STEL­LAR SALVIAS

They’ve long been your bor­der favourite, but salvias are now a sage gar­den main­stay

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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

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