Ornamental sages (Salvia sp.) are among the great additions of the summer garden. Every year when February comes around I’m astonished anew at how tough, resilient and beautiful they are whatever the weather throws at us.
Admiring some flourishing clumps of Salvia sclarea ‘Turkestanica’ last October, and tired of filling late spring gaps with garden centre annuals, I took a mad risk, bought half a dozen or so new salvias by mail order and popped them all in. This went against my own advice of only planting in autumn if you have dry summers.
As things turned out I was lucky, a chance combination of rain and mild temperatures in early summer getting my purchases off to a good start.
By Christmas, when the summer turned baking hot and dry, they were nicely settled. Several have flowered already and they’ve all grown into decent sized plants and filled the gaps exactly as I’d hoped.
To be on the safe side I took lots of cuttings – it’s surprising how many tip cuttings a quite small plant will yield if you go carefully - and as these too have made it through summer I’m hoping they’ll be big enough to plant out in March.
Slowest to get going has been S. africanus lutea a twiggy shrub with greyish green leaves and small tubular flowers emerging yellow in early spring and turning burnt orange, and flowering intermittently through summer.
Orange can be difficult but it’s lovely when you get it right, perhaps with a pale blue companion such as S. ‘African Sky’.
There’s no need to worry about a companion for S. argentea as the point of the plant is its large silver leaves. A short-lived perennial, it lasts longer if you remove the inconspicuous white flowers before they set seed.
S. discolour has been another slow starter but it’s so beautiful I’m happy to give it time. It has smooth, pale grey leaves, white underneath and arching stems carrying elegant, dark purple, nearly black flowers emerging from pistachio green calyces.
I’ll need my cuttings as it’s slightly frost tender. Mid blue S. guaranitica is another quick starter but be warned, in damp ground it takes over.
I should be so lucky, here it’s perfectly behaved, dry conditions keeping it well under control.
Last and perhaps most glorious is appropriately named S. nemerosa x superba (30centimetres), bone hardy, with long lasting, rich purple flowers for many weeks.
Heads up: Sue Templeton, Unlimited Perennials, Lavington 2641 (www.salviaspecialist.com/) offers a wide range of hardy and tender salvias by mail order. Phone: 02 6025 4585