Colorful 'Faye Chapel' salvia a real draw for hummingbirds

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'Faye Chapel' salvia has been a real garden stunner so far this summer, and everyone is asking about the plant. They say seeing is believing, but in the case of this plant, seeing is wanting, whether you are a hungry hummingbird or a gardener with an eye for color.

'Faye Chapel' is a perpetually blooming plant like few others you will grow. While I wish it was a selection of Salvia van houttei, giving it species status, taxonomists say it is really one of the first selections of the wild Salvia splendens. You can see the resemblance in the flower structure. 'Faye Chapel' reaches more than 3 feet, with long spikes of glorious saturated red blossoms. When you see it you know doubt will say, "I've got to have it."

Whether or not this South American native is perennial or annual is another fight altogether. Most consider it a perennial in zone 8 and higher and worthy annual elsewhere. Ours in Columbus, Ga., have been blooming for almost six weeks and have not flinched in the heat, humidity and ever-present rains.

We are growing ours in good fertile soil where they get sun until a little past noon. In your garden, an ideal site would be something similar, with morning sun and afternoon shade. Well-drained beds amended with compost or humus will give you the green thumb. Remember that with many plants, it is not the cold that takes them out in the winter, but it's cold coupled with soggy conditions that seal their doom. Well-drained soil may encourage it to return farther north than expected.

While preparing the soil, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 per 100 square feet of bed space. Space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart, planting at the same depth they are growing in the container. We also applied good layer of old shredded leaves after planting.

Water the salvia to get it established and also during long, dry periods. Again we have been under monsoon conditions this summer, and our good soil preparation has made for truly dazzling beds. 'Faye Chapel' will blow away most annual salvias but if you are fortunate enough to live in an area where it might return in the spring, prune to ground level after frost and add a layer of mulch for winter protection.

With the emergence of growth next spring, feed with a light application of the fertilizer every six to eight weeks through September. Keep the flowers deadheaded and give the plant a light shearing if needed to maintain bushiness. So far we have done no deadheading or pruning.

Because 'Faye Chapel' really looks best with afternoon shade protection, your choice of companion plants might seem a little daunting at first. Lime green is an exceptional color partner. Look for coleus like 'Electric Lime' or the incredible new 'Wasabi'. Gold duranta and Joseph's coats would also partner well, while a hosta like 'Stained Glass' would make an absolute dreamy marriage.

'Faye Chapel' was not overly impressive in a 4-inch container. It might even be considered an ugly duckling. But what a looker it turns out to be as it grows to its full potential. You and the hummingbirds will love it!


Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus, Ga., and author of "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."


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