Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

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NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

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Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Limelight salvia

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One of late Summer's most electric combinations—these indigo flowers, emerging from these lime-green calyces—arises from a clump of boring growth that hangs out in the greenhouse all Winter.  That's the lesson of 'Limelight' salvia.  Want the excitement?  Accept the dullness.  No pain, no gain. 

 

Here's the beginning the fireworks, the spikes of lime-green buds that appear in September.

 

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Even the stems of the flower spikes are lime-green.

 

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And then, the indigo flowers.  They emerge on a note of comedy, looking either like fuzzy noses or furry tongues.

 

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Or maybe like boxing gloves, if only they came in indigo. 

 

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And then, the flowers fling themselves open, with the upper petals' projecting energy exceeded only by the stamens, which project still farther.  The lower petals angle down, completing the open-mouthed look of a flower in full shriek.

 

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The display couldn't be more assertive. 

 

But this is what the plant looks like in the greenhouse.  It couldn't be more boring. 

 

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Yes, you can plant 'Limelight' as an annual.  But it's an earlier, bigger, and longer show if you overwinter it.  Not much pain, really; see "How to handle it".  And such gain.     

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this full-throated salvia:


Latin Name

Salvia mexicana 'Limelight'

Common Name

'Limelight' Salvia

Family

Lamiaceae, the Mint family.

What kind of plant is it?

Subtropical perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 10.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and wide-spreading, with no one stem predominant.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Growing in-ground, a clump six feet wide and tall.  Big even as an annual: four to five feet tall and wide.

Texture

Loose and unobtrusive until the spikes of acid-yellow calyces begin to appear above the nondescript green leaves.  Then the texture changes to lively.  And when the bright-blue flowers emerge?  The texture becomes electric.

Grown for

its flowering stems and calyces:  By September, narrow lime-yellow tips appear on all the leafy-green stems, like the fingernails of a dragon who finally got tired of blood red.  They soon lengthen into lime-yellow spikes over a foot long, with whirls of nine pointed buds alternating with eight shorter leaflets.  The display is good enough to merit growing 'Limelight' even if no true flowers appear.  But then, the flowers!

 

its flowers:  Each has a Jimmy Durante profile, emerging schnoz-first from its calyx.  But Jimmy's nose was never indigo—or fuzzy.  The protruding buds soon open into a "shout-out" silhouette, as if each flower were singing its highest note at dog pitch.  It's a full-throated display.

Flowering season

Late Summer into Fall, starting in September.

Color combinations

'Limelight' is peerless at celebrating yellow, white, and blue.  But such a large and specific talent is also a limitation.  'Limelight' has nothing to say to pink, red, or orange.  Even burgundy—which, along with white, is normally the universal mixer—seems too interesting.  The color harmony of 'Limelight' is fully established within the flower spike itself, between calyx and flower.  It's complete, neither needing nor welcoming outsiders.  It doesn't even need the rest of the 'Limelight' plant, whose stems and mid-green leaves are just the scaffolding for the spikes.

Plant partners 

With possibilities for additional color so limited, bring in partners that amplify the colors at hand—light yellow and deep blue—but with different shapes and textures. 

 

"Bush" dahlias—the cultivars that are naturally shrubby in habit and not so tall that they need staking—come in every possible color, and are in bloom as long as 'Limelight' is.  Choose cultivars with lemon-yellow flowers, such as 'Honka'.  I love the petals of 'Honka', too, which are few as well as pencil-thin.  Mid-size cannas are another late-season possibility, especially if the flowers are the palest, such as those of 'Lofty Lanterns' and 'Ermine', or are hybrids of water cannas (which grow equally well in normal garden beds) such as Canna glauca 'Ra'.

 

Late-in-the-season green flowers include Zinnia 'Green Envy', Boltonia 'Nally's Lime Dots' , Helianthus annuus 'Jade Hybrid', Nicotiana langsdorffii, Cestrum nocturnum, Eucomis pole-evansii, and Zantedeschia 'Green Goddess'.

 

Lime-green foliage is another option.  The challenge is finding such foliage so late in the season; there's plenty of lime foliage May through July.  Here's foliage that's bright all season.  The yellow-and-pale green swords of Arundo donax 'Golden Chain' would be eyepopping.  What about Buddleia 'Evil Ways'?  Its bright purple flowers would be a vibrating counter to the indigo blooms of 'Limelight'.  I've always felt it would be worth it to build brick walls just to be able to unleash Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart' on them.  Adding the intense blue spikes of 'Limelight' to the foreground would only make the ivy more lively.  And this elephant ear, whose name couldn't be a better indicator of its congeniality with 'Limelight':  Xanthosoma aurea 'Lime Zinger'. 

 

Bringing electric blue into the garden in September and October is more of a puzzle.  Blue asters would look washed out in comparison; iris would be easy if only they didn't finish blooming in July.  But there are clematis to consider.  'Perle d'Azur' is late enough—but is it blue enough?  (The green-yellow flowers of C. rehderiana would be a good match, if you can be sure to keep a couple of strands from climbing out of sight into nearby shrubbery and trees.  But it doesn't help bring more blue into the picture.)  The pulsating sapphire flowers of blue ginger, Dichorisandra thyrsifolia, seem perfect.  This year, I'll see if I can get a couple of pots of it near my 'Limelight'. 

 

Another tactic is to grow 'Limelight' as the only bright colors amid darker green neighbors.  A drift of nothing but 'Limelight' against old yews or boxwood would be an indelible memory.

Where to use it in your garden

'Limelight' is perhaps best used as filler in mixed full-sun plantings, where its nondescript foliage doesn't matter amid other flash and dazzle from May through August. Then, all of a sudden, its sensational September-to-frost calyces and flowers can assume center stage.  

 

'Limelight' would also be great in really large containers, where there's enough room for other companions through which it can quietly weave until its late-season blooms take over.

Culture

Sun, warmth, good soil, good drainage. 

How to handle it: The Basics

As an annual, plant 'Limelight' where you would a dahlia:  In rich deep soil in full sun and with excellent drainage; let the top of the soil dry out before you worry about watering.  But, on the other hand, the largest growth happens when the plant doesn't have to scrounge for water.

 

As a perennial, plant in good soil with excellent drainage over the Winter.  The easiest solution for "excellent drainage over the Winter" is to never plant 'Limelight' on level ground.  On a slope, even the slightest, excess surface water will always just be passing through, not settling in to encourage rot.  

 

Wait until Spring to cut old stems to the ground.  As always with plants that are only semi-hardy, violating the integrity of the stems by cutting them back in the Fall is always an invitation to cold water to collect in the base of the plant, or even shunt directly down to the roots.  Don't cut back, however, until the plant has started into growth: Let it wake up before you do anything drastic. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

If you grow 'Limelight' in a sturdy nursery pot, you can combine the large-as-possible growth of life a garden bed with an easy dig-up to bring the plant into shelter for the Winter.  I use a three-gallon pot, which I sink into a full-sun garden bed in late May.  'Limelight' quickly sends of plenty of roots through the pot's drainage holes; the bed will need to be deeply-dug to encourage these roots, which will, necessarily, be emerging from the bottom of the pot.  Just after light frost, I cut all the 'Limelight' stems back to six inches.  This makes the pot a snap to dig up, and also encourages bushy new growth from the base of the plant.

 

The plant grows slowly in the greenhouse over the Winter, which is a space-saving blessing.  I also pinch any stems that get taller than a foot, which maintains the plant's modest size while also ensuring even more spikes of bloom in the Summer.  In late May, when the weather is reliably warm day and night, I sink the pot back into the garden.   

Downsides

If only 'Limelight' were hardier.  North of the Carolinas, grow this Salvia as an annual.  Or as a perennial in a large container; see "How to handle it:  Another option—or two?" for tips.

Variants

There are so many salvias!  Flowers can be white, blue, pink, raspberry, apricot, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, or near-black—and are often more colorful still because they arise out of an equally colorful (but, often, contrastingly hued) calyx.  Only iris and orchids have a wider palette.  Habits can be low and bushy, more like lavender and catmint, to sparse and vertical, to broad, thick, and shrub-like at almost any height.  So few, alas, are hardy below Zone 7—but most of them will flower the same season even as small rooted cuttings, so succeed even as annuals. 

 

That said, the tenderness of most of the truly cool salvias is one of the more challenging parts of gardening where it's colder than Zone 7.  Wondering what your options really are?   Flowers by the Sea is a nursery that prides itself on having over a hundred salvias to choose from.  Salvia dombeyi tops my list to try in 2012.  Not only does it have the largest flowers of any salvia, the plant is the largest as well: To twenty feet!  (OK, it's scandent not self-supporting.  But maybe I can coax it up to ten feet in New England.)

 

Other must-haves for 2012?  In Salvia mexicana 'Compton's Form', the same blue flowers of 'Limelight' emerge from black calyces.  Not eggplant, not blue.  Black.  ('La Placita' seems identical.)  S. discolor has silver calyces and flowers that are themselves black.

 

There are always more flavors to savor.  If you find that you can't do without fewer than three or four salvias, soon you won't be able to do with fewer than eight to ten.  Then fifteen to twenty.  I'm already at Level Two of salvia addiction: eight to ten.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings in Spring and Summer.

Native habitat

Salvia mexicana is native to Mexico.  'Limelight' was found in the central Mexican state of Querétaro, where this species is indigenous.

 
 
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