Bee-licious herbal flowers
Late summer and early autumn is when I remember why I grow salvias. They don’t mind the cooling temperatures and lower light levels. Many varieties continue to flower in my North Canterbury garden until mid-autumn or when hit by frost.
The salvia family
Sage ( Salvia officinalis) is a popular herb, but under-rated as an ornamental flower. It is a worthy plant in any garden, even if you don’t eat it, with its purplish-blue, beeattracting flowers, and pebble-grey foliage.
For year-round colour, there is the chartreuse-yellow golden sage ( S.
officinalis Aurea), and the dusky, plumpurple sage ( S. officinalis purpurea).
But there is much more to salvias, the largest genus in the mint family, with roughly 900 species. Most ornamental varieties flower steadily through summer into autumn. They are relatively drought and heat-tolerant and include brilliantlycoloured flowers, from some of the truest blues and vibrant purples, to stunning reds, oranges and hot pinks.
I like to have the purple-blue salvias alongside other blue-flowered perennials, mixed with pastel colours or crisp whites. For a hotter colour scheme, you could contrast them with bright yellows and gold.
Some of the most spectacular salvias come from Mexico, Central and South America: S. guaranticas, S. involucrata, S. leucantha, S. Purple Majesty, and S. Indigo Spires. If you’re in a cold area, you may lose them to frost, but they are so lovely, it’s worth trying.
Among the longest flowerers, in a multitude of colours, are cultivars of the twiggy shrub group, S. greggi which bloom from spring to autumn.
Many salvias have fragrant and/or striking foliage. The beautifully-textured
S. argentea has silver leaves. The autumnflowering pineapple sage ( S. elegans) has a sweet pineapple scent.
Salvia flowers are rich in nectar, attracting and feeding bees and beneficial insects.
The wonder honey plant
Bees adore anise hyssop ( Agastache foeniculum). I find them hardy and troublefree plants.
The showy, whorled flowers appear without fuss, in mid-to-late summer. They are prolific and long-flowering, in a great range of pastel shades, from white, mauve- Bergamot. blue, and reddish-pink to salmon coral.
The flowers are edible, and attractive if you put them in a vase. Cutting flowers can prolong flowering into autumn.
Anise hyssop varieties tolerate drought. My plants do well, even when out of the sprinkler’s range.
The plants form rounded bushes, and their anise-scented leaves seem to repel pests. Best of all, they don’t need dividing.
Bergamot ( Monarda didyma, M. fistulosa) are show-offs, and bees love their shaggy, tubular flowers. The flowers come in intense colours, usually in mid-to-late summer. They can begin earlier in northern gardens and start and finish later in cooler areas.
Two of Bergamot. my favourite varieties are Gardenview Scarlet and Jacob Cline.
These rhizomatous perennials will spread; give them space to romp. The shallow roots need a moist, welldrained soil.
Joe Pye weed
Eupatorium sp is a robust, tall plant that is perfect for the back of a garden bed.
It makes an impressive sight when it flowers in late summer to mid-autumn.
Bees love the huge, domed heads of frothy, dusky-pink flowers. The attractive, buff-coloured seed heads that follow are also a great feature.
Although these plants are a bit greedy about space, I have never convinced myself to take ours out. The strong, vertical stems add architectural interest, they flower when other perennials are waning, and look great teamed with autumn-flowering sunflowers.
The species is tall, up to 3.5m. If you want something more compact, these varieties are shorter: • Gateway, burgundy stems, 1.5-1.8m; • Little Joe, 1.2-1.5m • Baby Joe, 90cm-1.2m
Joe Pye likes moist, fertile soils and is lovely near the water’s edge, but I have found it a robust perennial, tolerating dry periods and considerable neglect.
The undercover herb
You might know purple coneflower ( Echinacea purpurea) as a herb, but it’s also a stunning, long-flowering, summer perennial.
The bright, luminescent flowers are probably the most photographed plant in my garden.
Pink is the most common colour, but plants can throw every colour except true purples and blues. I love the pastel whites, and dramatic reds, corals and orange.
Echinacea looks great with all kinds of companion plants. You can combine them with mounded plants, dramatic spiky leaves, or plumed blooms. The bold flowers will be the stars of a garden bed of foliage plants, grasses or smaller daisies.
After flowering, the plants form interesting seed heads, which I usually leave on. They occasionally self-seed in my garden, bringing me unexpected pleasure by popping up in gaps.
Joy Pye weed.