Looking for a reliable herbaceous perennial plant that will reward you with colour and scent over a good number of years? Then don't look anywhere else until you have considered the plants from the Salvia family. These are hard-working plants and the genus comprises a large number of both ornamental and culinary species.
In general, these sun-loving plants produce a long lasting showy display with flower in spikes. Colours range from blue to red, with white and yellow less common.
Culinary sage (Salvia officionalis) comes from this family and is from the hot dry Meditteranean areas. It has a great ornamental use in the garden, providing a permanent structure of a mounded shape and scented silver foliage with soft purple flower spikes in summer.
My favourites are Salvia nemerosa and S.x 'Superba'. Both Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd loved the larger form of this plant but it is also available in a smaller variety called 'Ostfriesland' which was introduced by the great plantsman, Ernest Pagels in 1954. This lovely cultivar is smothered in deep violet blue flowers over basal clumps of crinkled green leaves from July to September.
It is also fully hardy and can take some dappled shade. It's a magnet (always a plus, this) for butterflies and bees and, usefully, its spikes retain a reddish purple colouring even when they have finished flowering - though in fact you might want to take these off by dead heading to get that all important second flush of flowers later on in the season.
The winter structure provided by the seed heads is very pretty. The rate of growth is average and so it will be easy to maintain. I like to give them a nice trim in February to clear the top growth and make way for the new season.
The soil for salvias needs to be light, moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained. The plant can be easily bulked up in late spring by propating cuttings of shoots struck in a good compost and under cover. Remember to apply a 2-3 cm deep mulch of well-rotted garden compost or manure around the plants in spring. Its eventual height is 45cm and its eventual spread 60cm.
A lovely planting association could include the tiny pale pink/white daisy-like Erigeron karavinskianus and clouds of lime green flowering Alchemilla mollis.
Other named salvia varieties include 'Amethyst' – a gorgeous lilac-puple; 'Caradonna' - a longer spike and which flowers from June to October; and 'Schwellenburg' - taller and a lovely pinky-purple.
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