Salvias, a new garden theme

Blue bedding Salvia, one of the two common Salvias, makes a bright and long-lasting show

Blue bedding Salvia, one of the two common Salvias, makes a bright and long-lasting show.

For the past couple of months I have been establishing a Salvia (sage) garden. They seem to be an ideal plant for our conditions, and I’m hoping they will have the potential to fill the bank under the house with colour and interest. Usually with Salvias you think of the eye-catching red and blue bedding types, which are always available in punnets for seasonal colour, but the variety of forms and colours goes way beyond those two, and collections of more than a hundred types seem to be standard with enthusiasts. 

There are a number of salvia experts who tend to be suppliers too, especially in California and here in Australia, but also in the UK and Germany, so if you are interested I would recommend visiting their websites for their wealth of knowledge.

A Salvias garden, the start

salvia wagneriana

Salvia wagneriana was growing in a large patch on the driveway when we moved in.

When we bought the property there was already a large bank of a plant with big pink flowers on long canes established on the driveway. I had no idea what it was but from web searches it seemed to be Salvia wagneriana, although wagneriana and S. involucrata are very similar and we are still working out what it actually is. It had covered an area of tens of square metres and was obviously an ideal plant for the climate.

I had seen the Salvia displays at Sydney Botanic Gardens and been both surprised and impressed by their beauty, but as we only had balcony gardens then, I filed them away for later. Coming from Summer-arid Perth, only a few Salvias were part of my familiar garden repertoire. Although there are some that like mediterranean climates, the big variety in cultivation come from the tropical Americas, places like Mexico, and so they tend to like the wet Summers and warm Winters we have here on the East coast.

Pineapple sage not only has a beautiful scent, but also has masses of red flowers most of the year

Pineapple sage not only has a beautiful scent, but also has masses of red flowers most of the year

My second Salvia was a lucky find. Visiting a local nursery I saw ‘Pineapple sage’ as a scrawny little plant in the $2 stand. I had never heard of it, but liked the scent, so gave it a try. It not only did well, but has made a beautiful display almost continuously since it gained some size, and has even self-sown around the original this Winter.

chia flowers

Chia is easy to grow and has pretty blue flowers

Third Salvia off the rank was Chia, which I tried as a chicken food, and has self sown ever since. It’s not even particularly fussy about season, and flowers and seeds through the year.

The next step

The success of the first three sages, plus red and blue bedding salvias, gave me impetus to go ahead and order from an online nursery. These places feel like a leap of faith if you’re not used to them, but this one has been very good and reliable. It’s also my first experience with mail order plants, but they arrive in good condition and recover quickly.

Salvia delivery

My first mail delivery of Salvias, 12 plants as they arrived in August

I got my first 12 types in early August, and my second 12 in September. Only one looks like it might not survive (due to poor planting) and the rest are doing very well. With the three original Salvias plus the red and blue bedding Salvias and the herb sage, that makes 29 or 30 types to start with. A good variety to test their performance.

The Salvia garden

The salvia garden is going to be on the bank below the house that I have steadily won back from pasture grass. Last year it grew turmeric. The timeline here seems to be: one year of weeding grass, then one year of weeding ageratum, then many years after that weeding ageratum and cobblers pegs. So the imperative in bank management has become putting in something that would suppress the weeds, and fill the bank with something interesting to look out on from the house, without being so high it closed the garden in.

These salvias range from 50 cm to 2 m high, and have a wide range of colours, so I hope that in a year or so they will make a good display over a large area of bank. Some are already getting to a good size and beginning to flower, so I will post as they become photogenic.