Tag Archives: salvias

july bloom day

For this month’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I have some closeup photos of some of what’s blooming in the garden. I’ve done a couple posts on using backgrounds behind plants (Background check / One way to photogrpah a tree). Inspired, all but one of these shots uses a white sheet of matboard placed behind the plants. Each color of background presents a different end result. Using white accentuates dark flowers and stems, and some of these photos are a busy network of dark lines against the light background.

There are some newcomers just coming into bloom, but many plants have been in bloom for several months. When life gives you more of the same flowers…well, I was thinking I’d try to photograph them a little differently.

I suspect the neighbors think I’m odd enough taking pictures of everything in the garden, and I thought it’d be extra-distressing if I were to be walking around the garden with a big white board as well as the camera. As a result all of these are from the quiet privacy of the back yard, with the exception of the one plant without a white background.



Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.



Lion’s tail, Leonotis leonorus; Desert mallow, Sphaeralcea



Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis; Freeway daisy, Osteospermum sp.



Verbena bonariensis; Juncus patens (with fallen leaf caught in the plant).

Some salvias:


Salvia nemerosa ‘Snow Hills’; Ivy-leaved sage (Salvia cacaliaefolia).



On the left is Andean sage (Salvia discolor with its almost black flowers set in light green calyces; on the right is Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips.’

Some California buckwheats:


Flat-topped buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)


San Miguel Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens)


St. Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum)



Butterfly bush (Clero- dendrum ugan- dense); seed pod of whitetop pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla).



Pink and white double bougainvillea (unknown variety); Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sprite.’



Pink double bougainvillea (another unknown variety); toloache (Datura wrightii).

Thanks again the Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. It’s a terrific way to build community among garden bloggers wanting to share the flowers in their gardens. Check out this month’s offerings!

hot lips

I’ve heard salvia connoisseurs talk down about this plant, Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips,’ mostly because it’s getting to be so commonly available in areas where it grows easily. But of all the sages in my garden this one has been the best performer.

Living in a sunny spot with dry-to-average garden water, the plants are covered with these flowers year-round, hitting a peak in the fall.


Common or not, the flowers make the plant really interesting. Most are two colors, a combination of scarlet and white, with no two flowers exactly alike. But often you’ll get flowers that are almost all white or all red. I’ve heard that cold weather seems to bring out the white, and that syncs up with what I’ve seen. But at the same time you’ll often still have multi-colored flowers–all on the same plant.

The growth habit is like a lot of sages, meaning the plant has the lines of a chocolate truffle left on a warm dashboard. For me, so far it grows about 30 inches tall by 60 wide. It’s supposedly hardy down around 20 degrees, but don’t expect many flowers when the frost starts up.

If you can grow it, this could be a good candidate for your list!

true blue sages

There are plenty of names for shades of blue: azure, cerulean, indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, sky, and navy. And then there’s even the special synthetic intense ultramarine shade that artist Yves Klein patented under the name “International Klein blue.”

A visit to a nursery, however, seems to come up with only a short list of plants having flowers that are truly, intensely blue. Among the more common plants pansies, delphiniums, periwinkles and cornflowers would qualify. But decades of breeding attempts with roses and phalaenopsis and cattleya orchids have failed to produced anything other than pale mauvey or lavenderey colors, mainly because those plants don’t produce the necessary blue pigments in the first place.

There are laboratory subjects that have been genetically modified to carry the genes to produce blue pigment, and they’re producing flowers that are knocking on the door of being blue. For a flower to be blue, however, in addition to having the right pigments, the pH of the petals has to be absolutely correct. Otherwise you get pinks or more of those close-but-no-cigar colors like lilac. (If you’ve played with altering the color of hydrangea blossoms or making litmus paper change from pink to blue you’re already familiar with the controlling effects of acidity. Of course the big difference is that you can accomplish hydrangea color change without going into the lab.) The basic genetic modification process creeps me out a bit, and genetically-modified carnations are sensibly banned from Europe.

Fortunately the sage genus, Salvia, contains a number of species with flowers that require no genetic manipulation to achieve their amazingly blue colors. I’ve devoted a corner of my garden to three of them: ivy-leafed sage, arrow-leafed sage, and gentian sage.

Three salvias compared

The three species compared, left to right: Salvia patens ‘Oceano Blue,’ S. cacaliaefolia, and S. sagittata.

The ivy-leafed sage, Salvia cacaliaefolia, is a robust grower, four to five feet tall and as big around as you’ll let it get. I’m starting to call it the “walking sage” because it can set down roots where the fairly lax stems touch the ground. It also sends up new stems from runners, though these don’t wander too far from the plant. Rambunctious, yes, but the plant has been easily controlled with the help of Mister Pruning Shears.

Ivy-leaved sage flower Ivy-leaved sage plant

As its common name would suggest the leaves are a little ivy-like, triangular, three inches in length, and a pleasant medium green color. The spaces between the paired leaves can approach eight or nine inches, making the plant look a little stemmy and informal, but I find the mounding plant to be graceful and attractive.

Before the flowers open the buds develop an intense, almost indigo-blue shade, about as close to International Klein Blue as you’ll find in the garden. The buds open to clean blue flowers, fairly simple tubular affairs that are about and inch and a quarter long. What the flowers might lack in size and showy complexity they make up with their sheer profusion. The plant went into the ground November 18 of last year, and it’s never been without flowers except for when the sprinkler or heavy rains knocked them off. Hardiness reported to Zone 9.

The arrow-leafed sage, Salvia sagittata, grows smaller than the previous species. So far, for me, the plant is maybe two feet tall and three wide, with the inflorescence adding a foot to the height. True to name, the leaves are shaped like an arrowhead. They easily attain six inches in length, and have an attractive light, almost lime-green coloration. Towards the end of the season the plant can lose its lower leaves and get leggy, so you might want to plant something small and mounding near the plant to disguise the stems. (I’ve planted some lime thyme.)

Arrow-leaved sage flowerArrow-leaved sage plant

The flowers are about the same size as those of the ivy-leaved sage, and take the form of small tubes with one petal modified to form a frilly little “skirt”–a handy platform for insects to land on. (If this were an orchid, the flower part would be called the labellum, the “lip.”) The blooms float on thin, dark stems that make them look like exotic little butterflies hovering over the plant. Their color is a vivid medium blue color, a main-line blue so pure it doesn’t need a fancy name. Peak bloom runs from May to late fall in San Diego. Considered a tender perennial, probably hardy into Zone 9.

The gentian sage, Salvia patens, is the newest addition to my garden. The clone I chose is ‘Oceano Blue.’ So far the plant is about 30 inches tall and 15 wide, definitely the most constrained of these three species. Leaves are oval-to-pointed (“ovate”), medium-dark green, and about two inches long.

Gentian sage flower Gentian sage plant

The flowers are almost identical to arrow-leaved sage in color–an intense medium blue–but the flowers are huge by contrast, exceeding two inches in length and height. The petals have a distinct formation that makes me think of a crab claw. I haven’t grown it through the warmest months, but it has a reputation for slowing down in its floriferousness, something I’m beginning to observe. Hardiness reported to Zone 8.

And what about the common bedding plant Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue,’ the mealy cup sage? It can be a great plant, particularly in warmer, less humid climates and seasons when powdery mildew isn’t an issue. The flowers, however, range more towards blue-violet, not a pure shade of blue. So if you’re a blue purist, fuggedaboutit.