Gardening with Galligan: perovskia in bloom now and worth a look

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | When you have a spare moment, take a turn down Baldwin Road, and if you’re going south, look to the right for this terrific example of perovskia, used well.

Perovskia atriplicifolia is also known as Russian sage although it is not a true sage. It is in bloom now and if you have space in full sun, this is an herbaceous perennial you might consider. The plant is native to the central parts of Asia, as well as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tibet. In Eurasian herbalism, the plant is considered a febrifuge, a fever reducer.
Perovskia is not related to those salvias that are also often billed as sage, although again they aren’t. Confusing? Well, gardening is like that. It has only recently become popular, although many landscape enthusiasts have used it — Gertrude Jekyll was certainly fond of it and planted it often.
As the true sages are, it is intensely fragrant if the blossoms are even slightly bruised, no less crushed. Actually, all parts of the plant will give off a pungent odor, which smells like, yes, sage. Perovskia grows to 3 to 4 feet tall, is upright in nature, with notched silvery leaves and blooms with large spires of blue to lavender flowers. The plant is large, with a wide spread, although there is a smaller variety, the cultivar Little Spire, which is a better fit for most perennial beds. The flowers, like sea lavender, can be dried and if sprayed with either silver or gold paint, make lovely holiday decorations interlaced on a mantel with greens or displayed upright in a large vase. The larger variety can best be used densely packed in its own bed or lining a driveway, as in the photo.
It’s a hardy plant, requiring little care, but it does need a place in full sun. I bought several a few years ago, thinking I might be able to coax them into bloom in half sun. Very often that will work — alas, in this instance, that most certainly was not the case. They are, as I write, unlike the plants in this week’s photo, lying quietly on their sides, sad and without bloom.
Time to cede defeat, dig them up and pass them on. They’re good seaside plants, being both salt, cold and drought tolerant. They are also one of the longer blooming perennials, flowering now, in early July, and continuing right into September. Good companion plants would be mid-blooming phlox of any color or shade, pink malva or rudbeckia. Malva would be an especially good choice since, as an annual, it will match the perovskia, staying in bloom for the entire season.
Another possible companion would be Chrysanthemum maximum, otherwise known as shasta daisies, a member of the family, Asteraceae. In some catalogs, they’re billed as leucanthemums. They too are hardy perennials, with white petals and bright yellow centers. Varieties grow from 1 to 3 feet, bloom throughout July, the flowers being borne on single, erect stems. Although the plant is native to Europe, it’s well known now throughout the lower 48 states. The plants will thrive in full sun but can tolerate part shade and need fertile, well-fed soil. They provide ideal cut flowers that will last up to 10 days in vases indoors.
So think about perovskia if you haven’t tried them — it’s always good to be open to new garden possibilities.