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Northeast Gardening: Salvia Says Welcome to My Garden!

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Salvia leads the way as Lowe's Northeast garden expert Irene Virag plants her signature.

 Salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' offers brilliant-blue blossoms and black calyxes.
'Van Houttei Paul' grows fast and floriferous right up till frost.

In the garden as in life I try to avoid being a creature of habit. But there are exceptions. I always take a shower and floss my teeth before going to sleep. I always make the bed when I get up. And I always plant tall, fall-blooming salvias to carry my borders through till frost.

I simply have a thing for salvia.

It's a tender perennial in our region, so every year I get to match and mingle a bouquet of blooms that entice hummingbirds and butterflies and human admirers. My favorites include Salvia mexicana 'Tula', with lime-green and gentian blue flowers that shine in September; and S. guaranitica 'Black & Blue', another ready-made color combination. And then there's S. splendens 'Van Houttei Paul', with plump burgundy blossoms.

 Salvia 'Victoria Blue' cozies up to regal Casa Blanca lilies.

And let's not forget S. uliginosa, with blooms the color of the sky; and S. leucantha, with plush purple flowers that call out to be petted.

I also plant masses of annual blue salvia - 'Victoria Blue' is my favorite - at the feet of regal white Casa Blanca lilies.


'Heavenly Blue' morning glories festoon an obelisk .

I'm always talking about trying a perennial variety, or switching to catmint or veronica, or a hardy geranium such as 'Johnson's Blue' or some other purple-blue beauty I won't have to replace each spring. But I never do it. The proposed replacement is too short or too tall, or the bloom time doesn't suit my garden, or the color isn't quite right. Besides, 'Victoria Blue' has become my go-to, fill-in-the-gaps annual. I tuck it among the purple coneflowers, pink phlox, gaura and Gypsophila. 'Victoria Blue' has become a signature plant in my garden.

So has the ageratum along the curved Belgian block borders of the vegetable quadrants. I plant it close together so the flowers fill in and form a ribbon of soft lavender that echoes the herb circle in the center of the garden. Morning glories festoon the obelisk in the center of the herb circle.

 Gudoshnik tulips are springtime stars in the garden.

Lest you think I spend my summer in a purple haze, I'll tell you about some other plants that have become signatures in my garden. Hundreds of Gudoshnik tulips fill the vegetable quadrants every spring, glowing as the sunlight bounces off their big, bowl-shape blooms of cream, peach, rose and red.

But eventually the tulips give way to dahlias and vegetables.

Speaking of vegetables, I like to toss them in with my flowers. So Bright Lights Swiss chard and Redbor kale anchor the corners of the dahlia beds and roses, and lavender perfumes the vegetable beds. Another of my signature crops - an heirloom Italian squash best known by its old-country name, cucuzz - decorates an arbor that faces the road. It grows bigger than a baseball bat, and it's absolutely striking - as people who come into the garden without ducking discover right away!

I can't imagine my garden without these plants. They say "Irene's Garden" as clearly as if I'd signed my name to the living canvas that blossoms in my front yard every year.

What are your signature plants?