Silver Takes Center Stage

The end of another warm week in Northern California—would it be overly optimistic to call it the last fit of summer? Each morning, dawn breaks just a bit later, as if the sun doesn’t begrudge me the luxury of a few more moments of sleep. And more often than not, dusk catches me out on my evening walk now. The leaves of the Chinese Pistache trees on campus are daily more suffused with amber and red, smoldering into the interior until the foliage will soon be alight with radiant hues of fall. My hands are itching to be in cool, moist soil again, planting spinach, lettuce, kale and arugula. The end of the first week of September—what a sense of anticipation is wrapped up in those words, both beckoning change and foreboding leaf rakes and pruning shears, woolen scarves and sweaters, leather boots, umbrellas. But in the interval between “leaf rakes” and “pruning shears” there is more than just an article; there is a prime gardening season. With that in mind, Horticultural Manager Jim Belles selected two exceptional performers for our Plants of the Week.

Perovskia ruscifolia ‘Filigran’ is an improved cultivar of a timeless favorite in our region—Russian Sage. Finely-cut, ferny foliage in shades of silvery green sets off the airy spikes of lavender-blue flowers to advantage. Due to its clumping habit and graceful spires that branch from the ground, this drought-tolerant perennial makes a lovely informal border to a lawn or walk. Jim favors ‘Filigran’ because it is more compact than the species—measuring about 3 feet high and wide at maturity—thrives in full sun, poor soil and harsh conditions. Perovskia shines in a perennial bed or landscape, drawing butterflies and diverse species of pollinator insects to the garden. Prolific blooms from mid-summer through fall make this one an essential, especially in cottage gardens, meadows, Mediterranean and Southwestern-themed yards.

Another silvery standout is Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’—the aptly dubbed Skyrocket Juniper. Fabulous threadlike texture on vertical shoots cloak its conical form, spreading only 2-3 feet wide, and growing rapidly to around 12 feet. In time, it may peak at 15-20 feet high, forming a superb maintenance-free hedgerow or regal columnar accent. Clean, tight habit is inherent to this evergreen, which requires no pruning, and needs very little water once established. It thrives in full sun, handles wind, and is not fussy about soil; as Jim pointed out, it is one of the best-suited conifers to our interior Northern California climate. He suggests pairing it with other drought-tolerant selections like New Zealand Flax, Grevillea, Rock Rose, Russian Sage (such as the one above) and Salvias for year-around texture, color, and low-maintenance beauty.

So whether the holiday weekend finds you in your garden, ours, or far away, all of us at Magnolia wish you a safe and relaxing Labor Day!

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