Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Burning Bush: Salvia Darcyi?
I have referred to Salvia darcyi glancingly in many posts over the last few years. Perhaps it's time to grasp the thistle (so to speak) and acknowledge this uber-sage, this conflagration, this burning bush of garden plants. Just a few days ago, Mark Kane (an old gardening friend and great horticulturist) commented casually as we strolled past a planting of this sage at DBG) that he was with Carl Schoenfeld and John Fairey (of the famed Yucca Do and Peckerwood Garden) in 1988 in Nuevo Leon when they first collected this taxon: at the time they thought it was Salvia oresbia. A few years later James Compton and William D'Arcy accompanied the Yucca Do meisters to the same spot, and the plant was subsequently named (or renamed?...I am not sure Charles Christopher Parry's collection of S. oresbia in 1878 might not be the same plant incidentally--which would wreak a bit of nomenclatural havoc...)
I obtained starts of this from Salvia guru Richard Dufresne shortly after it was discovered and grew it in the Rock Alpine Garden where it was spectacular: I now wonder if I might not have been the first to grow this in a public garden? Is there a prize for doing that, I wonder? I would take cuttings since it was not reliably perennial in the Montane Slope where I had planted it. Years later it was planted in the Schlessman Plaza of the Romantic Gardens where it confounded me by being vigorously perennial. The spectacle it produced there (and its hardiness) led to its introduction through Plant Select in 2007 as 'Vermillion Bluffs'--the clone introduced through the program being especially vigorous, upright and hardy.
Since 2007 Salvia darcyi has been propagated and planted on a far wider scale than it would have before, and I am beginning to see it here and there around the Denver metro area thriving in places where I never would have imagined it growing before. Although it does hail from 9000' in the Sierra Madre Oriental (and experiences some pretty frosty conditions in its native habitat) we cannot consider this an ironclad plant in our zone 5/6 Denver area--but situated in protected corners, between rocks or against buildings it has proved hardier than we ever imagined. And in places like Pueblo, Grand Junction, La Junta it is predictably and reliably hardy in most garden sites. These pictures were taken at the spectacular gardens at Kendrick Lake, where the plant has been perennial in many highly exposed situatons (and where it is wonderfully displayed as you can see).
This year at DBG the first flowers came out in April, and by May it was a mass of scarlet awesomeness. It has continued, virtually non-stop, through the intervening months--and there are still masses of flowers on most plants of this I know in Denver in late September. Not many garden perennials can boast this length of blooming season. And I can think of no other flower that is so gaudily, ostentatiously, joyously red. I have no doubt that were Moses to come across this plant, he would not be surprised to hear it speak to him! It has spoken to me for decades.