Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Shape of Good Things to Come

One group of plants brings in more hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators than practically anything else in our garden. It’s the genus Salvia—a group of perennials and annuals that produce flowers in red, blue, purple, violet, white and bi-colors. Their tubular flowers are well-suited to a hummingbird’s long straw-like tongue. Bees, even smaller ones, that can’t fit inside the flowers, take the easy way out by chewing a hole at the base to access nectar.

Besides the common culinary sage (also a Salvia), there are many different species. One that is particularly lovely is the new Salvia coccinea ‘‘Summer Jewel Red.’ This species is also called hummingbird sage, scarlet sage and Texas sage.

The folks at All-America Selections chose Summer Jewel Red as one of their 2011 winners. It was rated superior and above average because it flowers early (50 days from sowing seeds) and it’s covered in blooms through autumn. It works in containers and in the ground in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Flowers are about ½ inch long on plants that reach 20” tall and 16” wide. I think this one is going to place the older standby, Lady in Red, which, for me, had a somewhat lax habit. Thanks to those hard working breeders at Takii & Co., Ltd. I’m looking forward to buying seeds at my local garden center.

I plan to pair it with blue-flowered ageratum and white sweet alyssum. Or perhaps turn it into a hot-colored container with some Gaillardia and Cosmos ‘Bright Lights.’ Or maybe I’ll put some in the 80-foot-long perennial border with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus), liatris, Coreopsis 'Zagreb', white daisies and celosia. A plant that provides this much bloom power through our northeastern Illinois summer is worth starting from seed.

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