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Made for Shade: Japanese Woodland Salvias

First posted on Aug 21, 2015

Made for Shade: Japanese Woodland Salvias

Sturdy, shade-loving Japanese Salvias are lovely additions to woodland gardens with their deceptively delicate-looking flowers and lush, large-leafed foliage. They are ideal for bordering curving pathways through trees and other woodland plants, because they invite visitors to pause for close-up views.

If you've ever visited a Japanese garden, you probably have noticed a number of key elements contributing to the serene atmosphere, including:

  • A variety of shady trees
  • Plentiful understory including ferns and shade-loving grasses
  • Tiny streams, ponds or other water features
  • Inviting paths and
  • Places for resting, such as benches and gazebos.

Backyard Woodland Refuges
Of course, woodland gardens needn't be so elaborate. You can transform a portion of your yard containing trees and bushes into a more pleasing setting with the addition of artfully arranged stepping stones and flowering perennials.

Enchanting woodland gardens, whether Japanese or any style, are partial to full shade settings. They may even include hidden clearings such as the "secret" outdoor dining area included in a slide show at Garden Design Magazine. Garden writer Kevin Lee Jacobs created this woodland garden in which he used wood chips for flooring. To surprise his dinner guests, Jacobs sets a formal table -- complete with china, cloth napkins and flatware -- behind a screen of trees and shrubs, including honeysuckle.

A birdbath with a mister to attract hovering hummingbirds can be placed in a partially shaded spot to invoke the soothing sounds and appearance of water.

Partial shade is best for birdbaths, because full sunlight encourages algal growth and makes water too warm for birds. Conversely, full-shade areas aren't good locations due to offering cover for predators such as cats.

Evelyn J. Haddon of the Less Lawn website suggests creating a dry stream of gravel or rocks running through the garden if you don't have the money or time for a real water feature. Adding some large rocks and boulders increases the riparian look.

Eight Shady Japanese Sages
Japan's woodlands are home to lovely, cold-hardy sages, many of which also tolerate heat. These are water-loving plants that can handle damp areas in the yard, but also do well in drier areas with average watering.

Aside from lining paths, these sages are excellent in containers and as groundcovers. Plant them in rich, well-drained soil.

Here are our favorites to enjoy in your gardens. We've organized them by USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and have indicated the minimum temperatures they tolerate.

Zone 4 (-30 Degrees F)
Shinano-akigiri (Salvia koyamae) Zones 4 to 9
Yellow shade Salvias are rare; this is our best one. It is so cold resistant and popular that we grow it year round. At times when it is out of stock, all you have to do is click on the email me when back in stock button for immediate notice when it is available again.

  • Translucent yellow flowers bloom in fall
  • 30 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Bright yellow-green, arrow-shaped foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Heat and cold tolerant

Zone 5 (-20 Degrees F)
Japanese Woodland Sage or Shu Wei Cao (Salvia japonica)
This long-blooming sage has edible foliage.

  • Whorling lavender flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 12 inches wide
  • Purple-to-green, basal foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Cold tolerant

Pink Makino (Salvia glabrescens 'Momobana') Zones 5 to 9
The bottom lip of this sage looks like a tutu in contrast to the tall, slender, upper lip, which might be imagined as a ballerina's torso. By the way, roughly translated, momobana means "pink flower."

  • Two-tone, hot and soft pink flowers bloom in fall
  • 18 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Shiny green, arrow-shaped, basal foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Heat and cold tolerant

Makino (Salvia glabrascens 'Shi Ho') Zones 5 to 9
The toothed foliage of this Makino transforms from bright to dark green as the season unfolds.

  • Two-tone pink and purple flowers bloom in fall
  • 30 inches tall in bloom, 18 inches wide
  • Shiny, arrow-shaped, basal foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Cold tolerant

Makino (Salvia glabrascens 'Elk Yellow & Purple') Zones 5 to 9
This is a slow-growing plant, but well worth the wait for its translucent flowers with dramatic beelines. The common name of all three S. glabrescens species likely honors Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), who is often called the father of Japanese botany.

  • Creamy yellow and deep purple, two-tone flowers bloom in fall
  • 18 inches tall and 30 wide in bloom
  • Shiny green, arrow-shaped, basal foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Heat and cold tolerant

Zone 6 (-10 Degrees F)
Kyushu Woodland Sage (Salvia nipponica 'BSWJ5829') Zones 6 to 9
This plant's unusual cultivar name is its collection number, which is assigned when you scientifically name a plant.

  • Creamy yellow flowers
  • 12 inches tall in bloom, 18 inches wide
  • Deep green foliage with serrated edges
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Cold tolerant

Variegated Japanese Woodland Sage (Salvia nipponica 'Fuji Snow') Zones 6 to 9
Irregular white mottling and edges give this sage a bright look in the shade.

  • Yellow flowers bloom in fall
  • 24 inches tall and wide in bloom
  • Smooth, variegated green and white foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Cold tolerant
  • Deer resistant

Questions about Woodland Gardens
For more information about FBTS plants that fit well in woodland gardens, please call or write to us. We're glad to help you create serenity in your backyard.

Salvia koyamae Returns to FBTS

Salvia koyamae is back and waiting for you at Flowers by the Sea. Plant this shade-loving groundcover now for strong root growth. It will reward you with large, arrow-shaped leaves and buttery yellow flowers that bloom in autumn.

Sometimes through no intention of our own, a beautiful plant we love remains out of production far longer than intended. Any number of problems may occur to cause such a disappearance.

We're happy that S. koyamae -- one of our best woodland sages for damp, shady conditions -- is available again. Sometimes referred to simply as Yellow Sage, it is also commonly known as Shinano-akigiri.

Koyama Spruce is a rare plant that is endemic to Japan's island of Honshu. S. koyamae is also a Honshu native along with its close relatives S. glabrescens (known commonly as Makino ) and S. nipponica. The Salvias by Origin category in the product menu atop our homepage contains links to lists of sages from many regions of the world, including Japanese Natives.

Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), who is often called the father of Japanese botany, gave S. koyamae its scientific name in 1922. He most likely named it for Japanese botanist Mitsuo Koyama (1885-1935) for whom Koyama Spruce (Picea koyamae) is named.

Makino was born during a period of great upheaval and modernization in Japan. He discovered botany during early childhood, a period of personal upheaval when he had to drop out of school for a number of years following the death of his parents.

In time, Makino became a famous modernizer in the plant world despite beginning his career as a self-taught botanist and plant explorer. He was one of the first Japanese botanists to classify plants using the Linnean system of binomial nomenclature in which each plant is given a two-part name -- genus and species -- possessed by no other plant in the world.

Shinano-akigiri is one of the thousands of Japanese flora that Makino classified. It brightens partial to full shade settings and survives heat, cold and humidity . We're glad that Makino brought this woodland beauty to the attention of the horticultural world.

If you have any questions about S. koyamae, any of our Asian native species, or anything to do with shade gardening, please contact us and we'll help you promptly.

Edited Jul 18, 2018 05:00 PM


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