Herbs are a big group of plants with the two largest groups being medicinal and culinary. Many of these herbs are Old World plants from the Mediterranean regions of Europe and North Africa. These wonderful plants have attached themselves to humanity and been grown for hundreds, if not thousands of years, for their essential oils.
I use these multi-purpose perennials in my waterwise plantings for their aromatic foliage and flowers (on the plants and in my food) and for their love of hot, sunny and dry planting sites. They are also indispensible to pollinators like bees and butterflies for their nectar and pollen rich flowers. Your bee-keeper friends will love you for planting big patches of these plants. My favorite herbal genera include the Lavenders (Lavandula), the Sages (Salvia), Catmints (Nepeta), Oregano (Origanum) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus).
Lavender is at the top of my list. I keep my lavender plantings in bloom by planting a mix of late-spring/early-summer blooming English varieties (Lavandula angustifolia) and summer blooming French hybrids (Lavandula intermedia). And if you plant re-blooming English types, like ‘Sharon Roberts’, ‘Pastor’s Pride’ and ‘Buena Vista,’ you can stretch the flowers into September! For cold hardiness, the best of all the Lavender varieties is the heirloom variety ‘Vera.’,
Little Leaf Culinary Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Minimus’) is another favorite that is often overlooked by gardeners. I love this durable perennial for its profuse display of deep lavender-blue late spring flowers and its beautifully fine-textured, gray leaves that look great all season long. Plant it alongside the brilliant deep green Rosemary ‘Arp’, one of the most cold hardy cultivars of this fragrant perennial. The ornamental Oregano (Origanum) are unfamiliar to many gardeners. Rectify this oversight by planting ‘Rotkugel Ornamental Oregano’, a superb grower with large, loose heads of bi-color flowers with dark purple calyces and deep pink flowers. The plant forms low-spreading mats that bloom from August through October.
These glorious herbs are most at home in USDA zone 5 to 10 areas of the western US where the arid climates and ample sunshine are most like their native lands. In areas of the country where there is more precipitation (more than 18-20 inches of water annually) and high summer humidity, the key to growing these perennials is to provide them with a fast draining soil and plenty of air circulation. Air circulation is improved by planting them with space between neighboring plants and in beds not enclosed by solid fences and walls. Fast drainage is best accomplished by planting in sandy or gravelly soils and/or on a south- or west-facing slope or in a raised bed. Mulching to a depth of 2 inches with crushed gravel helps to keep the crown dry and prevents water splashing onto the foliage.
The genus Salvia (Sage) contains some of our most beautiful ornamental flowers. And Salvia species are found on every continent, save Australia and Antarctica. Naturally, with such a huge range worldwide, their variability is immense and they provide us gardeners with a wealth of choices for our gardens.
Gardening in a USDA zone 6 climate, I like to divide the cold hardy Salvia into two primary groups; the US natives and the Old World varieties found in Europe and western Asia. From these two groups, we have an outstanding range of plant types and flower colors.
The Old World Salvia include some of the very best, most durable, longest-lived perennials. The hybrid nemerosa-types flower in numerous shades of blue and pink. They include ‘May Night’, ‘Caradonna’, dwarf ‘Marcus’, ‘Deep Rose Sensation’ and the gorgeous ‘Blue Hill’. The nemerosa hybrids do especially well in heavy clay soils, yet grow with ease in all but the most sandy of soils. Other Old World Salvia that are especially nice include Salvia daghestanica and ‘Minimus’, a stunning deep blue-flowered cultivar of the culinary species Salvia officinalis.
Then there are all the Salvia species native to North America. It is from the Western US that we find our most beautiful native species. But the challenging aspect for some of these native Salvia has been to find cold hardy ones that can be grown north of their native desert haunts. This has been an area of keen interest for me and I have been working for many years breeding and selecting for beauty and cold hardiness. Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’ and Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’ are top picks. Salvia hybrids between S. greggii and other Salvia species from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have resulted in some outstanding selections such as ‘Maraschino’, ‘Raspberry Delight’, ‘Ultra Violet’ and ‘Burgundy Seduction’.
I heartily recommend planting Salvia pachyphylla and Salvia dorrii in arid western gardens. These two evergreen species are native to California and the Great Basin of UT, OR and NV. Not widely known outside of the native plant gardening community, these two species are especially nice with their silver leaves and showy blue/purple flowers. But they are not for planting in areas that get more than 12 to 16 inches of annual precipitation. They are true Westerners.
Two other species of Salvia that have proven themselves to be outstanding early fall bloomers with excellent cold hardiness are Salvia azurea and Salvia reptans (West TX form). These two tall, blue-flowered species stand out in the fall garden with their finely textured foliage. I’ve found that the hummingbirds eagerly seek out these two, in spite of not having brightly colored pink, red or orange flowers that hummers generally prefer.
Unlike most annual bedding plants that bloom continuously, many perennials plants have a shorter season of flowering, typically showing color for 3 to 6 weeks during the growing season. Gardeners will want to remember to select groups of perennials for their plantings that bloom in early spring, late spring, summer and early fall. This provides a changing tapestry of colors as one plant goes out of flower and another comes into flower.
However, there are a select group of perennials that flower for an extended length of time, often 2 to 3 months at a time. Here are three new varieties featured by High Country Gardens this spring that are outstanding long bloomers.
Perovskia ‘Lacy Blue’ is a new true dwarf variety of Russian Sage. This is great news for those of us with small gardens or flower beds where Perovskia ‘Blue Spires’ would be much too large. ‘Lacy Blue’ reaches a height of 18-24” and spreads to about 3 ft. in width. And like its other Perovskia cousins, ‘Lacy Blue’ blooms for 2 to 3 months, from mid-summer into the fall. Perovskia will grow in any soil from sand to heavy clay and looks its best growing in full sun with only occasional deep watering once established.
Salvia ‘Burgundy Seduction’ is a new hybrid bush sage that appeared in my garden as a seedling of ‘Raspberry Delight’ and an unknown pollen parent. The deep burgundy-red color of the flowers is truly outstanding. ‘Burgundy Seduction’ is the most darkly colored of the cold hardy bush sages. The foliage is especially aromatic, with a pleasing sweet herbal scent that keeps hungry deer and rabbits from eating the leaves.
From the mountains of South Africa, comes the delightfully cheerful, Osteospermum (African Daisies). ‘Avalanche’ is a new release from the Colorado State University/Denver Botanic Gardens Plant Select® program. And what a great plant it is! Completely cold hardy to USDA zone 5, ‘Avalanche’ is as easy to grow as a Shasta Daisy, but much more exotic with its bright white petals and silvery-blue sheen on their undersides. Attractive semi-evergreen foliage and a nice mounding habit make this beauty a “must have” ever-blooming perennial. It is outstanding for attracting bees and butterflies too. It fares best in average compost-enriched garden soil with moderate amounts of water once established.
Here are a few more of my favorite long blooming perennials: Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’, Salvia ‘Maraschino’, Delosperma ashtonii ‘Blut’, Phlox nana ‘Perfect Pink’, Aquilegia chrysantha, Diascia integerrima ‘Coral Canyon’ and Nepeta faassenii ‘Select Blue’, Callirhoe involucrata and Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’.
Columbine (Aquilegia) are some of our best wildflowers for shade and partial shade areas of the garden. They enjoy a compost enriched soil with moderate moisture. Columbine are also highly attractive to hummingbirds and provide a copious supply of nature’s nectar from late spring into the summer months.
These perennials are most useful under trees in dappled shade or planted along the north or northeast side of buildings and walls. Individual Columbine plants are not long lived (3 or 4 years), but create long lived colonies of plants by reseeding themselves with ease. I make it a point to plant only non-hybrid types to ensure that my plants come true from seed and the flowers stay brightly colored like the parent plants. Many Columbines available from “Big Box” stores are hybrids. When these hybrids reseed themselves over several generations, regardless of their original flower color, the flowers of their seedlings will turn a dingy shade of yellow.
So I recommend planting your beds with only one variety of non-hybrid plants (like the varieties sold by High Country Gardens) and be sure there is some distance between plantings of different Columbine varieties to prevent them from crossing with each other.
New to our selection of Aquilegia for 2013 includes a very pretty cultivar, ‘Pink Lanterns’ (above right) discovered growing at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Kansas. A color sport of ‘Little Lanterns’ the flowers are a pleasant shade of soft pink.
Aquilegia sp. ‘Swallowtail’ is a spectacular variety that I originally grew from seed collected in south-central Arizona. The huge bi-colored yellow and light yellow flowers have graceful 3 ½ to 4 inch long spurs sweeping back from the face of the flowers. ‘Swallowtail’s foliage is blue or blue-green which adds to the plants overall beauty.
Aquilegia desertorum returns to the catalog after a several year absence; I had run out of seed and had to collect more from a new planting of stock plants over the past two years. Desert Columbine is long blooming and covers itself with petite orange and yellow flowers for many months in spring and summer. Native to central Arizona, it is best grown with some morning sun and shade from the sun’s hot afternoon rays.
Aquilegia chrysantha v. chapellinii ‘Little Treasure’ is another favorite of mine. It is a short growing variety that I bred many years ago from wild collected seed gathered in south-central New Mexico. ‘Little Treasure’ flowers at about 15 to 16 inches in height with compact, bright yellow flowers facing up to the sky like a nest of baby birds waiting for their mother. The foliage is fine textured and looks just like that of a Maiden Hair Fern. This is a very nice, very distinctive native variety that blooms for several months beginning in late spring.
Flowering shrubs are some of our most invaluable xeric garden citizens providing us with longevity, size and spectacular displays of pollinator-attracting flowers.
In the case of Cytisus, these shrubs also have attractive evergreen stems that give the plants excellent winter interest. Two of my current favorites are two hybrid varieties, Cytisus praecox ‘Paulette’ and Cytisus kewensis. ‘Paulette’has large, super showy scarlet flowers held on substantial, bright green stems. This is a larger-growing variety and can have hundreds of flowers that cover the plant in late spring. Cytisus kewensis grows to only about 18” in height; this vigorous hybrid variety grows horizontally making it an excellent choice for covering slopes and other harsh areas in the landscape. The pale yellow flowers are profuse and cover the plant’s fine textured stems in late spring. Both Cytisus varieties are fantastic for providing nectar for honeybees.
Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) attract both butterflies and hummingbirds with their summer long display of nectar rich flowers. There has been a great deal of effort to breed improved varieties with a wider range of flower colors and mature sizes. The best of the dwarf butterfly bushes are the Flutterby Petites. My two favorites are Flutterby Petite ‘Pink’ and ‘Blue’ which mature to a small size; only 30” in height and width making them useful in the smallest gardens in the ground or in pots. And best of all, these two varieties are sterile and will not reseed in areas of the country where Buddleia can escape cultivation.
Flowers and hummingbirds have a natural attraction for each other. Flowers provide these tiny birds with nectar and in turn they pollinate the flowers so the plants can set seed. Gardeners throughout the country can enjoy planting flowers to attract them. Many hummingbirds travel long distances on their migratory journeys in spring and fall and benefit greatly when we plant to provide them with nectar.
Here in New Mexico, the hummingbirds move north very quickly in the early spring. But as they move south in late summer on their way to their wintering habitats in Mexico, they stay around for several months. So I like to plant a lot of late summer and fall blooming perennials to bring these little birds into my gardens. And there are an amazing number of plant choices that fit the bill.
The Penstemon (Beardtongue) are some of our showiest native wildflowers and many species, with their brightly colored tubular flowers, are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Penstemon barbatus ‘Rubycunda’ is a new, very cold hardy hybrid variety with large, spectacular red and white flowers. The flowers are huge and rival some of the cold tender English hybrids in size and showiness. ‘Rubycunda’ is zone 4 cold hardy, so it can be planted throughout much of the northern US and Intermountain West.
Another hummingbird favorite is a native Lamb’s Ear, Stachys coccineus (Scarlet Hedgenettle). We are introducing a new selection ‘Mountain Red,’ grown from seed collected at over 7,000 ft. elevation in eastern Arizona. Coming from this high elevation gives ‘Mountain Red’ extra cold hardiness so it reliably overwinter in zone 5 winter climates. This rabbit and deer resistant perennial is very long blooming, with deep red flowers, and thrives in partial shade with a little extra irrigation.
And at the top of the list of hummingbird favorites is a new hybrid Agastache (Hummingbird Mint). Desert Solstice’ is a superb cross with Agastache cana ‘Rosita,’ one of its parent plants. Like ‘Rosita’, ‘Desert Solstice’ has about 50% more flowers than is typical for these Southwestern native species. A mix of orange and pink individual flowers on the flower spike, this showy hybrid blooms for up to three months and is an amazing garden performer.
I continue my series on new and favorite plants for Spring 2013 with three spectacular Perennials for hot, sunny locations.
One of the most challenging sites for landscape plantings would be hot spots that bake in the summer sun. Here in high elevation New Mexico, the intensity of the sun is legendary. This week I want to highlight three of my favorite perennials, two of which are new for 2013. But they are not new to me. These plants have been planted in my gardens for the last 5 years where I‘ve been testing and evaluating them. Scutellaria ‘Dark Violet’ and Eriogonum umbellatum ‘Proliferum’ have passed with flying colors!
The genus Scutellaria, known by their common name as Skullcaps, is native to the northern Hemisphere of our planet. They can be found all across North America, Europe and Asia in both temperate and subtropical climates. I first became captivated by this genus when I saw a talk back in 1998 in which our native Scutellaria resinosa (Prairie Skullcap) was shown and discussed. I had to grow it! And this wonderful prairie wildflower remains one of my favorites. The best selection of Prairie Skullcap is the strain ‘Smoky Hills’ originally found in the northwest corner of Kansas and introduced by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. It is the largest and most vigorous strain of S. resinosa.
Scutellaria ‘Dark Violet’ is my newest hybrid between ‘Smoky Hills’ Prairie Skullcap and the stunning rose-red flowered Scutellaria sufrutescens, native to southern Texas. ‘Dark Violet’ has excellent cold hardiness and noticeably darker violet flowers than ‘Violet Cloud’. The small, numerous flowers cover the compact plant all summer. It thrives in hot, sunny, dry conditions in well drained soils and is a brilliant companion plant to Beardtongues (Penstemon) and the following plant Eriogonum umbellatum ‘Proliferum’ as It helps to cool down Eriogonum’s blazing yellow flowers.
The Sulfur Buckwheats are some of our most treasured, but underplanted natives. They are valued for their beauty, durability and value as habitat plants for feeding pollinators(butterflies, bees and bumblebees) and beneficial insects. The Western Buckwheats can be found from the deserts to the subalpine elevations of our highest mountains . Eriogonum umbellatum ‘Proliferum’ (Prolific Sulfur Buckwheat) is a gem, growing into a neatly mounding evergreen shrub that covers itself with literally a hundred umbels of yellow flowers. Sulfur Buckwheats thrive in hot, sunny conditions in low fertility, well drained soils. They make long lived companions for Beardtongues, Lavender, ‘Dark Violet’ Skullcap and cold hardy succulents like Yucca and Agave. This selection grows best west of the Mississippi River in regions that receive between 8 and 24 inches of precipitation per year.
The flowering Phlox are some of our finest native perennial wildflowers families. Most well known are creeping Moss Phlox from the Eastern US, Phlox subulata and the much adored and sweetly scented Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculata. Less well known are our native Phlox from the Western US.
Living in cold, high elevation Santa Fe, NM I have come to appreciate the local wildflowers, both for their beauty and their toughness. And one of most favorites is the locally abundant Phlox nana also known as Santa Fe Phlox. I transplanted a particularly gorgeous specimen into my yard about 25 years ago where it has thrived and spread. Stunning but extremely frustrating! My staff and I could never propagate it with any consistency. We’d get a few plants here and there, but never in salable quantities.
Well last year something changed and we were able to root thousands of cuttings. And suddenly we had a huge crop growing for spring 2013. Phlox nana ‘Perfect Pink’ is ready. This plant has every attribute you could ask for. It grows in many soil types from sand to clay. It blooms with sheets of huge deep pink, white eyed flowers in late spring (and again in summer with the coming of the summer rains). And it lives seeming forever when happy. ‘Perfect Pink’ grows best in areas that get between 12 and 24 inches of rain/snow each year.
And we have many other fabulous Phlox varieties. Most showy and least known is the incomparable native groundcover, Phlox kelseyi ‘Lemhi Purple’. To see a mat of its stunning blue-purple flowers covering the plants in mid-spring is to want it! It’s been years since I’ve been as excited about a plant and its uniquely colored flowers. ‘Lemhi Purple’ was discovered growing near the town of Lemhi in southern Idaho. Plant it about 12-15” apart in any sunny or partly sunny site with low fertility, well drained sandy or loamy soil.
For the more civilized parts of your garden, we are growing four of the best, most low care cultivars of Garden Phlox; ‘David’ (2002 Perennial Plant of the Year, as designated by the national Perennial Plant Association), ‘David’s Lavender’, ‘Laura’ and ‘Blue Paradise.’ These tall growing plants flower in mid-summer with large trusses of sweetly fragrant, beautifully colored flowers. Plant in compost enriched garden loam and full sun.
Phlox are great eco-friendly plants. There are great for attracting butterflies and moths as their pollinators. Their nectar rich flowers are a magnet for Monarchs, Painted Ladies, Swallowtails and many other species.
Now that High Country Gardens has teamed up with American Meadows, one of the most well-respected providers of wildflower seeds in the country, it’s time to talk seed!
With our new partnership not only will we continue to feature our customer favorites such as our ‘No Mow’ Lawn Mix and ‘Native Western Wildflower Mix’ but we’ll be expanding our selection to include mixes such as a ‘Western Xeriscape Wildflower Mix’, ‘Honey Bee Wildflower Mix’ and ‘Dry Area Mix’ just to name a few.
I’m excited to share my 20+ years of wildflower expertise with the loyal following of gardeners here at High Country Gardens!
In the coming weeks we’ll be introducing a variety of new mixtures and individual species designed to perform well with minimal watering, keeping eco-friendly gardening at the forefront.
Wildflowers can make a nice addition to any garden and fit perfectly with the xeriscaping theme’s that David continues to pioneer here at High Country Gardens.
Our friends at the National Gardening Bureau have declared 2013 the “Year of the Wildflower” so there’s no better time to introduce yourself to wildflowers. Whether planting your first meadow or incorporating into your perennial gardens, wildflowers can make a nice addition to any garden.
We Americans love our lawns. But more and more homeowners are looking to reduce the time they spend maintaining their patch of grass and spending less for water and maintenance. Fortunately there has been a lot of research done over the past few decades with all these goals in mind.
‘Legacy’ Buffalo grass is an excellent solution when it comes to less frequent mowing and reduced water usage for irrigation. Developed by agronomists at the University of Nebraska, ‘Legacy’ buffalo grass is a greatly improved selection of this awesome native grass species. ‘Legacy’ is a female plant (buffalo grass has separate male and female plants) that grows to half the height of pasture type buffalo grass that has been used for lawns. So ‘Legacy’ is an ideal lawn grass for those who suffer from grass pollen allergies. And because it is a naturally dwarf variety, it needs much less frequent mowing than the usual weekly schedule for most lawns.
‘Legacy’ cannot be grown from seed and is propagated vegetatively by rooting stolons (little stem pieces) in plug trays. By planting the individual plugs on one foot by one foot centers this vigorous, dense growing grass will grow together and make a lush lawn in about 3 months from a late spring/early summer planting. ‘Legacy’ is long lived and will provide a beautiful, low care, low water lawn for many, many years.
Another fabulous new dwarf turf grass planted from plugs is Bella Bluegrass. This variety is so low growing it never needs mowing (unless you like your lawn cut really short) making it an excellent choice for small, tight, hard-to-mow spaces. Its roots go down an amazing 2 to 3 feet into the soil making it much more water-thrifty than normal bluegrass type turf grasses. Bella is also very shade tolerant and is recommended for both sun and shade growing conditions. Like ‘Legacy’ buffalo grass, it is grown by rooting pieces into plug trays. Bella should be spaced on six inch by six inch centers to fill in completely during its first growing season.
To see our complete selection of Buffalo Grass Plugs, please click here. To find the Buffalo Grass best suited for your area, please view our maps below: