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January Blooms and a birdhouse abuser

  We are having a string of warmer and dry days this week. Just in time for a new deck (more on that later). I did a walk-about yesterday and noticed several blooms - Arctostaphylos ' Sunset' (Manzanita) Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)   Hellebore 'Merlin' And something not so pleasing - I discovered a birdhouse that was just put up last fall now looks like this! - This has happened before so I wasn't completely surprised. I posted this photo to a local birding group and got a multitude of answers but most of them stated that it is likely a squirrel. That makes sense as we have a lot of them. Flickers and woodpeckers was also a common answer. That would be a possibility but I only see flickers and woodpeckers at our feeders periodically so I don't know. I was advised to attach a metal ring around the hole.   Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Jerusalem Sage

For me, some of the most rewarding plants are those that you don't know anything about when you put them in the ground and they end up being an unexpected stellar performer. These plants may come from friends or you might buy them on impulse at a nursery or gardening center. You plop them in the ground somewhere, forget about them (if you are like me) and lo and behold, they rise up and put their neighboring companions to shame. 

Case in point - Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis fruticosa). I bought it years ago at a local plant sale when Margie Anderton told me I needed to have it in my garden. Margie is one of my gardening gurus so I trust her recommendations. She was right of course and Jerusalem Sage has become a favorite of mine and it gets better every year.

A native of the Mediterranean, it has many characteristics that prompt admiration. First, woolly, velvety leaves are silvery gray/green with white undersides. They appear on a robust, compact plant that gets much larger than what I had anticipated. I planted it in front of a border - big mistake - as this plant can get up to 4' x 4' according to descriptions. It would be better placed in the middle or back of a border. 

In early spring (April), fat flower buds appear in whorls up the stems which open to bright lemon-yellow flowers that usually last at least a month and appear throughout the summer. The fruit which appears afterward also last a long time. It is woody and can be trimmed back in spring after it flowers. I've never trimmed it although I am going to this year because it just keeps getting bigger.

Hardy to at least 20 degrees, it needs good drainage but otherwise minimal care. It is drought tolerant once established. This is a plant that does exceptionally well in California and dry, warm climates. In our garden, it gets complete shade from 1pm onward which does not diminish the bloom. In fact, plants in Alabama prefer a bit of shade to keep the yellow flowers from washing out. I've read that this plant reseeds easily although I've never seen this happen in the border (probably because of the crowded conditions).

There are other types of Phlomis available with slightly different characteristics including some that have purple flowers.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. We love it in our garden here in the PNW too, Phillip. Beautiful specimen.

  2. I love Phlomis, especially the purple/pink ones...I just can't seem to find a spot big enough for them yet!

  3. I have this too and it has done well for me for many years. My only complaint is that it is impossible to find any wholesale nursery growing it. We have one in the display garden at work that always looks good this time of year. People like it, want it, and are then told we can't get it.

  4. gorgeous phillip! I love yellow flowers.

  5. I was gifted a Jerusalem Sage by a friend at the fall swap last year. I was amazed it was evergreen all winter. I have mine planted at the back of the border (luckily). I didn't know I was in for such a treat! Glad you shared this information so timely for me.

  6. I cut all the flowers off mine because I don't like its bright yellow flowers with the pastel pink flowers of mountain laurel. I really need to move it this fall.

  7. Thanks for giving me ANOTHER plant to add to my (growing) list of "I need this plant in my garden."

    Absolutely beautiful.

  8. This is one of my favorite plants for Austin gardens too. Very tough, and lovely in leaf and flower.

  9. My Jerusalem Sage (6 years old and - yes- planted in the front of the bed!) is so big and hairy, I'm almost afraid to try to prune it for fear of being devoured like a character in The Little Shop of Horrors! I did prune it about 3 years ago and brother did it make me itch, which is another reason I hesitate to tackle it. How far can I prune this beautiful monster? Can I cut it aggressively, 6 inches from the ground? The Stems on it are 1.5" in diameter and very woody. Should I just dig it up and start over. Any advice would be welcome. Thanks

    1. Puretexan, I have read that it can be cut back by half. You would want to do this in late winter. I have just lightly pruned mine but if you need to control the size, you would want to do this. You are probably in a much warmer zone than I am, so I am thinking that you could cut yours back even farther and it would be okay. Good luck!


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