Salvia update

Sunday, 08 November 2015

Salvia Angel Wings

When I first began this blog, more than seven years ago, my main plant passion was for the genus Salvia, and they were the first plants I included in my Plant Reference. As the years have passed, I still adore Salvia plants but my thoughts on them have changed a bit. I have become more selective: whereas once any Salvia made me swoon, I now rationally evaluate (or at least try to!) whether they are really suitable for my garden. Lots of new ones have come onto the market over the past few years. Salvia species seem to crossbreed fairly readily, so now we have many cultivars to tempt us, but I can't fit them all into my garden!.

Salvia Mesa Azure

One area where there has been an explosion of new Salvia plants has been in what is sometimes called the 'Salvia greggii/ microphylla' complex. I used to think I knew most of the cultivars of these, but I have been well and truly left behind. There are numerous cultivars and crosses between the two species. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that crosses between them are called Salvia x jamensis, but often they are simply known by their cultivar names. Though there are almost too many of them now (thus it is hard to tell them apart), they are great plants, being compact (around 1 m or less) and very long flowering. They are cold hardy for cooler climate gardens as well as doing well in Sydney. There are some truly stunning ones amongst those that have come on the market over the past few years. Three personal favourites are baby-pink 'Angel Wings' (pictured at the start of the blog); crimson 'Silas Dyson'; and soft purple-blue 'Mesa Azure' (picture above), which I have just recently started to grow (there are also other colours in the Mesa range: scarlet, rose and purple). I have seen 'Mesa Azure' growing very well in a large pot; a great bonus to these more compact forms is that they are suited to being grown in containers. 'Icing Sugar' (with stunning pastel pink flowers) is another lovely one that is on my wish list!

Salvia iodantha

Over the years, I have found myself gravitating towards more compact forms of Salvia. In my original infatuation for Salvia plants, I was besotted with the tall, dramatic, statuesque ones that provided truly a 'riot of colour' (often in autumn and winter, when we need it most), such as bright pink-flowered Salvia involucrata x karwinskii 'Winter Lipstick' (ht 3 m or more) and cerise-bloomed Salvia iodantha (ht 3 to 4 m). Sadly, I have had to let these go, as they just take up too much room in a suburban garden and need too much cutting back and staking. I still love seeing them in gardens of friends with acreages, where they can have all the space they need, and look so right in a bigger landscape.

Salvia Wendys Wish

I'm not quite sure when Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' came onto the market; I believe it was discovered around 2005 as a spontaneous garden hybrid found in the garden of a salvia enthusiast in Victoria, called Wendy Smith. When it appeared in nurseries, it proved an immediate hit with Salvia aficionados - and everyone else as well. A fairly compact plant (ht 1 to 1.2 m), it has large tubular flowers of a pretty beetroot colour and these are held in pinkish-brown calyces which accentuate the blooms. The flowering stems are dark maroon, adding to the effect. It is long flowering: from spring through to autumn, and even into winter in protected gardens. Wendy Smith's wish was that part of the proceeds of the sale of the plans be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation - hence the plant's name. This organisation grants cherished wishes to seriously ill children and has been operating in Australia since 1985. In 2013, a coral-coloured sport was discovered on a plant of 'Wendy's Wish', and this was propagated, and called 'Ember's Wish' - named in memory of Emma and Brett Shegog, who lost their lives due to a fatal genetic disorder. Part of the proceeds of the sale of this plant also goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Salvia Love and Wishes

The third member of the 'Wish' clan is currently my absolute favourite plant in the whole garden, and was released last year: Salvia 'Love and Wishes'. It was bred by John Fisher, who lives in Orange, NSW, from a cross between a Salvia splendens and Salvia buchananii. It has red-violet flowers held in sultry dark calyces, and it seems to be always in bloom in my garden! It grows to around 80 cm to 1m. I was very pleased to meet John last weekend at the Millthorpe Garden Ramble, when he spoke at one of the open gardens about his plant-breeding efforts. Salvia 'Love and Wishes' was named in third place in the UK Royal Horticultural Society's Plant of the Year Awards in 2015; and as Best in Show at the New Plant Awards at the UK Horticultural Trade Association National Plant Show in 2015: both wonderful accolades for John! It has become a very popular plant worldwide since its introduction. John showed us some of his other Salvia crosses, including the delightful 'Alice' - a hybrid between Salvia dorisiana and a white form of Salvia greggii; 'Alice' has much smaller leaves than S. dorisiana but still having the foliage fragrance and the bright pink flowers of the original parent on a much more compact plant. He also mentioned Salvia 'Ruth', which looks like Salvia mexicana (though not related to it) but with 1m-long flower spikes! These plants - named after John's daughters - alas are not available commercially currently. I look forward to seeing more Salvia introductions from him in the future.

Another recent development in the world of Salvia is the 'Go Go' cultivars of Salvia splendens. Available in flower hues of purple or red, these are said to bloom almost continuously and grow much taller (ht 1.2 m) than the usually seen short, dumpy forms of this plant. The flowers are more densely clustered on the stems. I've found that the species Salvia splendens plants can last for several seasons, if deadheaded every so often; and they have the bonus of flowering well in part-shaded sites. These new ones are said to do well in part-shade and to be non-seeding: it's true that the original species self-seeds quite a bit, but as readers may have realised by now, I am not averse to that sort of thing in my garden!

Many Sydney gardeners will be familiar with Yellow House Perennial Nursery: they have wonderful stalls at the various plant fairs and also run an online nursery. They propagate a wide variety of Salvia as well as many other great plants for the Sydney climate. The nursery is based in a lovely country garden in Nowra on NSW's South Coast, and they will be having an open day there on Saturday 21 November 2015, from 10 am to 4.30 pm at 20 Jervis Street, Nowra. See here for more information.

Reader Comments

  • By Trudi 4223 Monday, 09 November 2015

    I do love Salvia plants. I add every year a few new ones. I grow the dramatic big ones with waving long arms and brilliant colours from red to yellow to hot pink. Also love the simple self seeders, as I have a big garden and they fill out spaces in my butterfly garden. I have also just ordered a few Fuchsia shrubs for the garden. I can hear a new addiction creeping in to the garden. I ordered them at Brenlissa online nursery. Thanks, Trudi. I love fuchsias too! The species ones are particularly successful in my garden. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 09 November 2015

    great blog-love the greggi ones too as they do fit into a smaller garden so well. I too have removed some of the larger ones as although-beautiful flowers but take up far too much room. Lucky you re Milthorpe-maybe next year-had another commitment in Sydney. this last weekend I went up to Mittagong & revelled in Chinoiserie again & saw the Perennial Hill garden for the first time. Julie & her husband run a small nursery with interestings plants as does Dominic at Chinoiserie. I can recommend the Millthorpe Garden Ramble. And it is such a lovely little village too. Have not yet been to Perennial Hill but must go when it reopens. It is always good when there is a nursery in an open garden! I bought a few things from Dominic when I was there last month! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 09 November 2015

    Thank you for your latest Salvia blog. I am really interested in the more compact varieties, as I don"t have space for the larger types, so will keep a look-out for them. I hope John Fisher"s plants will, at some time, be released, to the public. Thanks, Margaret. The more compact ones are definitely the way forward. I do hope some of the other salvias John has bred will become available. I gather his breeding experiments are continuing! Deirdre

  • By Trish 2330 Monday, 09 November 2015

    Thank you so much for the information on Salvias I found it most interesting & confusing with so many varieties to choose from, regards Trish Yes, there ARE so many of them, I agree. It is certainly hard to know what to pick. I have tried to give an evaluation of each of them in my Plant Reference, and have also noted there which ones I have now removed from my own garden for one reason or another. Hope you enjoy growing some of them. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 09 November 2015

    Thank you so much for the update - I am keen to try "Alice" as I have struggled to find a good spot for dorisiana - but it is just too cold & windy here. I love the foliage of dorisiana , especially the beautiful scent of the leaves.I am currently enjoying S muirii with its mass of pretty blue & white flowers - I think it has now overtaken Hotlips as my favourite small salvia. S. muirii is a great tough one. It grows well in colder inland areas, too. The greggii and microphylla ones and all their crosses seem also good for colder areas. Certainly some of the bigger-leaved ones are more sensitive to cold winters. Luckily there are so many to choose from: something for every climate! Deirdre

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