salvia caradonna with Mexican feather grass and love-in-a-mist
Image: Kate Bryant
Caradonna salvia with Mexican feather grass and love-in-a-mist

Some flowering perennials seem just right in nearly any setting, making all the plants around them look better than they would by themselves. Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' is one of those gorgeous, useful plants.

The flowers are a lovely smoky violet-purple, with even darker purple, upright stems. The color works beautifully with rich jewel tones and pastels alike. The long-lasting flowers (and spent flower stems) give the plant an appealing, upright form that contrasts with anything with a pronounced horizontal habit, as well as with soft, flowy grasses.

Caradonna salvia is easy to grow, succeeding in normally irrigated gardens and also dry, rarely watered gardens, too. It flowers best and holds that nice, upright form in full sun, but a half day of sun works okay, too. The foliage is about a foot tall, with flowers reaching up to 2 feet in height. Clumps can increase to a foot or more across in time - the more established the clump, generally the longer the plants keep flowering in summer.

The spent flower calyces look attractive for ages after the purple blossoms dry up. But cut the plants back to about 8 inches when they have finished flowering, and give them a few good, deep waterings and you'll likely get another round of flowers in late summer to fall.

There are plenty of other varieties of Salvia nemorosa but Caradonna is one of the very best, for its long flowering period and the rich, dark purple flowers and dark stems.

salvia caradonna with golden flowers and foliage
Image: Kate Bryant
Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' in designer Suzinn Weiss's NE Portland garden. Clockwise: Ceanothus x 'Topaz' (top right), Fuchsia 'Golden Gate', Achillea 'Moonbeam', Daphne x houtteana, and Caryopteris clandonensis 'Worcester Gold'

Plant Caradonna with perennials like bright yellow yarrow (Achillea), purple or yellow cone flower (Echinacea), and sneezeweed (Helenium), especially the bright yellow sneezeweeds. Soft grasses like Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) provide luscious textural contrast. Caradonna also looks striking nestled amidst sheets of annuals like love-in-a-mist (Nigella), Cosmos and other flowers with a distinctly horizontal look.

All ornamental qualities aside, this salvia - like most other species - provides valuable nectar for butterflies and bees, making it perfect for the pollinator garden.

Find it: Xera Plants, Garden Fever, Dennis' 7 Dees, and Portland Nursery.

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