From the Garden: May 19, 2019

From left to right: Salvia viridis, Salvia officinalis, Verbascum phoenicium, Sphaeralcea ambigua, Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, Stachys byzantina, Festuca ovina, Papaver commutatum, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘El Dorado’, Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’

From left to right: Salvia viridis, Salvia officinalis, Verbascum phoenicium, Sphaeralcea ambigua, Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, Stachys byzantina, Festuca ovina, Papaver commutatum, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘El Dorado’, Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’

It’s finally the middle of May, and we’re finally starting to see something more than just bulbs and foliage here.

Don’t get me wrong - the daffodils and tulips are one of the best arrivals of the season as they herald the start of the season and promise a long season full of beauty and change.

But it’s not until the spring perennials start blooming that I get excited.

Today we’re enjoying several types of salvia, verbascum, allium, lamb’s ear, grasses and poppy pods. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, since May is full of an explosion of texture, color, and the flowers are fresh and gorgeous. There’s almost too much to enjoy this time of year - it gets a bit difficult to keep up with, but I’m certainly not complaining.

From left to right:

1) The first of the Salvia viridis (or horminum depending on who you talk to) is starting to bloom in shades of pink, deep purple and the delicate white you see here. Known as clary sage (not to be confused with the actual clary sage Salvia sclarea that is grown primarily for its aromatherapeutic value) this is one of my favorite annuals because it is very hardy (surviving a Zone 5/6-ish winter here) is vigorous, blooms prolificaly, and is just so happy and low maintenance. We plan on growing this out for use in fresh arrangements as well as dried.

2) Broadleaf sage (aka culinary sage, Salvia officinalis) is blowing my mind. Grown last year from seed, these plants are now full blown shrubs 24” across and are blooming on 24” stems. I had never seen sage blooming before we moved here to New Mexico, and I find myself still amazed that it survives the winter here, much less turns into a sub-shrub. The blooms also smell of the same sharp sage scent as the foliage does.

3) Verbascum is a relatively unknown and ungrown plant when it comes to us on this side of the pond. It’s a shame - it’s a unique plant that is both beautiful as it is hardy and sturdy. Long gorgeous stems rise above a basal rosette of leaves up to 36” tall, with each floret blooming individually, appearing more like a foxtail lily or a foxglove than anything else. Coming in shades of purple, white, and a wonderful dusky rose, it is a biennial so plant in late summer for spring blooms.

4) Spharalcea ambigua - also known as the Globe or Desert Mallow - isn’t blooming as of yet, but its silvery, folded leaves are a delightful addition to the garden. Like little wrinkled circles of silvery satin, these plants will soon fill out and unfold upright, covered in small pale orange, white and pink flowers. A fixture of the desert southwest and absolutely bulletproof here.

5) Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ - we only planted a couple of these, but they have been an absolutely fantastic focal point for our planting in the border. The bright striking purple is the perfect spring color after a long and colder winter, and they are the focal point of the garden when everything else is still low to the ground. Even when going to seed (as seen here) they are still beautiful and striking and structural, and even after the seedheads dry they still are beautiful.

6) Lamb’s Ear or Stachys byzantina is our favorite groundcover and perennial for the front of the border. Occasionally it will flower and send up large, silvery flower stalks like you see here with tiny bright fuchsia flowers that will then scatter seed everywhere. Always a welcome addition to our plantings for being drought tolerant and it fuzzy silvery texture being a welcome foil to other green and smooth foliage.

7) Sheep fescue or Festuca ovina is usually seen its more familiar cultivar, ‘Elijah Blue Fescue’. Even the wild-type sheep fescue that we grow has a bit of a glaucous cast to it - a sort of silvery sheen on the blades - but it is more green than not. Most delightful are the slim seedheads that appear above the plant with fluffy light mint green panicles that dance and wave in the wind and incorporate well into arrangements.

8) The Ladybird Poppy or Papaver commutatum is a beautiful annual poppy that displays with bright red flowers. Here, we have a variety that has seemingly grown into a new strain that is more orange-red than bright red and is much more diminuitive with 1” flowers. I’m particularly in love with the foliage and the soft green buds that droop downwards.

9) Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is a staple of parking lot and public space plantings to the point where it’s almost become cliche. It’s variegated cousin ‘El Dorado’ on the other hand, is a bit more exciting and feels much more fancy with its pale leaves outlined by bright green.

10) ‘May Night’ salvia or Salvia nemorosa var ‘May Night’ has been an old standby for us since we first learned of Piet Oudolf and his mass planting at the Lurie Garden of the blue salvia river that captured our imagination. Dependable, hardy, tough and a beautiful vertical element in the spring, I always wait for it to bloom with anticipation.