Searching for the Roots of Salvia ‘Waverly’

Salvia ‘Waverly’ in the author’s garden. Author’s photograph

Salvia ‘Waverly’ in the author’s garden. Author’s photograph

Periodically, new plants appear on the horticultural scene with little introduction and a murky background. One such plant, appearing in the last decade, is Salvia ‘Waverly’, discussed here by sage enthusiast Betsy Clebsch.

Eye-catching and handsome in both flower and form, Salvia ‘Waverly’ was quickly recognized as a first‑rate performer in the early 1990s by plantspeople, both professionals and home gardeners alike. With appealing characteristics, but lacking an official name or a history, this salvia first came to the attention of nursery people on the West Coast under the name Mark’s Mystery White. It was circulated by Mark Bartholomew of Hi-Mark Nursery in Carpenteria; Randy Baldwin of San Marcos Growers in nearby Goleta gave it that working name in order to distinguish it from many other unnamed salvias making the horticultural scene. In 1996, Baldwin placed a photograph of it on his web page and asked readers to help him find the origin of the plant; the plant had been named ‘Waverly’ by that time.

Early on, ‘Waverly’ became a popular garden plant in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. Its popularity spread north to Carpenteria, Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande, and the Bay Area. By 1996, it was being propagated and sold at plant sales and nurseries throughout this region. With alacrity, plantspeople began incorporating it in their gardens and sharing it with their friends, because they found it not only beautiful but easy to propagate by cuttings. This is, in a nutshell, the story of a salvia that has been cultivated for only a brief time. It is a salvia without a known and documented past but with a bright future as a garden subject.

Salvia ‘Waverly’. Photograph by Ginny Hunt

Salvia ‘Waverly’. Photograph by Ginny Hunt

Salvia ‘Waverly’ is evergreen in a mild climate where temperatures do not drop below 32° F; however, it has survived temperatures as low as 25° F. Most stems are herbaceous and square, with little wood at the base of the plant. With regular garden water throughout the year, it attains about five feet (1.5 meters) in both height and spread. The leaves are lanceolate in shape and glabrous, with deeply indented veins. The upper surfaces are dark green and rugose; the lower surfaces are light green. The petiole varies in length with the size of the leaf. Medium-size leaves measure two and one-half inches in length on half-inch petioles. ‘Waverly’ is a heavy bloomer with inflorescences frequently two feet in length. Flowering begins in late spring and continues until cold weather and shorter days stop all growth. Flowers are produced in whorls; as each inflorescence elongates, the space between each whorl also increases. The two-lipped, half-inch-long, green calyx is covered with short, fuzzy purple hairs. Emerging from the calyx are inch-long, pale lavender, two-lipped flowers that mature to white. The lower lip is wide and spreading, the upper lip hooded and covered with hairs. ‘Waverly’ is not known to have produced any seed.

There are many unanswered questions pertaining to the background of Salvia ‘Waverly’. Where did the plant originate? Is it a native of Mexico? Is it a hybrid that arose in California or elsewhere? If so, when, where, and in what garden? If any readers can help answer these questions, can furnish facts such as the names of people familiar with the plant, dates of introduction, or locations where grown, or can add any bit of information to help solve the puzzle of ‘Waverly’, please contact me.

Betsy Clebsch
Route 2, Box 435
La Honda, CA 94020
650/851-4492
betsyc@stanford.edu