November Plant of the Month: Pineapple and Tangerine Sage

It is almost Thanksgiving and I have completed most of the tasks to put my garden to bed for the winter. Although autumn is my favorite time of year, I do have moments when I long for the abundant blooms of spring and summer in my garden. 

I made an effort earlier this year to plant some new perennials that were late-blooming in the hopes I could stretch out the flowering season in my yard and minimize how often I opine for flower blooms during fall and winter as much as possible. 

I ended up with quite a few new plants including a hardy Fuchsia called ‘Lady Thumb’, a Bidens aurea ‘Hannay’s Lemon Drop’, and some Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (Joe Pye Weed). All are still blooming just before Turkey Day. But the rock stars of the garden right now are three sage plants. Whereas the Fuchsia, Bidens, and Eupatorium blooms are on the decline, the three sage plants are just kicking into gear.

One is a Pineapple Sage. It started blooming in early September and has been going non-stop since. I’ve actually had this one longer than the other two, but I needed to transplant it from another flower bed so I wasn’t sure it was going to make it, let alone bloom this year. Its long oval leaves come to a point at the tip and the stems are covered in a soft, downy hair. The leaves are soft, with a slight fuzz as well. It has an open, airy habit that makes it easy to squeeze in between existing plants. And because it blooms late in the season, it stays in the background until after other plants are going dormant.

The second is a Tangerine Sage. It is a tad smaller and less vigorous than the Pineapple Sage, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in aroma. Honestly, I could sit next to this plant all day and smell its fruity, intoxicating scent. Its leaves are a bit smaller and more oval, but overall it is quite similar in habit to the Pineapple Sage. The Tangerine Sage also bloomed a bit earlier than the Pineapple Sage. It started in early September. I thought the blooms would only last until the end of the month, but they are still going strong.

The final plant is, as they say in French, the pièce de résistance. A masterpiece. It was a bit of a dark horse all summer. It tantalized me at the nursery with its chartreuse, soft, fuzzy stems and leaves. The tag said it would have deep red blooms in fall and would max out at around three feet tall and wide. Into the shopping cart it went. It was a diminutive 12” tall when I planted it. Much to my chagrin it stayed around that size all summer. Around late August it started to gain height and breadth. As the foliage increased during the peak heat of late summer, it remained intriguing. Its chartreuse color turned a bit more yellow in September but was still an eye catcher. It smells like a mild, sweet pineapple and reminds me of warm sunny days in Hawaii.

As September and then October came and went I decided it wasn’t going to bloom at all this year. Even if it didn’t, this plant was still one of my favorite plants for its scent and beautiful foliage. But, then it did something I didn’t expect. It started blooming around Halloween! Its deep red tubular blooms get the hummingbirds (and me!) excited. The hummingbirds like the sage’s offer of nectar much more than the man-made nectar I put in a feeder a few feet away. I am blown away at the number of blooms developing on this plant! It looks like it will be covered in blooms.

Now as my focus turns toward the holiday season, I find myself sneaking out to the garden in moments when I’m not cooking, wrapping, or decorating, to beguile my senses by touching this plant’s fuzzy leaves, seeing the high-contrast red and chartreuse-yellow colors, and smelling the scents of a Hawaiian getaway. It's the perfect remedy for Portland's gray, overcast winter days.

If you find this plant at your local nursery, run, don’t walk, to buy it and grow it in your garden. You won’t regret it. Happy Gardening!