They’ve long been your border favourite, but salvias are now a sage garden mainstay
They don’t like excessive cold or waterlogging, so plant in sunny areas
FOR previous generations, salvias took their place among the plethora of bedding plants which would brighten borders, planted in rows, often beside silvery cineraria. But recently we’ve been seduced by the creativity of the salvia breeders and the understanding that this plant, commonly used just for bedding, comes from a much bigger family, numbering more than 900 species. My own falling-in-love moment was seeing Salvia ‘Mainacht’ used lavishly in gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show and I got sucked into its indigo mystique and wanted to find out more. Salvia officinalis is garden sage and has been used in Britain for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. A member of the mint family, its furry leaves are aromatic and the purple flowers are a draw for butterflies and bees. The purple-leaved variety is also an attractive addition to the herb garden. Ornamental sages vary in terms of size, foliage, hardiness and colours. What they have in common is a very long flowering season, and as we enter August, they will be one of the star performers in the garden. Their zingy colours mingle perfectly with other sizzling late summer flowers such as penstemon, crocosmia, red hot pokers and dahlias. They are also good performers in drought which will boost their popularity if we experience any water shortages. Some, like Mainacht and Caradonna, are winter hardy, while others are tender and may be best grown in a pot where you can easily move them indoors to a conservatory for winter.
Coastal, protected or southern areas will be able to grow many more. What they don’t like is excessive waterlogging or cold, so plant them in your sunniest areas and add some horticultural grit to improve heavier soils. To prolong flowering, remove flower spikes when faded but delay cutting back the plant completely until spring. Salvias can be propagated by seed but the results are variable so if you want your favourite cultivar to come true, you need to take cuttings which you can do now, though earlier in the summer is the optimum time. Select from a healthy looking nonflowering stem and remove the lower leaves which will reduce water loss while cuttings attempt to root. Make your cutting just below a leaf node where growth hormones are most concentrated and pot in a cuttings compost mixed with horticultural grit. Water in using a fine rose and leave to root in a warm environment, and in about three weeks they should be rooting for you. Great Comp Garden near Sevenoaks, Kent, is host to one of Europe’s largest salvia collections. Run by the UK’S leading salvia expert, William Dyson, the sandy and sunny soil of Kent makes for perfect growing conditions. He has cultivated more than 200 hybrids and species at his nursery, and the gardens are open until the end of October where you can view and buy. This weekend is the annual Great Comp Garden Summer Show which will host specialist nurseries as well as music and refreshments. Phone 01732 885094 or visit greatcompgarden. co.uk for more information.
Display: Salvias at the Great Comp Garden
Lavish: Salvia ‘Mainacht’ turned Diarmuid’s head
Garden sage can be used in cooking