Summer Salvias with The Ben Lomond Gardener
By Uncle Skip
Hola, mountain campaneros y campaneras, I’m your Uncle Skip (Tio Josue), bringing you what I hope to be the first of many commentaries on gardening and other good manners related to the mountains. From here in my citadel, high above Santa Cruz, in the sleepy and unsuspecting mountain suburb of Ben Lomond, I present gardening, the pursuit of grails, and the settling of various aging grudges.
It’s July in the SLV! The big Spring burst of blossom and foliage has come and gone, at least here in Uncle Skip’s garden y santuario sagrada. The roses, after a mighty and sustained bloom, have almost totally faded and sent their dried, exhausted petals earthward. The daffodils are long gone. The Pacific Coast hybrid, Douglas, and various bearded Irises have had their lingering moment. The Lupinus formosus had a dense head of rich purplish blue blossoms, which offset the variegated culinary sage with great flair and confidence. Both have been tightly pruned since. The flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum glutinosum var “Claremont” had a great year, its salmon-pink blossoms covering all five of my mature specimens (purchased years ago at Yerba Buena Nursery on Skyline. The native nursery has since moved to Half Moon Bay).
The bamboo looks lush after a relatively warm winter with minimal frost and lots of late rain. Cold-tolerant mountain bamboos like Fargesia sp. and Borinda sp. produced a lot of enthusiastically erect culms, which are now gently bending towards the ground and swaying drunkenly in the evening breeze. The Chusquea, a Mexican bamboo, swirls on the breeze with furious and delightful abandon, a bamboo Sufi in a mad, holy trance. The black timber bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) produces turgid, light purple, more than slightly suggestive culms that shoot out of the ground and rocket upward at about a foot a day in Spring. They all look grand, but in the heat of summer, they inevitably brown a bit.
So what brings hope, solace, and cheer now? Salvias! “Mesa Azure,” my current favorite, is a compact beauty with crisp, vivid purple flowers and light green foliage that seems to endure all manner of neglect. Whether they are troubled by deer and gophers, I don’t know. They are in baskets in the backyard within a high fence. I have several Salvias out front, however, that gophers and deer have ignored. These include S. clevelandii, S. leucophylla, S. mellifera (called “Black Sage” for no reason I know; neither flowers nor foliage are black), and Salvia “Bee’s Bliss.”
Salvia “Mystic Spires” is borderline frost-tender, but mine got through this winter mostly unperturbed. Hard Spring pruning helps. Salvia nemorosa will probably survive the Apocalypse. It’s a dark, low-growing, green-leafed, deep indigo flowered Salvia that works great as filler in the rose garden. My only beef with S. nemorosa is that when it fully matures, the stems flop over, which causes it to lose its tidy, symmetrical “goblet” form, shading out its neighbors rudely (it put my Dianthus into a coma last week). So I just ruthlessly prune it back to the basal rosette and everything is fine.
Local nurseries are bursting with Salvias right now, and if you have a few hours of sun amid the pines, redwoods, and oaks, pick some up. Shout out to Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond, which is now offering just about all the drought and deer tolerant Salvias I mentioned. Tell ‘em Josh sent you. They’ll charge you double. Adios mis amigos y amigas.