Little did I realize that when I agreed to a garage expansion for my husband’s Mustang restoration project, I was also in for a garden restoration project. After the water-loving camellias, azaleas, and ferns were bulldozed from the north side of the old garage, I recognized the opportunity to establish a truly drought tolerant garden. Now, where to start?
I checked the Master Gardener and City of Visalia web sites for landscaping ideas and plants, and the plant Salvia came up over and over. So, that’s what I considered first.
The name Salvia is derived from the Latin word, salver, which means: “to heal.” As it happens, Salvia has been used for its herbal and medicinal qualities since ancient times. The genus Salvia offers gardeners one of the largest and most versatile groups of plants available. Since the 1970s, this genus has produced some of the most popular garden ornamentals. Salvias can be used as ground covers, bedding plants, herbaceous perennials and shrubs. A relative of the familiar kitchen sage, many types of Salvias produce spikes of small, densely packed flowers atop aromatic foliage. These heat- and drought-tolerant beauties bloom from early to late summer in shades of blue, violet, red, pink, and white. Plants can grow between 18 inches and 5 feet tall, depending on the variety.
The genus offers a wide range of forms, textured foliage and vibrantly colored flowers that combine well with most other plants in the landscape. Many species attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, but fortunately, not deer and rabbits. It is the scent of their leaves, one we humans find so inviting, that acts as a foul- smelling repellent to garden pests.
They are adaptable to almost any garden condition, from full sun to partial sun, and there are a few that will tolerate full shade. Salvia has often been called “the perfect garden plant.” The challenge is to choose the best varieties that are at home in our climate. Nineteen species trace their origins to California, and many water-wise area gardeners now want to return these native plants to their landscapes. Most Salvias are drought tolerant, once established, and actually rebel at excessive summer irrigation.
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