HARDY PERENNIALS: SALVIA

To some people Salvia means the red bedding varieties, but others are perfectly hardy and S. superba and its varieties are amongst the finest of all hardy perennials. The type grows bushily to 3-4 feet with a long succession of violet purple spikes, from June to August and even longer if cut back. This applies to the 2>/2 feet S. ‘Lubeca’’ also, with a somewhat similar colour habit, as is the 1 >/2 foot S. ‘East Friesland S. ‘May Nighf grows about the same height, but the violet blue spikes begin in May and keep on for weeks. All these Salvias are easy to grow in ordinary soil, with good drainage. This is important and though all these are robust, long lived plants with no fads, they do dislike soggy conditions during winter months and when old especially, a rot may set in and losses may occur, if the spot is too damp. All have soft, slightly greyish leaves with a distinctive aroma. Division is best in spring, but young plants are quite safe in autumn. Another Salvia worth mentioning is S. hae-matodes. This has stiffly erect spikes of light lavender blue flowers in June, lasting on for many weeks and for a dry sunny place, the heavily silvered, woolly leaves of S. argen-tea are attractive even if the 2 feet sprays of white flowers are not very spectacular. Generally speaking Salvias prefer dry to wet places, but there is one S. uliginosa, which delights in damp soil. It forms matted growth below ground and sends up a profusion of slender stems to about 5 feet, tipped with short spikes of sky blue flowers. It can however be faulted on two counts. One is that it does not begin until well into September and though showy in a sunny warm autumn, it nearly always needs staking and in cold districts a covering of litter over winter as well. More erect and to a large extent the deeper blue. S. ambigens is an unusual plant. It grows stiffly and well foliaged to 4 feet and the deep blue flowers in terminal spikes are quite attractive. This is a long lived plant, best in sun, and in cold districts best covered over in winter with leaves. Finally, the Meadow Sage, S. pratense is not without merit, for it has arching 2 feet spikes in shades of blue and pink for several weeks.

Where spring division of old plants is recommended it does not follow that nursery grown plants must be planted in spring. Unless otherwise stated, the vast majority of nursery grown plants are safe in autumn, but often old plants are less vigorous and therefore less safe to divide until new growth begins in spring.

SALVIA superba (virgata nemerosa)

SALVIA superba (virgata nemerosa)

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