Salvias in autumn

Sunday, 03 May 2009

Summer-flowering salvias have a renewed flush in autumn

Those who know me know that I am mad about Salvia. Autumn is the very best season for these wonderful plants: all of the summer-blooming ones, such as violet 'Indigo Spires', maroon 'Van Houttei', cerise Salvia chiapensis and 'Wendy's Wish', bright pink 'Joan', bluish-white 'Phyllis' Fancy', white and lilac 'Waverly', bright blue 'Marine Blue', violet 'Purple Majesty', rich blue 'Costa Rican Blue', 'Omaha Gold' and Salvia guaranitica Large Form, along with the many microphylla hybrids, have a renewed flush of flowers when the cooler weather arrives.

Salvia iodantha

They are joined by an entourage of salvias which only begin their blooming season in autumn, bringing new life and vibrant colour to the garden at this time. Some are tall, needing lots of space, such as Salvia iodantha (ht 3-4m) with its feathery magenta flowers, and Salvia purpurea (ht 3m) with its haze of lavender-violet blooms. They both start flowering in late autumn. I have them intertwined with amongst some Camellia sasanqua, a tree daisy (Montanoa bipinnatifida) and a tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) where they form a wild mixture of swaying blooms which delights me every time I look at that spot.

Salvia madrensis with Kniphofia ensifolia

On a slightly smaller scale, but still needing a fair amount of space, is the bright yellow Salvia madrensis (ht 1.5-2m), which will grow quite well in part shade and looks fabulous nearby yellow-variegated foliage plants such as Euonymus 'Green 'n' Gold' or Miscanthus 'Zebrinus'. It creeps around a bit so you need to keep an eye on that, but I would never be without its wonderful splodges of yellow in autumn, which last for at least three months. 'Anthony Parker' (ht 1.5-2m) has inky blue spires, forming a rounded dome smothered in flowers. You do need to have the space for this one, as it grows quite wide and can smother other plants. Suckering pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, ht 2m) has bright red flowers and can become a bit invasive: last year I acquired the gold-leaved cultivar of it called 'Golden Delicious', which has the same flowers matched with stunning foliage, and so far this one hasn't spread too badly.

Salvia mexicana Lime Calyx

Salvia mexicana Lime Calyx (ht 1-2m) is a stunning salvia, with purplish-blue flowers held in lime bracts. It looks brilliant with a lime-leaved foliage plant nearby, such as Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' or Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'. There is a compact version of this Salvia called 'Little Limelight' that only gets to 1m, apparently.

A very beautiful autumn-blooming species is Salvia semiatrata (ht 1-2m) which has bicoloured flowers of deep violet and lavender, held in pretty dusky purple calyces. The small leaves are attractively textured. In some gardens (not mine) it flowers almost constantly. It needs a bit of trimming through the growing season to keep its shape neat. Bright pink Bethel sage (Salvia involucrata 'Bethellii' which grows to about 1.5m, also comes out in autumn and looks eye-catching with silver or purplish foliage plants.

Salvia leucantha White Velour with Miscanthus Variegatus

Salvia leucantha (ht 1.3m) has been around for a long time and its velvety purple flowers are quite dramatic in autumn. One form has white flowers held within purple calyces, the other is all purple. It does tend to flop around a bit as the season wears on; 'Santa Barbara' is a good upright and compact form, which grows to only 60-90cm and makes an excellent low hedge or a pot specimen. Last year, two new cultivars of Salvia leucantha were released: the all-white 'White Velour' and the pale pink and white 'Pink Velour', which are said to grow to around 1m. Those who went to the Collectors' Plant Fair at Bilpin a few weeks ago would have been bowled over by the specimens of both of these in Peta Trahar's garden.

An autumn scene with Salvia Anthony Parker in the foreground at Belrose Nursery

Salvias mix in well with many other types of plants: in cottagey styles with autumnal roses, Camellia sasanqua, Pentas and Japanese windflowers; or in tropical gardens with bold foliage plants, Dahlia, Canna, Plectranthus and Tibouchina. Those with blue, purple or hot-coloured flowers associate well with autumn foliage. Many of them look spectacular with ornamental grasses, as the shape of the grass foliage seems to be echoed in the curving flower spires of the Salvia.