30 June 2019
It wasn’t until recently I realised that I have a lot of Salvias in the garden here at Charnwood. I’d been unable to resist a gorgeous and rather fetchingly named (more on that later) S. ‘Lavender Dilly Dilly’ at a local nursery. When I tried to find just the right spot for it I noticed that there were already two salvias in the bed I was eyeing up for a gap and I have more in sunny beds throughout the garden.
Salvias are members of the sage family with over 1,000 different kinds. You can usually identify them by the rather pungent smell of their leaves: the sage we use in cooking is usually Salvia officinalis. If you don’t use too much of it in your sage and onion stuffing and leave it to flower, it will produce lilacy/purple flower spikes that are a magnet for bees. Sun, reasonable soil and good drainage provide their preferred home, and if given those conditions and then looked after a little bit, they will flower and flower throughout the summer. Salvias can be woody, herbaceous perennials (meaning they die right down in winter and then emerge again in Spring) or annuals.
S. ‘Hot Lips’ is to be seen in almost any garden centre you may frequent. I tried it in a pot for the first couple of years but it failed to really thrive until I planted it into some decent soil in a sunny spot. It has now made a bush just over a metre tall and wide. I worried that it wouldn’t be winter hardy, being woody and a bit tender looking, but it easily survived the last, albeit mild, winter very well. I cut it back by about a third all over in early spring, which seems to have made for a better show. With a little imagination you can see why it has been given its name: it is lipstick red and white. It also ensures good sales I’m guessing!
Sadly it wasn’t the same story for that other regular offer at garden centres, Salvia ‘Amistad’. I bought one in Spring of last year, it cost me a fortune, looked absolutely fabulous all summer with its striking purple flowers and tall, elegant presence at the back of a border. Then it did an impression of a dead thing all over the winter that turned out to be a permanent state despite being carefully sited in a sheltered spot. Luckily I had been warned this may happen and had taken some cuttings and over wintered them frost free. They grew on well and are now planted out and coming on a treat. So the gardening moral of that story is, as for many plants (and in life), take precautions!
S. Hot Lips and Amistad are the woody kind of Salvia, there are herbaceous versions that are reliably hardy. I love them so much because they often come in the deep, rich colours that zing out, and mix beautifully in borders. I had a lovely combo this year of a bright yellow Achillea, red and white S. ‘Hot Lips’ and a herbaceous salvia (name long forgotten) with deep purple spikes for weeks. Not only did it look lovely, the bees, butterflies and hoverflies enjoyed it too.
Talking of good names to aid commercial success, I treated us to some David Austin English shrub roses early this year. One beauty, ‘The Lark Ascending’ (how could anyone resist that?!) flowered for the first time last month. The colour is exquisite, apricot and soft yellow shades with a hint of pink. David Austin died earlier this year aged 92 after a lifetime of breeding top quality shrub roses. They are not cheap, around £18 for a bare root rose. But when you bear in mind the skilled, patient work and the years that go into producing such a beautiful plant, I’m not complaining. A rose like that is a long term investment; with some tlc and a fair wind it should, as my mother used to say ‘see me out’! Blessed also with a ‘buy me’ name is Madame Alfred Carriere, a beautifully perfumed white climbing rose. She adorns the back of the house, is really easy to please and, after one of Peter’s hard prunes in April was covered with blooms last month. He has fed and dead headed her to encourage more flowers into the Autumn.