Whilst most of my Salvia plants look atrocious right now and are in desperate need of a severe cutting back (just one more week to go before I have a crazy pruning spree), there are some which are in full bloom and giving me great comfort at the moment. I haven't written about winter Salvia plants for a number of years, and my thoughts on the subject have changed a bit since then, and new plants have since come along.
Originally, when I became hooked on Salvia, I was enthralled by the winter-flowering specimens - because they so flamboyantly defied the winter chill that sees most other plants go into hibernation during the cooler months. I had to have all of them in my garden. What a joy it was to walk round the garden on a freezing morning and see these amazing plants flowering so generously. But I hadn't reckoned on how enormous many of them grow! Some are intent on reaching for the sky and each took up an inordinate amount of room - examples being Salvia involucrata x karwinskii 'Winter Lipstick', the various forms of Salvia wagneriana (the pale pink version is pictured above) and Salvia 'Pink Icicles'. Even when cut back drastically in summer, I still found them too big for my garden, and the extra work of pruning was starting to wear thin on me, so I reluctantly took them out. In large country gardens, they are truly superb, and I envy my friends who have the space to let these beauties have their head.
I do, however, still grow a couple of larger specimens - 'Timboon' (pictured at left) is a fairly recent release and it has deep burgundy-pink flowers in wine-coloured calyces in late autumn and winter. Even when it is in bud, it is beautiful. Though capable of growing to 2 m or more, it seems more upright than the other larger forms to which it is related. It is an immensely cheering sight in winter and looks fabulous at the moment. I also have retained Salvia elegans Purple Form (shown at the start of the blog) because it is a fairly upright, willowy grower (I have it weaving in the branches of a nearby silver birch tree) and it flowers for so long with its dainty cerise spires - from winter to late spring. It gets to about 2 m tall. It has a nice purplish tinge to its leaves.
I simply have to keep Salvia dorisiana, the fruit salad sage. It was one of the first salvias I ever grew, so I find it very hard to think of getting rid of it. I admit it can take up a lot of space in height and width (2 m), though pruning can keep it smaller, but it is sumptuous at this time of year. It has its hot pink blooms from late July until October - which are gorgeous - but I also love the smell of its big, leaves, which really do smell like a fruit salad. The flowers look lovely with silver foliage nearby, such as Plectranthus argentatus or low-growing Salvia discolor (ht 1 m - which also flowers bravely on throughout winter, with its unusual navy-blue inflorecences); and it also coincides with the blooming of pink-flowered Loropetalum chinense, which provides a good companion (illustrated above). Salvia dorisiana will also cope with a bit of shade, which is useful. It makes a nice background of lush foliage when not in bloom.
Salvia 'Desley' (pictured left) is another tall one (ht 2 m) that I wouldn't want to be without. It has plum-coloured flowers held in thrillingly dark calyces. It blooms prolifically throughout autumn and winter. It looks stunning against a backdrop of purple or silver leaves. However, where space is precious, grow instead Salvia 'Love and Wishes' (ht 80 cm), with flowers of exactly the same hue as 'Desley', and literally in bloom all year round if deadheaded occasionally.
Another compact one, new to me this year, is Salvia 'Amistad' (pictured at left), with rich purple flowers held in dark bracts - looking similar to Salvia 'Purple Majesty', but blooming much longer (apparently all year round!) and much less inclined to become straggly. Its height is said to be around 1.2 m, but I can't confirm this yet, as I have only had mine for a few months! The plant was discovered at a plant sale in Argentina in 2005 and became commercially available a few years ago. It has quickly become a favourite for salvia lovers throughout the world and I am very pleased to have it growing in my garden now. Two new recently released Salvia splendens cultivars, called 'Go-Go' Purple and 'Go-Go' Scarlet, are also compact (ht 1.2 m), and are said to flower all year round in sun or part shade. Salvia splendens is usually grown as an annual (though some of my self-seeded specimens last several seasons), but these new cultivars are said to survive for two or three years. They are a welcome change from the very dwarf versions of Salvia splendens that have been marketed in recent years.
All these Salvia flowers cheer me up no end in the depths of winter, providing oases of rich colour when much of the garden is looking utterly dreary!
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