A splash of salvia for Ni­a­gara gar­dens

Hardy peren­nial a beau­ti­ful favourite among 2019 flow­ers

The Niagara Falls Review - - Arts & Life - THERESA FORTE Theresa Forte is a lo­cal gar­den writer, pho­tog­ra­pher and speaker. You can reach her by call­ing 905-351-7540 or by email at there­sa_­[email protected]­pa­tico.ca.

A quiet win­ter’s night is the per­fect time to pull up a few im­ages of last sum­mer’s gar­den to con­sider what worked and what should be re­placed.

A few clumps of peren­nial salvia in our front border de­serve a lit­tle recognition. With lit­tle more than a good clip­ping af­ter the snow melts and dose of wa­ter sol­u­ble fer­til­izer (when I feed the roses), vi­o­let-blue spikes of salvia ap­pear on cue just as the pink shrub roses bloom.

The salvias flower for most of sea­son, slow­ing down dur­ing the mid-sum­mer heat and hu­mid­ity, and then perk­ing up again in Septem­ber when the days are a lit­tle cooler.

I know the salvias are happy —they’ve started to spread — not enough to be a prob­lem — just enough to add a splash of vi­o­let blue to the echi­nacea along the front of the border. I’d love to take credit for the com­bi­na­tion, but it is pure serendip­ity. The salvias con­tin­ued to of­fer fresh colour well into early Novem­ber this year. I should add, this salvia re­turned for more than 10 years.

The Na­tional Gar­den Bureau (NGB) rec­og­nizes an an­nual, peren­nial, veg­etable and bulb each year, and rec­og­nizes 2019 as the year of the salvia. Let’s take a closer look at this hardy gar­den plant.

The name salvia comes from the Latin sal­vere, mean­ing to heal, but this moniker refers to the com­mon herb sage (Salvia of­fic­i­nalis) and not the ornamental salvias we find flow­er­ing in our gar­dens. All salvia are in the mint fam­ily and are cousins to land­scape favourites such as cat­mint and bee balm.


English botanist Ge­orge Ben­tham did the first ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion of this genus in 1836. One fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of salvia flow­ers is that they con­tain a trig­ger mech­a­nism that de­posits pollen on the back side of vis­it­ing bees. This pollen is then trans­ferred to fe­male salvia flow­ers that share the same re­cep­tive flower parts, en­cour­ag­ing pol­li­na­tion among the same or sim­i­lar species.

Na­tive to the wooded el­e­va­tions of Eura­sia, the most com­mon hardy species are S. nemorosa and S. praten­sis and the many hy­brids de­rived such as S. x sylvestris and S. x su­per­bum. To­day, we typ­i­cally re­fer to the en­tire class of these hy­brids as S. nemorosa (nemorosa from the Latin ‘of woods’). In­ter­est­ingly, all plants with the com­mon name of sage are salvia, but we re­serve the true genus name for ornamental rather than culi­nary species. The sage you use in your kitchen is ac­tu­ally salvia, too, and it can also be win­ter hardy in Ni­a­gara; how­ever, it is val­ued for its ornamental (and flavour­ful) leaves rather than for its flow­ers.

Key cul­ti­vars

Much of the early work in hardy salvia breed­ing was done by Ger­man plants­man Ernst Pagels who is cred­ited with breed­ing va­ri­eties ‘Blauhugel’ (Blue Hill) and ‘Sch­nee­hugel’ (Snow Hill) shortly af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Both of these are still in com­mer­cial cul­ti­va­tion and are found in gar­den cen­tres dur­ing spring and sum­mer.

To­day, there are sev­eral hun­dred va­ri­eties of hardy gar­den salvia from which to choose. Likely the most com­mon and well-known cul­ti­var, also a prod­uct of in­no­va­tive Ger­man breed­ing is ‘Mainacht’ (MayNight). Named peren­nial plant of the year by the Peren­nial Plant As­so­ci­a­tion in 1997, May Night re­mains a favourite among land­scap­ers for its abun­dance of in­digo blue flow­ers and pest and dis­ease re­sis­tance.

Other stan­dards in­clude the up­right, dark-stemmed va­ri­ety ‘Caradonna’ and the dark pur­ple cul­ti­var ‘Ost­fries­land’ (East Fries­land). These tried-and-true clas­sics are be­ing re­placed slowly with ex­cit­ing new va­ri­eties from flower breed­ers in the United States and Europe. Award­win­ning cul­ti­vars such as ‘Blue Marvel’ and ‘Rose Marvel’ present ex­tra-large flow­ers and pro­vide a much longer flow­er­ing win­dow.

Care and cul­ti­va­tion

Hardy salvia are con­sid­ered to be care-free and easy to man­age in the gar­den. They can be in place for years with­out a need for di­vid­ing. They are also a favourite of pol­li­na­tors such as bees and hum­ming­birds. As a mem­ber of the mint fam­ily, their leaves are not on the pre­ferred for­age list of deer and rab­bits and con­sid­ered to be a great gar­den ad­di­tion where these crea­tures are a nui­sance.

Be sure to plant in a lo­ca­tion where they will re­ceive at least one half-day of di­rect sun­light, as this will pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­ages the high­est de­gree of flow­er­ing. Salvia prefers soils rich in or­ganic mat­ter, so you may want to work in some com­post at plant­ing time. Once es­tab­lished in the gar­den, salvia is quite drought tol­er­ant. To main­tain healthy green growth, plan on fer­til­iz­ing you salvia plants when they emerge from dor­mancy in the spring and once again in early sum­mer. Ap­ply­ing a bal­anced fer­til­izer such as 15-15-15 ac­cord­ing to la­bel di­rec­tions will do the trick.

To en­cour­age a sec­ond flush of colour, cut the plants back ag­gres­sively to about one-third their orig­i­nal size af­ter the flow­ers be­gin to fade and leaves turn brown.

Hardy gar­den salvia are de­light­ful ad­di­tions to Ni­a­gara gar­dens, they are self-suf­fi­cient, at­trac­tive to pol­li­na­tors and bun­nies and deer leave them alone. It’s lit­tle won­der the Na­tional Gar­den Bureau has de­clared 2019 the year of the salvia.


Hardy salvia are at­trac­tive to pol­li­na­tors. Salvia Spring King, Dum­men Orange.

Salvia Bordeau Com­pact Sky Blue of­fers rich vi­o­let-blue spikes of colour for the sum­mer border. Hardy salvia will come back re­li­ably year af­ter year.

Salvia ne­merosa Sal­ly­rosa April Night with spikes vi­o­let-blue flow­ers above a low mound of olive green fo­liage. Pretty in a con­tainer on a sunny pa­tio or deck, or plant it right in the border.

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