Tag Archives: Longwood Gardens

fall-blooming salvias and where to find some

I’ve been trying to scale the garden down, which means there will be no shed-sized, fall-blooming salvias this year like…


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Salvia involucrata, Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, the rosebud sage. Some of the salvias like a bit more moisture than I’m doling out lately, and this one would fall into that group.

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The bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, at Cornerstone Sonoma. As its name suggests, it doesn’t mind moist soil but can manage in surprisingly dry conditions too.

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Bog sage leaning into frame with potted Eucomis and Scotch moss, sedum, Japanese anenomes, Cornerstone Sonoma

Size or water constraints won’t stop me from having a look at salvia offerings at the fall plant sales. Out of an estimated 700 to 900 species, there’s one for every situation. Colors are always intense, stems always squared. Since hummingbirds are helpless before the tubular siren call of salvias, be sure to include a seat nearby to enjoy the air show.

Here’s a gallery of salvias from gardens past, fall bloomers and otherwise. My garden unless otherwise indicated.

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Salvia africana-lutea, 2/26/13 (removed because it was crowding Phylica pubescens, which has since died. And so it goes…)

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Salvia reptans ‘West Texas Form,’ slim and upright. September 2012

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Salvia sclarea ‘Piemont.’ The biennial clary sage is famous for reseeding (in every garden but mine. And so it goes…) July 2012

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Salvia canariensis var. candissima, June 2012. Outsized, shrub-like. Very drought tolerant.

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May 2011

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Salvia macrophylla, September 2010. Large, sprawling, always presentable, with leaves clothing stems down to the ground. Not the heaviest bloomer for me though.

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Salvia littae, November 2011.

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Salvia madrensis, November 2011

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Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ September 2011. Constant and dependable bloomer. We took this year off from each other so I could make room for something touchy and undependable. And so it goes…

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Salvia ‘Waverly,’ July 2011. Utterly dependable. One of the best for Southern California.

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July 2010

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Salvia cacaliifolia, June 2011. The agave now resides in my neighbor’s garden.

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August 2010

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Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ at the Huntington June 2011

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Salvia wagneriana, April 2011. If you have the space, this salvia is known for blooming during Southern California’s winter

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Salvia leucantha, Longwood Gardens, November 2010

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Salvia van houttei, Longwood Gardens, November 2010

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Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ Longwood Gardens, November 2010

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Salvia ‘Limelight,’ October 2010

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Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain,’ June 2010, blooms most of the summer

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Salvia clevelandii, June 2013, a California native, in a local hellstrip


In Southern California, a good place to find salvias is at Fullerton Arboretum’s salvia sale, September 21 and 22, 2013.

Lili Singer’s Thursday Talk with Isabelle Greene

Sixteen years ago I was writing only prose and what I consider now traditional garden writing for magazines. And then one day I was in my office looking at a landscape architecture magazine, turned the page, and there was an image that had an enormous physical effect on me. I had a sense of utter physical certainty and determination that I would do whatever I had to do to stand in that place. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it was nothing to do with my thinking. It had absolutely a physical kind of jolting experience.” — Poet Hazel White on Isabelle Greene’s Valentine garden, Natural Discourse lecture 2/10/12

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Isabelle Greene’s Silver Garden at Longwood Gardens, photo included with kind permission of Fleeting Architecture

I’d resolved to attend as many of Lili Singer’s Thursday lecture series as the workweek allowed, which turned out to be not very many, but the 2/7/13 talk with legendary landscape architect Isabelle Greene was definitely not one to miss. Ms. Greene exudes every bit of wisdom and playfulness you’d expect from someone who has practiced an art that has continuously absorbed and replenished her astonishing creative energies for 49 years. She grew up steeped in a tradition of architecture that celebrates and integrates climate and landscape into a design vocabulary, the Arts and Crafts movement. Henry Greene was Isabelle’s grandfather. (Greene & Greene’s masterwork, The Gamble House in Pasadena, is open for tours.)

Ms. Greene’s speaking engagements are rare, so the turnout filled every seat, where we balanced notepads on our knees and scribbled away, taking notes as she coaxed and cajoled the audience through a garden design brainstorming session. The talk drew quite a few professional designers, and much of its focus was the designer/client relationship, but there was inspiration enough for both professional and layperson. Overall, Ms. Greene exhorts us to “listen to the site, the floor of everything.”

Continue reading Lili Singer’s Thursday Talk with Isabelle Greene

Longwood Gardens Miscellany

Such an awful moment, when a recent vacation begins to drift off into the mists of long ago and far away. Only a couple weeks ago, but the travel mojo you came home with is already smothered under to-do lists.

Time to get out all the miscellaneous photos and attempt to recapture that feeling of wandering around a great garden as nothing more than a conduit for gorgeous sensations of pattern, shape, color. Isn’t that what gardens, great or small, do? Conduits are incapable of making to-do lists. Plant lists, yes, to-do lists, no. (Begging your pardon, Mr. Isherwood, but if you are a camera, I am a conduit. Or used to be, now on hiatus.)

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Fall Salvias at Longwood Gardens

Longwood was full of “firsts” for me: My first Dutch Elm, the last lone sentinel remaining of a row of elm destroyed by Dutch Elm disease. My first Cornus kousa.

My first Copper Beech, Fagus sylvatica.

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But amongst all these firsts were some familiar faces. For instance, the tender salvias that bloom in fall. Tender for Longwood, perennial for me in zone 10.
And here again Longwood surprised: I have never seen these salvias grown so well before.

Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious,’ a long double border of them. I wonder what summer offering they replaced and how large they were when planted out for this fall show. Lots of wondering going on at Longwood.

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Salvia van houttei or one of its cultivars, never an easy salvia to grow. For me, at least.

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It’s not just the blemish-free leaves, where no insect has ever clamped teeth. It was the uniformity in the size of the plants, the abundance of bloom, the clearly visible knowledge of when and how to prune, what time to plant out to achieve optimal results. This little courtyard with central fountain was planted entirely in deep reds, using the Salvia van houttei, claret and ruby-colored bedding chrysanthemums, burgundy-leaved coleus, and chased with silvery liriope. Some of my companions found it over the top and garish, but this is the kind of seasonal, bedding-out display that a garden with such horticultural skill and resources simply must do because they alone can do it. Personally, I’d ditch the mums and plant grasses with this spectacular salvia, but I have to admit this almost old-fashioned show of plantsmanship and rich concentration of color was thrilling. By daylight the courtyard did seem flat, but at twilight the deep reds smoldered. I had to be torn away from this little courtyard at closing time.

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Salvia involucrata, the rosebud sage. Never an easy salvia to grow. For me, at least.
There were yards and yards of these rosebud sages.
I always get massive amounts of leaf, sprawling growth, and little bloom that’s not molested by some budworm.

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Salvia ‘Mulberry Jam,’ an involucrata hybrid. Never an easy….etc.

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The familiar Salvia leucantha, familiar yet entirely new when backed by rusty-golden fall foliage.
This salvia is mostly poorly grown in Southern California, because rarely is it pruned back hard in spring but left to grow gangly and bare at the base.
Possibly a case of horticultural familiarity breeding contempt. Here at Longwood it is recognized for the treasure it is.

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Salvia leucantha again, with possibly Salvia guaranitica in the foreground and the plush leaves of tibouchina to the sides.
(The leaf seems too stiff for guaranitica, so I’m not sure at all about this ID. Seemed too short to be S. patens.)

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With tibouchina, agastache, and possibly veronicastrum in the background. Or maybe it’s vitex. I wonder if the tibouchina’s purple flowers failed to show.

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Flowers or not, the tibouchina’s big, felty leaves are safe harbor for the eye adrift in an endless sea of blue.

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Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens is vast, over 1,050 acres, and also very old.

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From Wikipedia: “What is now Longwood Gardens was originally purchased from William Penn in 1700 by a fellow Quaker named George Peirce (1646–1734). Although it started as a working farm, in 1798 twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce planted the first specimens of an arboretum, originally named Peirce’s Park, and has been open to the public almost continuously since that time. By 1850 they had amassed one of the finest collections of trees in the nation. Industrialist Pierre S. du Pont (1870–1954) purchased the property from the Peirce family in 1906 to save the arboretum from being sold for lumber. He made it his private estate, and from 1906 until the 1930s, du Pont added extensively to the property.”

We had a laughably inadequate five hours to explore Longwood. The meadow alone requires at least 30 minutes to walk its perimeter paths. At a brisk pace.

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The tulip poplars, oaks, and maples were taking on brilliant fall color, but as everyone we met assured us, it was a relatively anemic performance compared to years past.

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The day began at 6:00 a.m., when we left relatives in Chicopee, Massachusetts, swung by New York to pick up a friend at the subway stop near The Cloisters, from there got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and arrived at Longwood around noon. We stayed until closing, 5:00 p.m., drove to Philadelphia’s Chinatown to meet friends for Burmese noodles at Rangoon, then returned to New York by 10:30 p.m. to check in at our hostel in Chelsea. Covering such distances is not out of the ordinary, coming as we do from Southern California, but locals thought our itinerary was absolutely mad. The distances were not the problem but, rather, the number of gardens we thought it possible to see in one day. In this we were seriously deluded, since we’d actually thought it possible to include Chanticleer on the same afternoon as Longwood! So close, but both so vast, with too much of interest to join in a single afternoon.

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I’ll have some of my own photos to post of Longwood later in the week.