Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'

Add Scent with Salvias

Although Southwestern conditions create many challenging micro-climates, there are bound to be several attractive salvia species that will thrive in your landscape or garden. In addition to luring hummingbirds with their flowers, salvia foliage offers a refreshing "sage-like" aroma. Site them where you can brush gently against the foliage to release its scent. Here are a few salvias that do well in a wide range of growing conditions. Check your local nurseries and demonstration gardens for more options.

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha). This is a great plant for a sensory garden because, in addition to fragrance and color, its bloom stalks feel like velvet to the touch. The species has a white flower and purple calyx (the cluster of modified leaves, or sepals, enclosing the flower). There's also a cultivar with a purple flower and purple calyx called, appropriately enough, 'All Purple' Mexican Bush Sage. Average plant size is 4 feet tall and wide.

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii). Plant breeders have had lots of success with Salvia greggii, now offering many flower color variations for this native perennial. Look for white, pink, apricot, violet and various shades of red. 'Lipstick' is covered in bright red flowers with white throats. In low desert locales with extreme sun, such as Phoenix, autumn sage prefers filtered light beneath a tree canopy or it tends to burn out in summer. Average size is 2 feet tall and wide. At slightly higher elevations with a tad more rain and a tad cooler summer, such as Tucson, I've seen autumn sage spreading vigorously beneath tree canopies, displaying much lusher, greener foliage.

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'. Very similar in appearance to S. greggii, this eye-catching beauty shows off bi-colored tubular flowers: white tops and red "lips". It may display all white and all red flowers on the same plant, evidently due to hot temperatures.

Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii). I know I'm in the Southwest whenever I inhale a whiff of chaparral sage! Its foliage produces some of the most intensely aromatic scents you'll come across on any plant. Some people find it overwhelming, while others like to inhale deeply. Average size is 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, with fanciful, blue-violet whorled flower spikes adding a couple feet of height when in bloom.

Mexican Blue Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides). One of the prettiest sky blue flowers for Southwestern landscapes. Silvery foliage adds a cooling element and blends well with other plants. Average size is 2 feet tall and wide.

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