My last post was a self indulgent memoir about my time in Soviet Russia. Are you ready for another Russian themed post? This one is about a plant, so we are back on track, gardeners!
It was named for Vasily Alekseevich Perovski, a Russian diplomat from Turkestan, where the plant originates. I can't help it, I just saw Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley at the movies, so I am all about 19th century Russia at the moment.
Gas stations and parking lot strips have Russian sage sitting in big forlorn clumps in mulch deserts. It's an overused plant that just looks tired to me, and I stopped noticing it long ago.
But then I saw this scene at Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts last summer. Really, couldn't you imagine a 19th century countess sweeping down those stone steps, rustling the frothy purple spires as she passes?
When it is used well Russian sage in bloom is something to behold. By itself it is unkempt and weedy, and standing alone the haze of flowers looks grayish. Uninteresting.
But paired with strong dark colors, weighty stone steps, and the solid forms of large glossy leaves, its unruliness is tamed and the color is enriched. The whole plant is transformed.
Don't stick Russian sage in a spot by itself. Don't expect it to carry the visual weight of a garden or form the anchor of the design, even though it's big and purple. Russian sage needs to be tightly packed with other things. It adds airiness to the density of what surrounds it.
This plant needs companions, both for support to keep it from splaying, which it will do anyway, and for the color contrast that rich and dark tones nearby give it.
In a brand new garden bed I have planted some young, still wispy Russian sages with a clump of bright yellow black eyed Susans and a new mahogany colored redbud, 'Forest Pansy'.
I can't wait for this area to mature to see whether I'll achieve the effect of tamed wildness, dense structure, and rich contrast that made the combination I saw at Berkshire Botanical Garden so satisfying.
There are no dramatic stones or big glossy leaves here to counter the feathery purple blooms, though. Perhaps some fat leaved shiny bergenias below the redbud, unless it's too sunny for them? I am always weak on using bold foliage in my gardens and could use some help with that.
Russian sage is transformed by the plants around it, so give it bold friends nearby and good companions all around. And if you pass by in your Russian ballgown, on your way to a doomed romantic assignation, this lovely plant will rustle with your skirts.