Salvia (commonly referred to as ‘Sage’) represents a huge family of flowers that live across much of our planet. Naturally, given their wide range of habitats, these plants attract a variety of pollinators to their nectar rich flowers. I like to divide them into two main regional groups as a handy way to understand the growing conditions in which they’ll do best and how to incorporate them into our water-wise landscapes.
Old World Immigrants
The most commonly used Salvia originate from the ‘Old World’, the continents of Europe and Asia. These ‘Old World’ species and cultivars have been in cultivation for a long time and there are many great plants to choose from. From a pollinator perspective, this group of Salvia are incredibly attractive to honey bees, many of our native bees and bumble bees as well as butterflies.
Clay Lovers and Clay Loving Companions
In appearance, these ‘Old World’ Sages bloom primarily in shades of blue, pink and white. They are generally well adapted to cold climates and a wide range of soils including clay. This makes them very versatile in the landscape. These Salvia are best paired with other colorful clay lovers like:
- Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)
- Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)
- Day Lilies (Hemerocallis)
- Yarrow (Achillea)
Note: These Salvia grow in other soils equally well and can be paired with an infinite number of other plants that like loams and sandy soils. However, it seems we are always struggling to find clay lovers, so I like to call our attention to this fact.
My favorite Old World Salvia include:
- Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’ – a compact grower with very dark blue flower spikes on a re-blooming plant. Shear after first bloom to stimulate another late summer display.
- Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ – The tallest of the S. nemorosa hybrids with black flower stems and deep blue flowers.
- Salvia sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ – Beautiful clear blue flowers and a tidy rounded shape. Every plant looks better alongside ‘Blue Hill’
- Salvia daghestanica – A superb species with silver foliage and large, clear blue flowers make this beauty a “must have” addition to your garden.
- Salvia officinalis ‘Minimus’ – a culinary type with fabulous deep blue flowers and delicious, fine textured foliage.
New World Beauties
The western half of the United States and Mexico is home to a wide range of species that have been brought into cultivation. They are very popular because of their incredible diversity and showy flowers. Most often, it is the hummingbird that is the pollinator of choice for these plants. The more of these Salvia you plant in your containers and flower beds, the more hummingbirds you will attract.
Well Drained Soils are Best
Typically, this group of Salvia prefer ‘lean’ (not very fertile), well drained soils. They will grow in dry clay conditions in arid climates but will rot out in clay soils where there is more than about 15 to 18” of precipitation annually. I’ve been working on breeding and selecting for improved cold hardiness in the High Country Garden’s native Salvia introductions.
Favorite Companion Plants
Our native Salvia like to be planted with other native and ‘Old World’ perennials that also enjoy lots of sun and hotter growing conditions. Some of my favorite Sage neighbors include:
- Sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus)
- Black Foot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
- Apple Blossom Grass (Gaura lindheimeri)
- Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora and Gaillardia aristata)
- English and French hybrid Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula intermedia)
- Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’)
My Favorite Native Salvia include:
- Salvia Raspberry Delight® – a High Country Gardens Introduction that has proven to be one of the most cold hardy once established. Blooms all summer long with fabulous raspberry-red flowers. Fabulously aromatic foliage too.
- Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’ – good and cold hardy with fantastic bright pink flowers.
- Saliva reptans and S. reptans ‘Summer Skies’ – a species from West Texas and recently introduced by High Country Gardens. These two give at least six weeks of September/October hummingbird attracting flowers.
- Salvia ‘Maraschino’ – just like the cherry in your ‘Shirley Temple’, this brightly colored cultivar has excellent cold hardiness and does best with some afternoon shade. Hummingbirds by the dozens!
- Salvia dorrii v. incana ‘Robusta’ – an evergreen shrub that I selected for its large mature size and impressive display of blue flowers in late spring. This is a good one!
Browsing animals and new transplants are a bad combination. Nothing is more annoying than going out the morning after the previous day’s labor of planting, only to find all your plants bitten off at the soil line. The lesson here is that it’s important to understand that deer resistant plants need some initial protection from our hoofed neighbors after planting.
Experience has shown me that deer resistant plants generally don’t come that way from the nursery. This is because nursery grown plants are grown in soil-less mixes that use ingredients such composted bark, sphagnum peat moss , perlite, vermiculite, coir, rice hulls and soluble nutrients to create a well drained, well aerated mix in which we can grow potted plants. Most plants that depend on aromatic oils and bitter compounds to repel animals don’t seem to be able to synthesize them in sufficient quantities when grown in non-soil growing environments. But transplants, after a few months growing in real soil, begin to accumulate these deer resistant compounds in their leaves and stems and their deer resistance increases greatly.
So I strongly recommend deer repellent sprays when it comes to protecting young transplants from being eaten.
Research on deer eating habits have shown that the most effective way to protect your plants with repellents is to rotate their use so the deer don’t become accustomed to any one repellent formula. It is also important to remember to re-apply the spray as the plants grow and new leaves appear. So every 10 to 14 days is a good interval to spray the repellent.
I once attended a lecture given by an inspired gardener who is a rose specialist and loved to grow Roses and Clematis in Spokane, WA. But apparently deer are a constant hazard in that area and love to eat roses, so she would always plant lavender in the planting hole, and this works quite well for her. So planting strongly aromatic plants alongside other more palatable ones can be an effective and beautiful way to prevent deer damage.
Here are some of my favorite hardy herbs with strongly scented leaves that deer hate:
- Salvia officinalis (Little Leaf Garden Sage) – fabulous deep blue flowers and gorgeous, culinary quality leaves.
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’, ‘Alcalde Cold Hardy’ (Cold Hardy Rosemary) – two of the most cold hardy Rosemary cultivars. Gorgeous and culinary.
- Lavandula angustifolia cultivars (English Lavender) – choose twice blooming English cultivars like ‘Sharon Roberts’, ‘Buena Vista’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’ to have blooming lavender in late spring and early fall.
In times of drought and a lack of natural forage, additional measures may need to be taken because browsing animals are simply too hungry to be put off by unpleasant tastes and smells that repellents use to detract the animals. Physical barriers are necessary. Poultry wire cages and bamboo stakes are effective as is covering plants with light spun fabric known as “row crop cover” used by vegetable gardeners to protect from frost and insects.
Sometimes when deer pressure is simply overwhelming during all times of the year, a deer-proof fence is the gardener’s last resort. A deer fence can be very inconspicuous when using a thin-mesh fencing wire and small diameter posts. It typically needs to be 6 feet in height to keep the deer from jumping the fence.
Text and Photos by David Salman
There are many styles of rock gardening. Europeans were the first to develop rock gardening as a way to mimic the Alps and other European mountain ranges and plant them with alpine plants, and this style of rock gardening remains extremely popular here and across “the Pond.” But rock gardening has evolved and reflects an expanded interest in small growing plants, many of which are not of alpine origin.
Rock Gardening in Arid Climates
Rock gardening is my favorite style of gardening, and the front yard of my Santa Fe home is planted as an expansive rock garden with a wide variety of xeric plants, large and small. Having been a gardener in the Rocky Mountains for most of my life, rocks and plants are a natural combination that I see all around me. I have adapted my style of rock gardening to reflect a xeric palette of plants best suited to the searing high elevation sun and dry growing conditions here in New Mexico. That, and I can’t afford the water needed to keep alpines happy.
The Importance of Rock
The rocks in rock gardens are just as important as the plants. For a more natural look, I think it is important to use a single type of rock as the foundation of a rock garden. And these rocks should be used in conjunction with soil berms (small hills) to give the rock garden topography that simulates a mountain and valley environment. In dry climates I always recommend sloping the rocks back into the slope so to facilitate water flowing into the berm. In moister climates, rocks should be arranged to shed water away from the berm.
A Well Drained Soil Mix
It is of vital importance to create a fast draining soil mix to build your berms with because many rock garden plants need excellent drainage. Especially in winter when a soil that is too moisture retentive can cause root rot. I like a mix of half coarse sand/crushed gravel with a good garden loam amended with some compost and rock dust (a trace mineral-rich blend like Planters II). Then I mulch with 1 to 2” thick layer of crushed (angular) 3/8” diameter gravel.
Rock Garden Plants
Over the years, I have developed a palette of small growing perennials, cold hardy succulents (native and South African) and cacti as a basis for the xeric rock garden.
Some of my favorites include:
Agave toumeyana ‘Bella” – a cold hardy, miniature century plant
Aloinopsis ‘Psychedelic’ (and other South African succulents) – extravagant flowers and incredible, other worldly succulent foliage
Aquilegia flabellata ‘Nana’ – a tiny blue flowered Columbine
Arenaria sp. Wallowa Mountains – a deep green xeric moss look alike
Delosperma ‘Gold Nugget’ – a sub-alpine Iceplant for north facing crevices
Dianthus ‘Nyewood Cream’ – incredibly fragrant
Erigeron scopulinus – a very rare native fleabane with cheerful white daisy flowers and tiny bright green leaves
Geranium dalmaticum – fantastic miniature perennial geranium
Penstemon pinifolius ‘Compactum’ – brilliant scarlet flowers over evergreen foliage that resembles tiny pine needles
Penstemon virens – small and colorful Beardtongue
Phlox kelseyi ‘Lemhi Purple’ – a stunning small grower with fragrant blue and dark blue flowers
Thymus neceffii – fantastic foliage and flowers
Veronica bombycina – superb nearly white foliage and bright blue spring flowers
There as so many great rock garden plant species, but these are really good, easy-to-grow plants to get started in this fascinating style of gardening.
Text and Photos by David Salman
How do you pronounce the Latin genus known as Agastache? In Colorado and New Mexico, where we can grow a wide variety of these wonderful perennials, we generally say the name as A gas tä key, A gas tā key or A gas tä key. I’ve also heard it spoken as A ga stash ē or A gas tash. However, if you’re still not comfortable uttering the name in public, call these superb plants by one of their common names; hummingbird mint or hyssop.
The Blue Ones
In general the blue flowered varieties are the more moisture tolerant of the two color groups. They are also a bit more tolerant of enriched soils. Of the entire genus ‘Blue Fortune’ and the Mid-Western species Agastache foeniculatum (Anise Hyssop) are the most reliably cold hardy. This group of Agastache, are best for feeding butterflies and bees with their abundant nectar .
The Orange, Pinks and Red Ones
The species and hybrids of Southwestern origin (the large flowered orange, pink and red ones) thrive in the cold, arid climates of the Intermountain West. But they are more sensitive than the Blue Ones, to cold, wet winter soils. So they can be challenging to grow in USDA zone 5 & 6, regions further east where rain and snow amounts are in excess of about 25” or more per year.
Of course we gardeners love to push the boundaries when trying new plants. So to grow these incredible flowers in wet zones 5 and 6, I recommend planting them in a container garden or pot where they will thrive. Then you can treat them as an “annual” or bring them into a greenhouse, cold frame or cold sun room for the winter. They will be fine for 2 to 3 years in a pot. In moister, warmer winter climates such as Washington D.C. (USDA zones 7) , the Southwestern species and hybrids are very happy as long as the soil drainage is excellent. NO CLAY!!
The orange, pink and red Agastache are unsurpassed at attracting hummingbirds. If you have them planted, the hummingbirds will find them!
The Secret to Cultivating Agastache
The important thing to remember about successfully growing the Hummingbirds Mints is “tough love.”
- As a general rule, these plants like to grow in hot, dry conditions once established.
- As for their soil, the “leaner” (less fertile) and more well drained, the better. Stay away from rich loams and heavy clay.
- Fertilize organically with a little quality compost and Yum Yum Mix in the fall. Chemical fertilizers will push these plants too much and weaken their tolerance to cold.
- Leave the stems standing over the winter months to increase cold hardiness. Cut back hard in mid-spring.
- Mulching is only necessary in arid climates. Use crushed gravel, pine needles or crushed nut shells at a depth of 1 to 2 inches.
Agastache will act like annuals when grown in rich, fertile soils with too much water and fertilizer. They’ll grow and flower lushly but are most likely to perish over the winter.
The Best Garden Tested Varieties
Unfortunately, many of the newer Agastache hybrids have had limited testing in outdoor growing conditions. Based on my extensive garden experience with these perennials in the Intermountain West, here are some of my top picks.
Agastache Acapulco® ‘Orange’ – Originally bred in Holland by Keift Seed Co. in the late 1990’s, Acapulco ‘Orange’ is a superior cultivar with excellent cold hardiness and vigor. Long-blooming, clear orange flowers and minty foliage are its best attributes.
Agastache ‘Desert Sostice’ – A 2012 High Country Gardens exclusive introduction that I bred, this tough hybrid is a cross between the two best Southwestern species Agastache cana and A. rupestris. A semi-dwarf grower, it has stunning flower spikes with pink and orange flowers and a strong, pleasing herbal scent.
Astastache ‘Ava’ – My best hybrid introduced through High Country Gardens in 2004. If this cultivar is a good fit for your growing conditions, it will be one of your showiest perennials. Blooming for many months beginning in mid-summer, the bright rose-red flowers and non-fading calyxes are stunning.
Agastache cana ‘Rosita’ – A High Country exclusive. A semi-dwarf form of the species, A. cana that I found some years ago grown from habitat collected seed from southern New Mexico. It has about 50% more bright rose-pink flowers (corollas) in the spike than is typical, so the flower spikes are particularly plump and full. ‘Rosita’ has a most delicious sweet herbal fragrance too.
Text and Photos by David Salman
Bulbs provide gardeners with a quick and generally inexpensive way to add color to our gardens and landscapes. There are two groups of bulbs we use throughout much of the United States;
- Fall planted bulbs that bloom from early spring to early summer (Daffodils, Tulips, Allium, Muscari, Crocus and many others)
- Spring planted bulbs that bloom beginning from mid- summer into the fall (Dahlia, Gladiolus, Crocosmia, Crinum, Canna Lilies, Calla Lilies and many others)
Many of the spring planted bulbs can be used like annual flowers and are a great way to fill in newly planted perennial beds or combine with annual bedding plants (like petunias, marigolds, lobelia and alyssum) in ground beds and potted container gardens. While other spring planted bulbs are winter cold hardy and perennial. The key to spring planted bulbs is to be sure they are compatible to your region’s summer temperatures. Some like it hot, while others are best suited to cooler climates at higher elevations.
Bulbs that are used as annuals
A number of spring planted bulbs are only perennial in zones 9-10 tolerating winter temperatures only to about 20° F. So for most of the country they are most commonly replanted each growing season as “annuals” that freeze out over the winter. For some gardeners, it is worth their while to dig (“lift”) these cold tender bulbs after hard frost and store them for replanting the next year. However you want to handle them, they provide us with magnificent flowers the same growing season that we plant them. Here is a short list of “annual” bulbs;
Dahlia (Dahlia) – native to Mexico and Central America this genus has been extensively hybridized to create a huge assortment of cultivars with many different flower shapes, colors and sizes.
Gladiola (Gladiolus) – spectacular spikes of colorful flowers that are excellent as long lasting cut flowers.
Mexican Shell Flower (Tigridia pavonia) – a heat and humidity loving wildflower from Mexico blooming in a rainbow of brilliant colors.
Freesia (Freesia) – incredibly fragrant flowers that are outstanding in container gardens.
Persian Buttercups (Ranunculus) – exquisite flowers in a wide range of brilliant colors that are best grown in areas with cooler summer temperatures or as a winter annual in hot summer regions.
Canna Lily (Canna) – heat lovers that thrive in heat and humidity but are not recommended for higher elevations where the nights are too cold.
Calla Lily (Zantedeschia) – native to South Africa, they are grown throughout the world and thrive in climates with summer heat and humidity.
NOTE: Don’t be in a rush to plant the heat loving varieties like Canna Lily, Dahlia, Calla Lily and Mexican Shell Flower. Wait until the last frost has past and the soil has begun to warm up. When it’s time to plant tomatoes, it’s time to plant these bulbs.
Cold Hardy Perennial Bulbs
Among the spring planted bulbs there are a number of cold hardy varieties that are reliably perennial and can be used in the mixed perennial flower border with great results.
Winter Hardy Gladiola (Gladiolus nanus hybrids) – these gorgeous “Glads” are cold hardy to USDA zone 5 when well mulched before the onset of winter.
European Lily (Lilium martagon) – fabulous winter hardy lilies that are long lived with large, colorful flowers that are extremely attractive to butterflies.
Pink Guernsey Lily (Nerine bowdenii) – a showy South African lily-like species that blooms in the late summer/early fall before the foliage emerges in spring.
Foxtail Lily (Eremurus stenophyllus) – A fantastic xeric flowering bulb from western Asia that blooms in early summer and thrives in the drier climates of the Intermountain West and Great Plains.
Crocosmia (Crocosmia) – a showy group of African species that bloom in mid- to late summer, these are best grown in moister climates as they dislike heat and drought.
Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes) – a large group of native bulbs that range from the Gulf States down into Central America. Rain Lilies bloom off and on all summer, especially after a good soaking rain. They are excellent naturalizing bulbs that create colorful, long lived colonies in USDA zones 7 to 11.
I’ve always been fascinated by seeds. The fact that plants can create little dormant pieces of themselves to broadcast out into the world to germinate is quite marvelous. Even more amazing, is how long some seeds can survive before being given the chance to sprout. There have been discoveries of bean seeds uncovered in archaeological digs that are over a thousand years old, and they were still viable and able to germinate! While not all seeds have that ability to hold a spark of life for so many centuries, it’s not uncommon for seeds that have been stored in a dry, cool place to maintain their viability for a decade.
For gardeners, seeds are an essential piece of horticultural, allowing us to propagate and grow thousands of species of ornamental and edible plants. And we can do this in two basic ways:
- Germinate the seeds and transplant the seedlings into containers for future relocation into our gardens and landscapes.
- Sow and germinate seeds directly outdoors without having to cultivate and transplant seedlings.
Each method has its pros and cons. Success in either arena is mostly dependent on the skill of the gardener and favorable weather.
Sowing seeds directly into the landscape
Sowing seeds directly into the area where you want them to grow is a fun, challenging and cost effective way to garden. So here are a few basics that I have used over the years to optimize the outdoor seed sowing process and some easy-to-germinate wildflower species on which to practice.
Here is a short list of materials and supplies you’ll need to sow the seeds:
- A 4 gallon plastic bucket
- A bucket full or 40 lb. bag of coarse sand (not plastering sand – too fine)
- A container of Plant Success Granular mycorrhizal root inoculant
- A stiff bow rake
- Clean wheat or barley straw
- Sod roller or soil tamper
Calculate how much seed is needed to cover the area to be seeded. Measure out the seed and the Granular mycorrhizal inoculant then mix the seed and inoculant into a bucket half filled with sand. Make sure the sand is slightly moist. I use the sand as “spreader” diluting the seeds to more evenly distribute them over the area to be sown. Rake shallow grooves into the bare soil before sowing, then turn the rake over and smooth the soil over the sown seed/sand mix. Using a sod roller, a soil tamper or your feet, compress the soil on top of the seeds then mulch with a half inch of the straw. Water the area thoroughly and keep it damp watering several times a day until you see the seedlings start to emerge.
Sow a pot full of your seed mix as a reference for future weeding. There is no point sowing a new meadow only to weed out the flower seedlings because you didn’t know the difference between the weeds and your seeds.
Some easy-to-germinate wild flower species
Annual wildflowers are a great way to “color up” new gardens and landscapes. Annuals will grow and bloom in one growing season. They also leave behind ample seeds to continue to inhabit their new home year after year. Sow annual flower seeds in late spring.
- Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)– a tough, colorful, drought tolerant native wildflower that the bees and butterflies will love to pollinate. Color wise, it combines best with other yellow, orange, blue or purple flowers.
- Scarlet Flax (Linum grandiflorum rubrum) – an Old World wildflower species, Scarlet Flax has naturalized over much of the US. The large bright red flowers are a stunning addition to your waterwise landscape.
Perennial wildflowers are the essential plant component of meadows and prairies living for many years in the same place. Sow perennial flower seeds in early spring while the nights are still frosty. Or cold stratify the seeds* (see below) and sow in late spring or summer.
- Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) – a big colorful Midwestern wildflower that germinates readily without any pre-treatment.
- Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea ) – a member of the legume family, native Purple Prairie clover is not only a beautiful flower that attracts a wide variety of pollinators, but it takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil to help feed the soil and fertilize the plants. If sowing Dalea in the spring or summer, you’ll first need to cold stratify* the seed to simulate a period of winter dormancy. Take the Dalea seed and mix it into a ziplock baggie with 4 times the volume of slightly damp sand. Stick the bag in the ‘frig for 6 weeks (write the removal date on the baggie). After 6 weeks of sitting in the damp cold of the refrigerator, it is ready to sow.
To learn more and to view our wildflower seed mixes and species, visit us at www.HighCountryGardens.com
Text by David Salman
My love of Lavender has been with me for many years and is only getting stronger as I continue to propagate, plant and enjoy this wonderful herb from the Old World. Lavender, like olives, apples and grapes, has thousands of years of history co-existing with mankind. It is a horticultural treasure that continues to serve us by providing:
- Healing oils
- Foliage and dried flowers for culinary and herbal use
- Copious nectar for our honeybees, wild bumblebees and butterflies
- Unmatched beauty in our waterwise landscapes.
A number of species in the genus Lavandula are native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, North Africa and the islands off the coast of Europe and Africa in the eastern Atlantic. It has adapted to growing in dry climates with hot summers and mild to cold winters and in “lean”, well drained soils. The most commonly planted Lavandula in cultivation include Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and French hybrid lavender (Lavandula x intermedia).
Lavender is actually a small to medium sized sub-shrub with evergreen foliage and woody stems. The flower spikes we so enjoy are actually a two piece ensemble consisting of the calyx, a paper-like sheath, which holds the corolla, the flower. Quite often, the calyx and corolla are of different colors giving the flowers spike a bi-colored appearance. When we dry the lavender flower spike, the flowers actually fall off and it is the calyx that remains attached to the stem and contains the essential oils that we smell.
As you can see from the flower comparison photo, even among the different varieties (“cultivars”) of Lavender, there are differences in the shape and configuration of the flower spike.
- French hybrid varieties, like the superb cultivar ‘Gros Bleu’ have long stemmed spikes that are longer and larger than the English Lavender
- ‘Vera’, ‘Sharon Roberts’, ‘Royal Velvet’ and ‘Buena Vista’ have longer, thinner spikes
- English varieties like ‘Mitcham Gray’ , ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ and ‘Hidcote Superior’ have short stubby spikes
- Spanish lavender has a distinctly different flower with the calyxes tightly stacked on the stem and topped with a showy rabbit ear-like bract.
New For spring 2014
This year I’m introducing Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead Purple’. I don’t know that it is actually a direct descendent of ‘Munstead’ , but it is a seedling volunteer with ‘Munstead’ shaped flower spikes and there are ‘Munstead’ plants elsewhere in the Santa Fe landscape where I found the original plant. What attracted my eye to the plant are the unusually dark blue calyxes and dark flowers (corollas) that open a deep violet-purple and age to purple. It is more darkly colored than even ‘Hidcote’ which has long been considered one of the darkest English types. The foliage also has a bit more silver than most other English types. The color is very difficult to capture on film or digitally, so you’ll just need to trust me when I say it will thrill you with its darkness.
Lavender plants are at their best in the drier parts of the US like the Great Plains, Intermountain West and West Coast (which has a true Mediterranean climate; wet winters and dry summers). The key is to make sure you choose a variety with sufficient winter cold hardiness for your region. (‘Vera’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’ are among the most cold hardy.)
Yet with proper soil preparation, and planting site selection, Lavender can also thrive in moister, more humid climates like the Mid-West, East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states. The key is to plant in a spot that has:
- Full sun with good air circulation
- A fast draining, sandy or gravel soil (no rich “chocolate cake” type loams or clay soils)
- A raised or sloped bed, ideally against a hot wall or along a cement/asphalt walk or driveway where the reflected heat keeps growing conditions hotter and drier.
One of the most wonderful attributes of planting lavender in the garden is that the lavender’s foliage and flowers make all the perennials planted with them look better. They are superb companion plants for many other xeric perennials that thrive in the same growing conditions.
Here are just a few great perennial companions:
- Agastache (Hummingbird Mint)
- Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
- Penstemon (Beardtongue)
- Calylophus and Oenothera (Sundrops and Evening Primrose)
- Nepeta (Catmint)
- Salvia greggi ‘Furman’s Red’, ‘Ultra Violet’, ‘Raspberry Delight’ (Texas Bush Sage)
- Phlomis (Jerusalem Sage)
Text and Photos by David Salman
Each year, the National Gardening Bureau selects a perennial to be named as the “Perennial of the Year.” For 2014 they have chosen Echinacea to be the featured perennial.
The genus Echinacea (The Purple Coneflowers) is a family of North American wildflowers that have long been appreciated for their beautiful flowers, value to pollinators and medicinal properties. They are native to the eastern half of the U.S. and are most commonly found growing in prairie habitats.
There has been a tremendous amount of breeding work over the past few years developing double flowered cultivars and expanding the color palette into shades of orange and red.
While beautiful in the greenhouse, I’ve found most all of these new hybrids struggle in challenging climates, drier growing conditions and less than ideal garden soils.
Here in the Intermountain West and the Great Plains (as well as other regions with less than ideal growing conditions), I strongly recommend seed grown or division propagated Coneflowers. These plants retain the vigor and resilience that has been lost in those fancy tissue culture propagated hybrids.
Here are my recommendations for the best performing species and cultivars to provide plentiful flowers and ample nectar (for butterflies, bees, bumblebees and hummingbirds).
This seed grown strain of the very rare Tennessee native wild flower (once listed as endangered) was developed in Europe. Once established, ‘Rocky Top’ is relatively xeric and long lived and provides a bouquet of sun bonnet shaped flowers in mid-summer.
The paradox of this uncommon Purple Coneflower species is that its flowers are bright yellow. The huge flowers have long yellow petals that sweep back from the central cone. E. paradoxa has been one of the parent plants used to create the orange flowered hybrids, but is an outstanding wildflower in its unhybridized form.
This is a great new compact growing cultivar developed for its smaller but more numerous flowers. A strong performer, less than two feet tall, is ideal for the smaller garden and blooms heavily through much of the summer months.
Other lesser known varieties from European breeders that I prefer in my gardens and recommend to others include:
Text and photos by David Salman
As a kid I loved to buy the paint-by-numbers watercolor painting kits. I wasn’t a very talented artist but my canvases turned out pretty nicely and I was happy and encouraged to do more. So many years ago, when I first though about offering our High Country customers a way to plant a professionally designed perennial garden, the paint-by-numbers concept came back to me. I introduced our pre-planned gardens which come with planting diagrams that show you exactly where and how to space the plants to re-create the layout. It’s easy and the results are superb.
The inspiration for our newest garden came from a planting at a local college where they redesigned and replanted their front entrance.
I liked the designer’s core choice of plants and the fact that they planted the “inferno strip” between the street and sidewalk and the center median with colorful, waterwise perennials.
So working with the general design, I refined it with an expanded palette of plants so that the garden would bloom from late spring through fall and attract more pollinators.
I also decided to create two designs so the ‘Summer Showstopper’ could be used as a 3 ft by 16 ft. “inferno strip” or in a wider 6 ft. by 8 ft. rectangular bed to give more flexibility as to where it can be planted.
The plants used in the ‘Summer Showstopper’ are all:
- Recommended as easy-to-grow for beginning gardeners
- Waterwise (xeric) in areas with 30 inches or less of precipitation
- Pollinator friendly, natural nectar sources to attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies
- Long blooming or repeat blooming (come back into flower when the faded flowers are removed)
- Bloom with bright, bold colors combinations of blue, yellow, red and scarlet
- Thrive in a wide range of soil types including rocky, sandy, garden loam and dry clay
- Resistant to browsing rabbits and deer.
The garden also comes with a maintenance guide to help answer questions about the care of the individual plants as well as the garden as a whole.
Text and Photos by David Salman
Where I found it
I spend a lot of time driving between my home in Santa Fe and Denver, the Intermountain West’s horticultural epicenter. One summer on my way north, just over the border of Colorado, I spotted a huge field of Zinnia grandiflora in full bloom.
I stopped to investigate and to my delight found a patch of gold flowered plants in the middle of several acres of yellow blooming ones. I marked the plants and stopped there again that fall where I was able to collect several sacks of seed. In the spring, several dozen plants had grown from the seed collected that previous fall.
As the plants matured I noticed that these golden flowered plants had excellent vigor and grew to unusually large size. From among these Zinnia giants I selected a particularly robust plant that also had noticeably blue-green foliage and gave it the name ‘Gold on Blue’.
Bringing it to the attention of Plant Select™
A few years ago, I submitted the plant to Plant Select™ (the Denver Botanic Garden/ Colorado State University plant introduction program) for consideration as a future Plant Select winner. Everyone who grew and tested ‘Gold on Blue’ was very excited and enthusiastic about this little beauty and it has been selected as a winner for 2014.
I’ve been growing and enjoying Zinnia grandiflora for many, many years. Unfortunately, it remains a relatively
obscure native plant because it is not widely grown in the trade. Too bad, because this native wildflower species is one of the toughest, most xeric, longest lived plants I’ve ever grown.
Xeriscaping uses for ‘Gold on Blue’
‘Gold on Blue’ is a very distinctive form of Z. grandiflora that has many uses:
- It’s a vigorous spreading groundcover that spreads by sucking to create big drifts of foliage and flowers
- It’s excellent for planting on slopes and other hot, dry areas where lesser perennials would fail
- Is recommended for planting in “Inferno Strips”, that long, narrow piece of no man’s land between the street and sidewalk
‘Gold on Blue’ blooms in late summer with a blast of brilliant gold flowers over a low 4” tall spreading mound of attractive finely textured foliage. It spreads via underground runners making it an invaluable groundcover to plant around tall, summer blooming xeric plants.
Some of my favorite companions are:
- Hummingbird Mint (Agastache)
- Russian Sage (Perovskia)
- Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’
- Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’
- Various cold hardy cacti
- Mid-sized ornamental grasses like ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue grama grass
Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’ looks great with most any flowering perennial and creates a low growing carpet-like patch of stems.
Text and Photos by David Salman