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sage walker seeds

A Tibute To Sally Walker: Plant Explorer

The gardening world has been enriched by generations of plant explorers and seed collectors who have spent their lives in the remote regions of the world to bring back plant treasures for gardeners to grow and appreciate.

Western gardeners have Sally Walker, founde r of Southwestern Native Seeds of Tucson, Arizona . She and her husband have spent a lifetime exploring the vast areas of the western United States and northern Mexico, searching for beautiful and useful wildflowers. This is a difficult task that involves many months away from home, driving thousands of miles across the deserts, plains, and mountains to identify and document plants. Then, they must return at just the right time to collect seeds!

Some of our very best High Country Garden native plants are a result of Sally’s efforts and exploration.

Gardening is a collaborative effort, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Sally Walker and other Western plant explorers for t heir work that has enriched our gardens. The plants below are just a few plants that we grow from her seed collections.

2000 Green Thumb Award Winner

Certainly one of the most spectacular of our native columbines. ‘Swallowtail’ has huge bi-colored yellow and sweeping 4-4 1/2″ long spurs. The flowers appear in late spring and are held on sturdy stems above the mound of blue to blue-green foliage.

1997 Plant Select Winner

Agastache rupestris is a superior perennial enjoyed in the garden for its spicy fragrance, uniquely colored flowers, and finely textured foliage. This western native is also a superb hummingbird plant, attracting them for several months with nectar-rich flowers.

Arizona Columbine is a favorite with its profusion of small bright red-orange and yellow flowers. Dry, hot summer weather doesn’t shorten the 3-month blooming season.

Southwestern Native Seeds Catalog

Here we have an image of the 1993-1994 Southwestern Native Seeds catalog. Hand-drawn illustrations on the cover include two well-loved native plants available from High Country Gardens: Penstemon palmeri (Palmer’s Penstemon) and Penstemon pseudospectabilis (Coconino County Desert Penstemon). Transcript below.

Trascript: “This is our 19 th year and 19 th annual seed catalogue. But it is far more than our 19 th year of photographing, pressing, and keeping careful records of native plants in the Southwest. And it is this stockpile of information and experience that enables us to assemble this catalogue of seeds of the finest and most beautiful native plants over a very wide region. And it is important that Tuscon is central and such an ideal location for a catalog such as this. It is within range of an enormous number of beautiful natural areas in all directions, plant communities of great diversity, and has a very large native flora of its own. This year was a landmark for us as we finally “reached the Pacific” and were able to include the lower Coast Range of California, which is farther than many of the areas we’ve been going to on a regular basis, but which we hadn’t been able to visit before we devised our mailing schedule. Here the plants are totally different. They’re different everywhere, but in the Coast Range they are amazingly different and very beautiful, as are the mountains they’re found in. Many of the penstemons, such as P. spectabilis and P. clevelandii are nothing short of spectacular. Another new areas that we were able to visit this year, which is about the same distance, was the Sierra Madre of Chihuahua. Here of course few seeds were ripe, but the flowers were numerous and beautiful and the scenery spectacular. Some of these species extend into Arizona, but many do not and extend farther south. And even some species that extend into Arizona have different and more brightly colored flowers south of the border, including Salvia lemmoni and Monarda austromontana. The people of this region are as colorful as the flowers with a mixture of the typical Mexican villages and mule-drawn plows, Mennonite settlements where German is spoken and delicious cheese is sold, Mormon settlements, and Tarahumara Indians who still utilize natural rock shelters, earthen jars, and stone grinders in their daily life. A third area that we were able to explore more thoroughly than ever before was Utah. An outstanding discovery here was the beautiful Gilia subnuda, growing in the bright sand with clusters of ruby red flowers on nearly naked stems, looking very un-gilia-like. Other outstanding plants here include the sprawling Penstemon platyphyllus, with profuse bright violet flowers and Yucca harrimaniae, with tapering, fibrous leaves and cream flowers. So this year we more of less “closed the circle” around Tucson and should now be able to keep a representation of the most beautiful native plants of the Southwest in the catalogue more or less permanently.

The catalogue itself is similar to those of the past with some improvements in the key that should make it more descriptive, It is designed to answer the questions that most often arise, and it includes pertinent information on growth, characteristics, and needs of the plants, and even includes locality data for everything in the catalogue. Separately upon request, we have growing instructions for desert plants and a bibliography of useful reading materials for both growing and identifying the plants. As always the seeds we list are essentially of the outstanding native plants of this region along with other areas where we were able to collect. The are often little known in cultivation or known amongst the Indians, but highly suitable to be introduced as ornamentals, sometimes superior to those already available. These are seeds of wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and succulents which can be used in gardens, rock gardens, nurseries, landscaping, botanical gardens and arboretums, for scientific research, and by private flowers and flower lovers everywhere. And those who might otherwise never have the chance to see or grow these plants can now have that opportunity.”

Sally Walker is featured in our Heroes of Horticulture Series, in partnership with Plant Select®.

White Sage: Planting, Growing and Harvesting

White Sage (Salvia apiana) seed harvest has begun, the giant plants lifting their aromatic fronds to the summer sun. I hurry to get a hit before the birds do the job for me! The plant is native to central and southern California, with a gene center probably in Eastern San Diego County. This is the smudge plant extraordinaire! Those of you who live nearby or have learned to grow it will understand why the plant is so highly revered, and no amount of wordage or photography on my part will do much to change your feelings for it. However, there may be some initiates out there who would like a little photo display of the true white sage, and maybe glean some tidbits from this posting. Here are some salient points:

1) White sage is a SAGE (Salvia) and should not be confused with Western Mugwort (white sagebrush) (Artemisia ludoviciana) which is sometimes used as a smudge and is sometimes called white sage. Sage is sage, wormwood is wormwood, and never the twain shall meet!

2) White sage plants have green leaves when they are young or in young, succulent growth. That is normal. The leaves turn quite white in the summer sun, and they turn white when hung and dried. If you get a white sage plant from our nursery and it is green, no reason to freak out!

3) Hardy to Zone 9 and relatively easy to grow in an unheated greenhouse or microsite plant and get to overwinter in zone 7. Colder than that, grow as an annual.

4) Many folks ask about when and how to harvest. I like to harvest younger (non-flowering/seeding) fronds in the late spring when the leafy sprays are large, juicy and vital. These I hang individually in the shade with good airflow and warmth, and allow to half-dry that way, then squeeze 7 of the fronds together and wrap and rehang to dry completely as a sage wand. Or, you can just let the fronds dry completely and use them as needed.

5) Seed harvest is about this time of year. The flowers that you let go in the spring have attracted their dedicated following of native pollinators, and the seed head will let you know when it is ready–tip and spill! Get there in front of the birds, they like it, too. As with any seed gathering, as soon as the seed is ready, drop everything and get it. Otherwise, procrastinate and weep.

6) The seed is full of inhibitors (it is a wild thing) and 10% germination is typical. The rest of the seed is probably viable but hard. Fire treating (see my book “Growing At-Risk” is helpful, as is a quick wake-up scarification on a seed screen (rubby dub-dub) and prayers to Creator. Press into surface and keep warm. Sometimes you can get high rates of germ.

7) White Sage (Salvia apiana) plants available from our nursery. We had a typical slow start with these and now they are large, robust, ready to go, and there are very few shipping weeks left before we shut down for the summer. Visit our online shop now and get some white sage plants, we have done the work for you, starting the prayer, which you can finish, or better yet keep going, it is one of the better things to do with this mind you’ve been given.

How To Make a DIY Sage Smudge Stick

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class or a meditation session, you may have seen a sage smudge stick before.

The mainstream wellness culture has taken the idea of smudge sticks and run with it, without educating users of the true benefits and history of smudging.

As writer and activist Taté Walker says, “smudging sage has nothing to do with the magical room-cleansing nonsense sold by uninspired capitalists. Smudging is a very specific prayer, so you can burn sage without smudging and you can smudge without needing to light sage on fire.”

Indigenous peoples have been burning sage for centuries as part of a spiritual ritual to cleanse a person or space, and to promote healing and wisdom. It’s been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans to treat digestive issues, memory problems, and sore throats.

In this post, we’ll show you how to use extra herbs from your Rise Garden to make your very own DIY sage smudge stick.

What you’ll need:

  • Sage (or any other herbs or woody shrubs such as rosemary, thyme, or lavender), how much you use depends on how large you would like your bundle to be
  • Cotton string
  • Scissors


  1. Step 1 Gather your sage into a bundle and add in any other herbs you might be using. I went with pure sage (lavender is my favorite though, if you are adding anything extra!).
  2. Step 2 Using cotton string, tie the bundle at the base with a secure knot.
  3. Step 3 Wrap the string toward the top of the bundle in a crisscross shape, before wrapping the string back down to the base. Ensure that you are crossing tightly, but not so tight that the sage gets crushed.
  4. Step 4 Cut off any excess string.
  5. Step 5 Hang your sage bundle upside down in a cool, dry place for at least one week.
  6. Step 6 Once your bundle is completely dry throughout, it’s time to light it! Light one end over a bowl and let it burn for a moment, then put out the flame and set an intention.

**Do not use a wooden bowl. They were used for photography purposes only. Please only use a fire safe/resistant bowl.