in the ground! Even as much of the rest of the garden is looking a little draggy this area is still looking pretty good with plenty of healthy foliage.

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The area around this small rock has proven difficult for a group of iris divisions and may end up sporting another large rock. In my efforts to avoid having sprinkler risers along the sidewalk I inadvertently created a few bone dry areas which just don’t get any coverage from the bed’s interior irrigation.

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Three of my new woody salvias (top to bottom): Salvia¬†‘Dara’s Choice’, Salvia ‘Wild Bill’ and Salvia ‘Bon Bon’ all grew from scant quart container specimens to nicely behaved mounds of interesting foliage but, as yet, have not bloomed. These hardy growers were all purchased last fall at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale and overwintered in their containers before being planted in their current locations early this spring. I hope to make it to that sale again this year!

A couple of my other first year selections have not been so shy…

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Salvia repens x namensis ‘Savannah Blue’ is a hybrid of two South African sages and although its sky blue flowers are small, they are plentiful. The foliage is reminiscent of that of small leafed scented geraniums.

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Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ bloomed heavily for 6 weeks mid summer after having a light show of flowers in early spring. This is purported to be quite a large plant at maturity and I have given it a lot of open space. Can you imagine this show on a shrub 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall?

With our spirits buoyed by the success of this turf free landscape and that of last year’s driveway circle lawn replacement project AND the strong back (loving heart) of my newly retired husband I just had the remainder of our front lawn treated for removal. I’ll have several weeks to narrow down my vision for this large wide open area. I’ve fallen all right–just not sure into what!