I’m about to make a very strong statement – please don’t be alarmed. My statement will be concerning my favorite Salvia – the Salvia I would choose over all other Salvias (and there could be around 900 of them, and that’s species, not cultivars) which, as a gardener, is a pretty difficult decision, know what I mean?
By no means is this my favorite plant – don’t even go there!
Ok, ready? (is there a drumroll I can put here?)
Salvia pomifera. Yep – Salvia pomifera, I’m calling you out. You’re the one for me.
There are other honorable and distinguished and beautiful Salvias & I love a good number of them (shout outs to Salvia carduacea, clevelandii & semiatrata – I LOVE YOU GUYS) but Salvia pomifera is my lasting favorite & has been for many years. It’s preposterously gorgeous in flower, not monstrous in size, super tolerant of drought & it’s useful. Stir these fine qualities together and add whatever sentimental attachments I’ve made to the species, and you have the one Salvia. There’s some skill involved in growing it, but I’m going to tell you all of that here and now, so no big deal. By the time you leave this blog you will be a Salvia pomifera PRO and you can take one home without any anxiety over potentially killing The Salvia that Claire Would Choose Above All Others.
No pressure. I’m a firm believer in pushing the envelope – if a plant grows like a weed that can be delightful, but there’s also a joy in taking on a plant with a little bit of challenge. It’s not always true that the effort expended is rewarded in kind, and my compost pile tells of many sad failures, but success can be sweet!! I believe that the key lies in the following three things. Here goes:
1. This plant can drown. Most plants can, but this one’s particularly sensitive to it. What that means is that you should water it carefully – watching that things aren’t overwatered particularly, and keeping the soil on the dry side – plant it on a mound, or at the edge of a bed, as increased drainage will help protect the plant against The Soggy Death. Got a slope? Well drained soil?
2. Once it’s established, STOP WATERING. This should be after the first winter. You’ll know if the plant is failing to take because it will shrivel and die. Really, that’s the symptom. Once the plant gets to that rotten point, there’s a very good chance it won’t revive. Sorry. It’s true. It’s very similar to a lot of the woodier Mediterranean sages. Once the plant is established you can just let it run wild, with occasional deep watering *maybe* – but in these first few seasons, it helps to keep a careful eye.
3. Grow it lean! Nutrient heavy soil is going to do you no favors, so don’t plant it in the vegetable bed. Overfeeding will cause weak growth and more breakage, and more breakage=unhappy plant.
Now you know!
In addition to huge purple blue glowy flowers, a long season of bloom, the showy bracts that stay on the plant well after bloom and keep things interesting, the silvery leaves, the LONG SEASON OF BLOOM (did I mention the long blooming?) and the plants resistance to drought & deer, there’s also this fascinating bit that I haven’t been able to appreciate in person: there’s a wasp that has a special relationship with this plant. The wasp isn’t here in CA, it’s back in Greece, Salvia pomifera’s original stomping grounds, but this wasp makes big wooly galls on the plant that are preserved in sugar and eaten as a delicacy. We’re not about to import the wasp to try to replicate this ourselves, but it sounds potentially delicious, and definitely curious. Not much is known about the herbal properties of the plant hereabouts, but it’s said to be similar to our common friend Salvia officinalis, but stronger. Hrmmmm.
I hope that some of you out there in the blogosphere take it upon yourselves to attempt this amazing sage! It’s been one of my favorite things (again – that word – “favorite” – but I do mean it!) that we’ve grown in the last few years, and I would be downright tickled to start seeing it out in the world more!