Fall Blooming Salvias

Fall color is blazing in the borders at GFE, with princess flower, lantana, and lion’s tail blooming generously. Grasses are also blooming, backlit by long-shadowed autumn light, and the last daisies of summer are still open. But the glory of our borders right now are the late-blooming salvias. Salvias bloom here at GFE all year long, as the fall-blooming ones give way to the winter-bloomers. Spring is a burst of color, and the native salvias start, finishing in summer. By late summer, most of the California native sages are dormant, and their place is taken by tropical sages, many from Mexico and South America. These plants can live through our mild winters in coastal California, some of them will perform well even in part-shade, and all of them are best with weekly watering and good drainage.

Salvia elegans, or pineapple sage, is probably the best known of this group. A hummingbird favorite, pineapple sage is blooming a bright, clear red in the western exterior border of GFE. Pineapple sage gets its name from the pungent, fruity smell released by the bruised foliage, and it can be used as a tea, or to flavor candy. This sage can be cut down the ground after it blooms, and next year’s growth will emerge as new buds from the crown of the plant. When it is happy, the clump will grow larger each year until the gardener digs it up and divides it. Extra clumps of pineapple sage, anyone?

Salvia elegans.

Salvia elegans.

Next to the pineapple sage is the roseleaf sage, Salvia involucrata. Taller than pineapple sage, with a large, dark pink flower, this salvia gets the close attention of hummingbirds. This plant can also be cut right down to the ground after it blooms. Because these plants stay very neat and good-looking when pruned this way, it is important to interplant them with other large perennials and shrubs which look best in the winter and spring, when the big salvias are cut down. Cistuses and grevilleas are some good choices for interplanting with autumn blooming salvias.

Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ is blooming now inside the garden just to the left as you enter by the southwest gate. This beautiful sage has clear blue flowers held in chartreuse calyxes. The brightly colored calyxes persist even after the blue flowers fall, giving the whole plant a pale lime-green glow. The clear bright blue is repeated by Salvia cacaliifolia, growing right next to it. A lower growing sage, with dark green arrow-head shaped leaves, Salvia cacaliifolia spreads by a creeping rootstock, and before long the clump can be divided to share with friends.

Salvia discolor, or Andean sage is a novelty plant with whitish leaves and stems, and a flower that is such a dark purple that it appears to be black. A tall, lax habit and easily broken stems make it a hard plant to grow in a public garden, but we have two looking good right now, one near the south gate, and one in the interior border to the right as you enter the northwest gate. This one is growing right up against a Salvia mexicana whose blue flowers and black calyxes contrast beautifully with the Salvia discolor.

Salvia discolor .

Salvia discolor.

A new plant for us this year is Salvia confertiflora. One is blooming in the north exterior border amongst a clump of canna lilies which are almost finished for the year. Its brick-red fuzzy-looking flowers on their long stems are a dramatic focus for the back of the border. This is another sage that is best managed by cutting it down to the ground after its autumn bloom.

The fuzzy and somewhat smelly  Salvia confertiflora.

The fuzzy and somewhat smelly Salvia confertiflora.

Two more new acquisitions are blooming for us right now, Salvia macrophylla, a lovely clear light blue on a sturdy pyramidal plant, and Salvia regla, another tall, tough red-blooming sage from Mexico and western Texas. We’ll let you know how they work out!

Come by the garden any time to see these wonderful autumn blooming sages, or drop by on a Wednesday or Saturday when the garden is staffed, and we can answer your questions about these wonderful additions to the autumn border. See you then!