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Composing a Symphony of Pastel Salvias Including Elk Rainbow Sages

Sep 10, 2013

Composing a Symphony of Pastel Salvias Including Elk Rainbow Sages
If you want to orchestrate a peaceful symphony in a flowerbed, planting a profusion of pastels is one way to do it. Pastels are lighter hues of bright primary and secondary colors. Blues become powdery; reds tone down to demure pinks and salmons; purples fade to lavender; oranges turn peachy; and yellows and whites turn creamy.


Although gardeners often visualize bright colors when thinking of Salvias, there are a number of pastels in the genus. These include:

  • Lavenders, pale blues, roses and yellows of California native species
  • Elaborate, confection-like combinations of blossoms and bracts among the Turkish Sages
  • Pale woodland pastels from Far Eastern countries including China and Japan
  • Jame Sage Hybrids (Salvia x jamensis spp.), including many in the new Flowers by the Sea series of Elk Rainbow Sages.

While touring our catalog, you'll notice that many of our plants are not available all year long. This makes it possible to stretch resources and offer a wider range of plants. Here is more information about our Limited Availability Policy. If you place a pre-order for an out-of-stock plant, you receive an email alert as soon as that plant is available once again.

California Fragrant Pastels
Most California native sages are pastels as well as being fragrant, heat resistant and drought tolerant. They include the roses and yellows of the Hummingbird Sages (Salvia spathacea spp.) and the pale violet-blue of Dara's Choice Creeping Sage (Salvia 'Dara's Choice').

Lavender flowers dominate and range from nearly white -- such as those of White Sage (Salvia apiana), which owes its common name to its pale foliage -- to the deeper shades of the Cleveland Sages (Salvia clevelandii spp.) and the Purple Sages (Salvia leucophylla spp.).

Our group of California natives also includes the bicolor Salvia relative Island Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans), which demonstrates how delicate looking cream and lavender flowers can be deceiving. Although this plant is less adaptable to extreme heat than the other California natives, it is similarly tough in its ability to get by with little water during summer.

Turkish Beauties
Central Asian sages -- such as ones from Turkey -- sometimes look good enough to eat. These include the impossibly frilly Caucasian Mountain Sage (Salvia pachystachys) and the celestial pink-to-violet flowered Blue Turkish Sage (Salvia cyanescens).

The flower clusters of Caucasian Mountain Sage look a bit like scoops of sherbet with their tubular lavender flowers surrounded by pale pink and green bracts.

Far Eastern Woodland Pastels
One of the ultimate pastel beauties in our gardens is Bicolor Szechuan Sage, a species without a proper botanical name. It is a mid-sized woodland perennial from China that has fuzzy, dusky lavender and pale lemon-yellow bicolored flowers. How unceremonious to be forced to call it Salvia sp. from Szechuan! Unfortunately, botanical naming is an expensive project.

A lovely choice from Nepal that deserves a place in your pastel garden is Himalayan Cloud Sage (Salvia nubicola), which has light yellow flowers shaped like parrot beaks and marked with thin, purple stripes. Similarly pale, the rosy cream flowers of Japanese Kyushu Woodland Sage (Salvia nipponica 'BSWJ5829') look as if silk worms might weave them. So don't be put off by the odd numerical appellation in its scientific name.

Elk Rainbow Sage Series
One large group of pastel sages is among the Jame Sage Hybrids (Salvia x jamensis), which are always crosses of the Southwestern and Mexican natives Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) and Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla). Sometimes Jame Sages have additional lineage from other Salvia species.

Certainly there are Jame Sages in bright, bold colors, but many are ethereal, almost luminous pastels. The Elk Rainbow Sage Series, which contains brights as well as pastels and bicolors, is in the introduction stage at our coastal farm near the village of Elk in Northern California. This tells you what adaptable hybrids Jame Sages are with their ability to thrive in a relatively cool coastal climate as well as semi-arid Southwestern lands.

Among our Elk Rainbow Sages, you'll find a wide range of blues, reds, yellows (including creams), oranges, purples and bicolor varieties. Sometimes the bicolors look like glowing botanical interpretations of sunrise and sunset.

Elk Rainbow Sages are the kind of plants that lure viewers into close observation. So they work well in containers, along pathways and at front of border. They are drought tolerant yet appreciate regular watering based on your local conditions. Bloom time extends from spring into fall with lightest flowering usually during the hottest part of summer despite the heat tolerance of these sages.

From brights to pastels, we love all the many colors of Salvias in our gardens. Whatever kind of flowerbed you are hoping to compose, we'd be glad to offer some tips. Always feel free to contact us with your questions and comments.


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Ask Mr Sage is one of the most popular categories in our Everything Salvias blog. Here are a few of the latest posts:
Ask Mr. Sage: How to Place Advance Orders with FBTS - Flowers by the Sea is a mail-order nursery eliminating craziness from garden planning with advance orders and customer selection of shipping dates. Ask Mr. Sage is a regular feature based on calls and emails received by FBTS. This article details how to use our redesigned preorder process and other catalog tools for making sure you get the plants you want when you want them. Ask Mr. Sage: How to Select Plants for Garden Triumph - Planning for Salvia garden success requires following the rule of selecting the right plant for the right place. Desert sages aren't appropriate for the damp Southeast. Moisture-loving ones aren't right for desert climates where they need lots of watering to survive. Flowers by the Sea Farm and Online Nursery offers tips for selecting plants based on local climate. Ask Mr. Sage is a regular feature of the FBTS Everything Salvias Blog. Ask Mr. Sage: How Should I Prune my Salvias? - Flowers by the Sea Online Nursery specializes in Salvias and often receives questions about how to prune them. Although getting good at pruning takes practice, Salvias rebound quickly if you make mistakes. A key to successful pruning is understanding the varying needs of four main categories of sages. Ask Mr. Sage is a regular feature of the FBTS Everything Salvias Blog. Ask Mr. Sage: Do You Offer Free Shipping? - Like free lunches, free shipping is a myth. Flowers by the Sea doesn't offer free shipping, because it would require increasing plant prices to cover the cost of shipping. Read more to learn how FBTS sets fair shipping prices. Ask Mr. Sage is a regular feature of the Everything Salvias Blog and is based on calls and notes from customers. Ask Mr. Sage: Best Time to Plant Drought Resistant CA Natives - Drought resistant California native sages thrive when planted in fall. It's easier for roots to become established when soil is warm, air temperatures are cooler and precipitation is increasing. Ask Mr. Sage is a regular feature of the Everything Salvias Blog and is based on calls and emails from customers. Ask Mr. Sage: What Is Shipping in Boxes Like for Salvias? - It's understandable to worry about the condition of plants following shipment in a box. However, Flowers by the Sea Online Plant Nursery is exceedingly careful to make sure your plants arrive in healthy condition. A satisfied customer sent us the photos in this article. Step by step, they illustrate the process of unpacking and hardening off FBTS plants received by 3-day ground delivery more than 1200 miles away from our Northern California farm.