Category Archives: salvia

Treats & Tips for the September Garden

salvia_m_Hot-LipsYou can feel the weather changing as summer winds down. It’s more than just the passing of the Labor Day holiday and the school year starting. The nights are longer and cooler. The days are not quite so hot and the flowers in the garden seem brighter and more colorful. I look past the soft blue and lavender blossoms and am drawn to the warm shades of gold, rust, orange, hot pink and red. They shout autumn is on the way.

There’s nothing quite like adding a few new perennials to brighten up the garden. There are many that don’t require a lot of water after they become established. I recently visited a garden where the irrigation was reduced to the point that that most of the plants were barely hanging on. But there among the crispy plants were two Hot Lips salvia blooming as big as you please. This plant is popular for a reason. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it and it blooms for a long time. It stays compact and is a great carefree shrub for water wise gardens.

Daisy flowers always bring a smile to my face. As members of the composite family they have echinacea_Wild_Berrya flat landing surface for butterflies to land on. Coneflowers are one of my favorites. When they start blooming in the early summer I enjoy them both in the garden and as cut flowers inside. Some have a slight fragrance. Hybridizers have introduced beautiful shades of gold, yellow, orange, burgundy and coral in addition to the traditional purple and pure white. Because they are dormant in the winter they are good candidates for the garden that has summer sun but winter shade. They are not attractive to deer and are good additions to the low water garden.

gaillardiaAnother perennial that blooms throughout summer and fall is gaillardia also known as blanket flower. I’ve seen this tough plant grow in neglected gardens that the owner swears does nothing to keep it going. They are covered with dozens of large reddish-orange flowers with yellow edging and bloom over a long period. This plant also attracts butterflies. You can start perennials from seed at this time of year for next year’s bloom.

Don’t overlook the color of other foliage plants like Orange Libertia, Abelia ‘Kaleidescope’, New Zealand flax, red fountain grass and Japanese bloodgrass in the garden.

Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like agapanthus, coreopsis, daylily and penstemon that are overgrown and not flowering well. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart but sometimes they don’t bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves.

Another thing to do while out in the garden this month is to cut back berries vines that have produced fruit. Canes of the current season should be trained in their place.

Spider mites are especially prolific during hot, dry weather. Sometimes you don’t even know how bad the infestation is until all your leaves are pale with stippling. Periodically rinse dust and dirt off leaves with water. Spray the undersides of infected leaves with organics like insecticidal soap switching to neem oil if they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides.

Soon it will be time to start cool season veggies or plant cover crops in the garden. It’s never too soon to start planning for erosion control in those areas that caused you problems during last spring’s storms. But for now add some early fall color and have fun in the garden.

Beneficial Gardens in a Small Space

waterfall_2He told me that his was a one-of-a-kind garden, unique in such a small space and would I be interested in visiting some time? I love being invited to tour all types of gardens but I had an inkling that the garden of Rich Merrill, former Director of the Horticulture Dept. and Professor Emeritus at Cabrillo College, would be something special.

It was a beautiful morning when I arrived at Merrill's garden overflowing with flowering plants, small trees, edibles and water features. Many large boulders, surrounded by pebbles, caught my attention in such a small space. All part of the design to attract beneficial insects I was told. His organic garden is teeming with small beetles, spiders, predatory bugs, syrphid flies, parasitic wasps and lacewings. It's the ideal method of pest control, environmentally safe and free of cost.

While admiring his lovely garden, Merrill shared his knowledge of beneficials- from insects to birds to spiders to frogs and beetles. They are all part of the ecology of a successful habitat garden. I could barely keep up, writing down notes on my yellow legal pad as he weaved a story about how each of the elements in his garden contributes to its total health. I was never able to take one of his classes at Cabrillo College so this was a real treat. My own private class.

The wide diversity of plants in Merrill's garden provide moisture, shelter, prey and nutrition in the form of santivalia2nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein. His plants are "beneficial" plants because they foster beneficial insects. It just so happens  that many of these plants are also beautiful in the garden. Some of his favorites include composite flowers like sunflowers, marigolds buckwheat, scabiosa and santivalia or creeping zinnia.  They have flat  flower clusters with accessible landing platforms and small nectar and pollen to make it easier for insects to feed. They in turn eat the tiny eggs of the bad bugs in your garden. His is a complete ecosystem.

This 800 square foot garden happens to be in a mobile home park but any small space could be designed to be as beautiful and full of life as Merrill's. Most of my clients ask for a garden filled with color, hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies and wildlife so I came away with lots of great ideas.

blue_thunbergia2Once a teacher, always a teacher. Merrill gave me a handout he'd prepared for Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden, explaining in more detail why he lets the broccoli go to flower to attract beneficials and why he allows aphids on his cruciferous vegetables to feed the beneficial insects when prey is scarce so they are on hand should he have an outbreak of bad insects that might ruin his flowers and plants.

As we strolled within a border of palms, olive trees, phormium, bottlebrush, Marjorie Channon pittosporum and cordyline, Merrill showed me his philosophy of right plant in the right place in action. Asclepias curassavica, commonly called Mexican Butterfly Weed, has self sown on its own in unexpected spots. One happened to come up next to the gorgeous blue thunbergia by the pondless waterfall making an awesome combination. Both monarch butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar.

Next to a red salvia, a red and white bicolor Rose of Sharon made it's home. Merrill lets all his plants intertwine and the pink flowering Heckrottii honeysuckle was already inching up into an olive tree. Other salvias in his garden include Hot Lips, San Antonio and San Jacinto. There isn't room to grow any of the larger salvias, Merrill explained. He swears he doesn't know where the brilliant blue one came from. Must be from the "fairy dust" his wife, Dida says he sprinkled over the garden to make everything grow so lush.

She loves flowers for fragrance and cutting so in several beds they grow gardenia, lemons, roses and alstroemeria among the alyssum which is a prime syrphid fly attractor. Several bird of paradise, obtained from different locales in the hopes one will be hardier grow beneath a tall palm.

Merrill grows only the vegetables that do well and are the most nutritious like kale, onions, garlic, broccoli and collards. He enjoyed growing cucumbers this year and has a large pumpkin in the making for his grandson. The rest he gets from the farmer's market. He had developed his own strain of elephant garlic which is actually a leek and has a milder flavor than garlic. I left his garden with a gift of elephant garlic and lots of inspiration.

Colorful Plant Combinations for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Fall is the perfect time of year for many things– long drives, walks in the forest, beautiful sunsets. It's also a great time of year to transplant those plants in your garden that aren't in quite the right place and to create new exciting combinations of foliage, color and texture that are just perfect.

I"m always newly inspired when I see common plants combined in ways I hadn't thought of. Some vignettes are simple repetitions of just two plants while others might include 3-4 plants with different characteristics. A recent meeting of APLD ( Association of Professional Landscape Designers ) of which I am a member, showcased fabulous ideas for plant combinations. In addition to these plants looking great together visually they share the same cultural requirements which is a must. No sense planting a water-loving partial shade plant next to a low water use plant that requires full sun.

Here are some of the awesome plant combinations from gardens I have designed and from fellow designers that I think are particularly appropriate for our area.

In a sunny garden colorful flowers surrounded by soothing green foliage creates a space to linger. The hummingbirds and butterflies attracted to the nectar of the flowers are an added bonus. The plants that create this beautiful scene combine strong, linear leaves from phormium 'Amazing Red'  with the golden foliage of abelia 'Kaleidescope'. Bright red and white flowers of the hummingbird-magnet salvia 'Hot Lips' combined with the soft green needles of grevillea lanigera 'Mt.Tamboritha' and the salmon pink flower spikes of phygelius (Cape Fuchsia) invite you to sit awhile in this garden.

Plant combinations that echo each other in color work well together. Think of the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in England. Phormium 'Cream Delight' looks great with so many plants the combinations are nearly endless. Consider growing it with Elijah Blue fescue grass and surrounding the group with a hardy groundcover like the succulent semperviven ( Hens and Chicks ).

Silver or grey foliage always looks smart when paired with pink shades.  Again that go-to plant that adds architectural interest, Phormium 'Evening Glow', provides the pink element with bronze edged leaves with red centers as does the dusty rose color of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' flower clusters.  Add the silver foliage of euphorbia wulfenii ' Glacier Blue' and Russian sage to complete the look.

Another group of plants that combine well have flowers of similar color. Hardy geranium 'Rozanne' with violet blue flowers pairs well with the soft blue ground morning glory, lavender-blue flowering catmint and penstemon 'Blue Bedder'. These perennials all grow in full sun but can tolerate some shade and like moderate watering.

Other combinations that might look great in your own garden include natives mimulus, juncus patens and deer grass with Pacific wax myrtle.  Or try growing Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina' alongside the blue tones of festuca californica. Under native oaks, heuchera maxima along with iris douglasonii won't require much summer water which will make the oaks happy too.

At this time of year I'm always drawn to combinations with warm, rusty tones. Purple smoke bush fall foliage pops when combined with gold flowering rudbeckia Goldsturm and purple coneflowers. Or how about Apricot Sunrise agastache growing with Spanish lavender and Big Ears lamb's ears?  Then again you might like the gold flowers of Harmony kangaroo paw blooming for months alongside Carex testacea (Orange Sedge).

Shady spots needing some pizazz could look to the huge leaves of bergenia 'Bressingham Ruby' with their brilliant magenta late winter flower spikes and combine it with golden yellow sweet flag (Acorus 'Ogon'). Another combination I like for the shade is asparagus spregeri and blue flowering Dalmation Bellflower groundcover.

Whether you're transplanting existing plants in new exciting combinations or creating new ones, fall is a great time to spend time in the garden.
 

Fall Wildflowers & October to-do’s

Above the clear turquoise water of the Big Sur coastline, wildflowers still bloom in October. Bright orange Sticky Monkeyflower meander among a carpet of rosy blooming California Buckwheat. Deep orange California fuchsia flower on hillsides alongside the bright white flower heads of yarrow. They make a striking combination. Under the partial shade of pine trees lavender Seaside Daisy explode with color. Even poison oak contributes deep rusty-red tones to the landscape making it easier to identify and avoid. This wild land offers lessons and ideas to make our own gardens more beautiful.

Big Sur has areas of chaparral, oak and pine woodlands, riparian or streamside woodlands and redwood-tanbark-oak woodlands. Nearly half of all the flora of California grows here and many northern and southern California plants mix in this unique location. . Only in Big Sur will redwoods and yuccas thrive together. The look is startling. Certainly not a combination you would think of for your own garden.

Near McWay Falls on Hwy 1, fragments of an elaborate stone house still remain along with some of the landscaping. Christopher McWay and his wife Rachel settled the area in the late 19th century.The land passed through several owners until former U.S. House of Representative Lathrop Brown and his wife Helen acquired it and built a beautiful stone structure overlooking McWay Cove. The house was torn down 50 years ago but many of the landscape plants still thrive after all these years.  Hardy pittosporum eugenoides have survived without any supplemental watering. A huge stand of blooming Naked Ladies covers the rocky slope. We all know what survivors these bulbs are. Tall Mexican palms and ornamental trees surround the fragments of stone staircases and walls reminding us that nature will endure.

What allows all plants to thrive in their environment is the simple set of conditions that they like. It's nearly impossible to grow ferns in the hot sun around here and don't even think about trying a California fuchsia in the shade. Soil is important, too. Rich, moist soil is perfect for wild ginger but gravelly, well drained soil works best for Five-fingered ferns. Match the right plant with the right spot and you'll have success every time. Big Sur is a chock full of success stories.

Here are more tips for early fall in the garden.

Fall is not a good time for major pruning.  Wounds heal slowly, leaving them more susceptible to disease.  As a general rule, don't prune when leaves are falling or forming.  Wait to prune most trees until late in the dormant season or in late spring after leaves and needles form.  To avoid sap flow on birches and maples, prune after leaves mature.  

Do refresh perennials, such as butterfly bush, salvia and yarrow by cutting a third to half of their growth.

Rake leaves– compost or put in your green can. If large leaves are left in place they will mat down and set up fungal problems come spring.
 

Terra Sole Nursery Trials New Plants

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start your own little nursery on your property? What would you grow? How would you decide?  Over the years, I've been asked by home owners with a bit of extra property what would be good to grow. What is there a market for? So I decided to ask some friends who trial plants on their Watsonville property and operate a small nursery there how it all works.

Terra Sole Nurseries was founded in 2004 by John and Sherry Hall with the goal of experimenting and growing native, unusual and drought tolerant plants that are adapted to our dry summer climate. "We push the limits on water use in our test garden until we fall too much in love with a plant and can't bear to see it die with our tough love approach", Sherry said as we talked about the their operation.

Just back from attending the California Spring Trials,  Sherry and John were excited to share how they decide what to grow In their nursery. Their focus is to grow a large variety of native and unusual plants, some of which are old-fashioned, some are hot new introductions. What treasures did they find this year?

During the course of a week at the Spring Trials,  the world's prominent plant breeders, propagation specialists, growers, marketing professionals and plant enthusiasts share the latest and greatest at several open houses throughout California. The robust plant varieties of today are a direct result of the countless hours and decades of study from the dedicated professionals spending their time observing, testing and experimenting the new varieties that are more disease resistant, more floriferous, the best performers and are easy to grow in ordinary landscapes and gardens.  

How does a plant get from an idea in a breeder's mind to your local nursery? It all starts with the breeders who might cross pollinate thousands of plants to select maybe a hundred of the best ones. Then the growers buy an unrooted cutting or the seed or plugs of rooted plants and grow them onto a larger size. This is where the finish growers buy the plugs and liners to put into bigger pots growing them to retail or sellable size. Terra Sole Nurseries bought some of the newest plants on the market this year themselves.

What are some of the newest trends that we might see in our neighborhood nursery this year? The breeders of impatiens have developed a variety that appears to have a gingerbread man in the center. Called Patchwork this  impatien has a bigger flower and comes in six bi-colors.

Grafted vegetables, higher in antioxidants, are being developed. Non GMO vegetable varieties are grafted onto vigorous rootstalks to produce a plant disease resistant higher in nutrients. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers. peppers and lettuce are just some of the vegetables being grown.

Biodegradable pots made from wheat are another of the new trends being offered for sale at the Spring Trials. The pots look like plastic yet breakdown after being used and can be recycled in your compost system. They hold up to the normal environmental pressures of heat, water and cold.

Sunset Western Gardening and HGTV are both offering their own branded plants that are available this year. Patented varieties coming out include a compact hardenbergia called Meena, two upright. compact nandinas- Flirt and Obsessive with bright red winter color and a compact mahonia called Soft Caress with non-prickly foliage. A cold hardy salvia named Amistad that has a very long bloom time will also be coming out soon.

To simplify choices for gardeners, better dahlias, calibrachoa, petunias and pansies are coming on the market this season. Several types are grown in the same pot so the buyer need only to plant one of these in a basket or container to get a combination that will look good and grow happily all season.

With so many plant choices which ones do Terra Sole Nurseries trial in their own garden and grow in their nursery? Next week I'll talk about what Sherry and John have their eye on, which plants they grow and the results of their own plant trials. You can find out more about the nursery at www.terrasolenurseries.com.

Salvia’s

"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow."   Anonymous

And if Salvias have any say in the matter, there will be lots of tomorrows. This large genus of plants in the mint family contains about 900 species, excluding hybrids and cultivars. They are native to Europe, Africa, Asia, Mediterranean, and Central and South America including our southwest. The name salvia is from the Latin word, salvere ( to save ) referring to the long-held belief in the herb’s healing properties.

There’s a salvia of every color and purpose for the garden. Recently I enjoyed touring the salvia garden at Cabrillo College and also revisited my friend, the "Hillbilly Gardener", and his collection of salvias in Scotts Valley. I was joined by dozens of hummingbirds and even more happy bees. The showy display of flowers ranging from blue to red, apricot, soft yellow, purple, pink and even white was breathtaking.

Ernie Wasson, the nursery and garden curator with the Ornamental Horticulture Dept at Cabrillo, explained that they grow 150 types at the college all of them propagated there. Three years ago, he hosted a Salvia Summit which attracted many visitors from as far away as Kew Gardens in England, Australia and New Zealand.

Many salvias have hairs growing on the leaves, stems and flowers which help to reduce water loss. Sometimes the hairs secrete volatile oils that give a distinct aroma to the plants. This often results in the plants being unattractive to grazing animals and some insects. Other species are tolerant of wet feet and grow in boggy conditions.

Some of the standout varieties at the Cabrillo garden included Salvia gesneriiflora Tequila or Big Mexican Scarlet Sage. Blooming with huge red, tubular flowers in the shade we sampled the sweet nectar again and again. Two sages that smelled like Vick’s were Salvia somalensis from Somalia and African Blue Sage. The bees  loved Salvia Mystic Spires best while we loved the fragrant leaves of Salvia dorisiana or Tutti Frutti sage from Honduras. Salvia cinnabarina smelled like – well, you can guess – cinnamon. The truest blue plant in the world, the Gentian sage or salvia patens was a show stopper. It spreads slowly from tuberous roots.

Have a wet spot? Try salvia uliginosa or Bog salvia. Want a smaller variety that lasts for along time? Try a microphylla type like Hot Lips. Salvia greggii varieties, although stunning, do not survive as long in the garden. I learned that the famous Hot Lips salvia was brought back from Oaxaca, Mexico from cuttings by Dick Turner of Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco. The original plant was bought by a maid for a housewarming gift. If you’ve ever wondered why the flowers of this plant are sometimes bicolor and other times mostly red, it has to do with the season. When the nights are warm in summer, the new flowers are all red with an occasional solid white one. As fall approaches, the flowers again will be bicolored red and white.

Another showy variety growing both at Cabrillo and at my salvia aficionado’s garden in Scotts Valley was Salvia confertiflora or Red Velvet sage. This spectacular late blooming sage from Brazil grows 5-8 ft tall with large foot long flower stalks that work well in flower arrangements both as a fresh cut flower or dried.  It will grow in light shade under redwoods. Salvia chiapensis blooms from spring to fall in this Scotts Valley garden. Another long blooming favorite is Phyllis’ Fancy that has just begun to flower but will continue till frost. This lovely sage with lush looking foliage grows 4 ft tall by 4 ft wide and fits into most gardens.

I saw over 20 varieties of salvia in this Scotts Valley garden but I’m sure there are many more tucked away that weren’t blooming. From the brilliant red of Holway’s sage to the soft magenta of Louis Saso salvia to the compact Dara’s choice, this garden has a salvia for every spot and a spot for every salvia.