Xeric Choices: California and the Canary Islands Meet in a Xeric Garden
Graceful and gloriously colorful, yet tolerant of heat and drought, Xeric Salvias come to Flowers by the Sea from near and far. Our collection currently stands at 131, but keeps growing.
We have low-water Salvias native to Africa, Asia, the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Mexico, Central and South America, Arizona, California and Texas as well as xeric hybrids that originated in unexpected and generally more humid environments, such as North Carolina, Oregon and Britain. All were selected for their beauty as well as their ability to endure harsh conditions.
This is our fourth post about xeriscape gardening, the low-water landscaping method developed in Denver more than 30 years ago. It isn’t possible to cover all the variety that we offer in one post; instead, many of the articles in our xeriscape series – including this one – will suggest attractive groupings of Xeric Salvias and companion plants.
All of the plants in this post do well together in USDA Zones 9 and 10. Some can tolerate colder areas while others do fine in the sub-tropical climate of Zone 11. Overall, our suggestions should give you an idea about how to color coordinate a xeriscape garden and set up a rhythm in the plantings. So if some of our suggestions don’t work in your Zone, take a look at the many substitutions available in our catalog and in xeriscape lists available online.
Canary Islands Meet California
The plan for this first perennial garden includes plants native to California as well as ones whose homelands are the Canary Islands southwest of Spain and northwest of Africa. To round out the garden, we’re including a number of xeric companion plants recommended by Colorado State University, one of the original participants in shaping the xeriscape movement.
Canary Island White Sage. Be prepared for a lot of white-to-silvery-green foliage, because we built the cool and hot colors of this garden around Canary Island White Sage (Sideritis oroteneriffae). It isn’t a true sage, but is closely related to the Salvia genus.
It isn’t the tiny yellow blossoms of Canary Island Sage that make it spectacular. It’s the color and texture of the plant’s foliage as well as its commanding size. Furry and pulpy, the plant’s leaves are tempting to stroke like velvet. The hairiness and succulent-like thickness of the leaves are nature’s way of helping Canary Island Sage to conserve moisture. If summer heat is harsh and water is scarce where you live, this Salvia can handle it.
Canary Island White Sage can grow up to 5 feet tall and wide, which means that it might make a good centerpiece for a garden in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11. Plant it in full sun – perhaps near a fence you want to screen -- and surround it with shorter plantings that require little water.
Canary Island Sage. The shrub-like Salvia canariens may grow from 4 to 6 feet tall depending on the warmth of your Zone. In Zone 7, it grows up to about 4 feet. In warmer Zones it may appear to be a shrub instead of a perennial. Similar to S. oroteneriffae, it may spread up to 5 feet wide. Plant one on either side of your Canary Island White Sage and you eventually create a screen that may be as long as 15 feet.
Once again, the leaves have a velvety hairiness. However, it is the cloud-like spikes of purple-violet flowers that make this Salvia stand out. Bloom time varies depending on location. However, in Northern California, it flowers from June through January.
Giant Hummingbird Sage. Salvia spathacea ‘Powerline Pink’ is also referred to as Pitcher Sage. Tuck three of these beauties, evenly spaced, in front of the S. oroteneriffae and the S. canariens. Giant Hummingbird Sage grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Similar to the Canary Island plants, the thick hairs of Giant Hummingbird Sage foliage give it a shimmering, velvety grey look.
Topanga Hummingbird Sage. No plants that we grow are more attractive to hummingbirds than our Pitcher Sages, which do well in Zones 8 to 11. Salvia spathacea ‘Topanga’ grows about 2 feet tall, but 10 feet wide.
Center it in front of your Canary Island White Sage and Giant Hummingbird Sage so it can stretch out as a groundcover, spreading by underground runners. With fuchsia-pink flowers and burgundy calices, Topanga Hummingbird Sage provides a dramatic contrast to the silvery foliage of Canary Island White Sage. It blooms from spring into summer.
Xeric Companions for Salvias
To spark up the mix, add some Wine Cup (Callirhoe involucrate) plants on either side of the Giant Hummingbird Sage. They have lacy, forest green foliage and open-faced magenta flowers that bloom during the summer in Zones 3 to 10. They grow up to 3 feet tall and also attract hummingbirds.
Salvias are members of the mint (Laminaceae) family, which contains many plants that are fine companions for Xeric Salvias. One example is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), which has gray-green to green-purple foliage and grows about 1.5 feet tall and wide. They thrive in Zones 5 to 10.
Depending on the cultivar, English lavenders may have flowers that are blue-purple, lavender, violet-blue, or white-pink from June through August. Since they are shorter than the Topanga Hummingbird Sage, place about five to seven of them, evenly spaced, in front of the ground cover.
Finally, for a bit of heat, seed bright orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in the gaps between the lavender plants. They are annuals, but reseed freely year after year. Be sure to water carefully -- keeping all the plants moist, but not soggy – until they are well established and can live on less. That’s the goal, and all these plants are capable of meeting it.
Next in our Xeric Choices series, we’ll suggest some of the top must-have Xeric Salvias for Southern California and points beyond. Remember, if you have any questions, we’re happy to answer them.