Judith writes: I was visiting on the Mendocino coast and came across a shrub that looked like St. John's wort but had these purplish-red berry-like fruits as well. By my description, can you identify this plant? It was gorgeous.
You did a fine job of describing Hypericum androsemum, "Albury Purple," a near relative of the familiar St. John's wort, Hypericum prolificum. It is a 2- to 3-foot shrub that seems to thrive by the seaside, but for those plants I have observed more inland, not as vigorous due to rust problems on the foliage.
Albury Purple prefers well-drained soil, moderate water, semi-shade in warmer climates and full sun near the coast. The broad leaves are a deep green with purple tints and the foliage is indeed a knockout combined with its bright yellow flowers and showy stamens. The upright, oval, red-purplish fruits are inedible.
It can be pruned or cut back to within a few buds in the spring to keep the shrub looking full and prevent legginess. Also, if rust does appear, the afflicted leaves can be pruned and new growth will again appear.
Hypericum "Albury Purple" is a choice plant often used by floral designers in their arrangements.
A garden tip from Wayne: Try recycling old and discarded fine-mesh window screening by cutting and forming pieces into protective plant collars. These collars are perfect for excluding pests from devastating new transplants.
Paper clips keep the circular collars together until they can be removed as the plant matures.
I also like to use colorful paper clips as a bit of garden whimsy in addition to not losing track of the small screens.
Allen writes: There are so many small, shrubby salvias and I am having difficulty identifying the differences between Salvia chamaedryoides, Salvia greggii and Salvia buchananii.
These all seem like good choices for a more drought-tolerant garden, but can you offer some quick identification tips to alleviate my confusion?