Salvia - Some Ornamental Forms
Last month I introduced what is fast becoming one of Australia’s most popular genera of plants. Whether in the kitchen or the garden Salvia will reward you. As a garden plant Salvia are unparalleled. Their range of color, shape, size and cultural requirements is a wide as the range of Australian gardens. The only area where there are not a lot of choices is the full tropics. Even then there are some cultivars that will grow in good conditions.
There are many ways of grouping Salvia. I divide the ornamental garden forms into three size groups: There are the small to medium forms that are tight and grow from a central clump. They may have short low growing stems or grow in tight rosettes. Many of these plants can be hard to propagate as they don’t have much cutting material and don’t give much for division. Examples of these are S.nipponica, S. pratensis and S. patens. Then there are small open forms that are very floriferous, colourful and easy to propagate and grow. Most of the popular forms and most of the breeding and selection occur with this group. It includes varieties like S. greggi, S. microphylla, S. leucantha and S.x jamensis. There are over a hundred cultivars in this group. The third group is the large forms that form quite large, quick growing shrubs, many of which grow to over 2 metres high.
With over 700 species it is not possible to look at all of them. I intend to look at each of the three size groupings over the next few months. I will pick a few of the most popular species and review how they grow and what they look like. This month I will start with the third group the large growing varieties.
There are three large species that are quite common in the trade and many hybrids. Generally these plants grow to around 2-4m tall and 2+ metres wide. The usually have medium sized leaves and think tall stems. They are often fragile and will break in strong winds or if knocked to hard. Generally they like full sun, well drained soil and will tolerate light to moderate frosts. Some varieties will die back to ground level under very cold conditions. Most of them are quite open in appearance and should be pruned regularly if the plant is to keep a tight compact appearance.
Salvia gesneriifolia is a large plant with light green foliage and large bright red flowers with lime green calyxes on long racemes. It can get as tall as 8m although is usually only around 3m in cultivation. There are several cultivars including one with deep purple/black calyxes called Tequila. The species comes from high altitudes in central Mexico and is named after its floral resemblance to the genus Gesneria.
Salvia guaranitica is a medium to large shrub growing to around 2.5m tall and 2m wide. It has deep blue flowers with dark purple calyxes on medium to long inflorescences late summer/autumn. It has large green oval leaves that have an anise fragrance when crushed. It will tolerate light frosts but once established will re-shoot in spring if hit by heavier frosts in winter. It comes from central to northern South America. There are several cultivars in the trade and these include S. ‘Argentine Skies’ (light blue flowers), S. ‘Black and Blue’ (black calyxes and blue flowers), S. ‘Purple Splendour’ (purple flowers) and several others.
Salvia involucrata is a medium to large shrub reaching 2-2.5m. It is an upright shrub and produces long vertical stems with a clump of crimson flowers at the tip. They occur in mid summer to late autumn. The flowers open in groups of three that are enclosed by pairs of deep bracts. These ‘buds’ are rose like and give rise to the common name ‘Rosebud Sage’. It is quite frost tolerant and will grow in shade or sun and does not requires as open soil as most other species.
There are several recognised cultivars:
Bethelli - wild sourced cultivar that has been around since the late 19th century that is a more tighter grower. Joan – a more pink in colour and slightly more floriferous. ‘Pink Icicles’ – This is a new variety with soft lolly pink flower. ‘Mulberry Jam’ – a dark flowered form that is slightly smaller growing, some suggest this may be a hybrid. There are a couple of hybrids that look a lot like S. involucrata. ‘Timboon’ – a more red flower that occurs later than type, from May to August, the stems are also less likely to be damaged by wind.
There are also several large hybrids, three of the best are S. ‘Waverley’, S. ‘Meigan’s Magic’ and ‘S. ‘Phyllis Fancy’. These three have a similar growth habit – medium to large rounded shrub to about 2m high and wide. The flowers occur in 10 to 20 cm racemes across most of spring to late autumn. Excellent garden shrubs.
S. semiatrata (Riviera Sage) is a medium to large shrub to 1.8m tall and 1.5 m wide with deep mauve/blue and crimson flowers over the whole year. Another popular and large hybrid is S. ‘Anthony Parker’ – an attractive plant with 15cm long racemes of flowers with deep indigo blue calyxes and mauve blue flowers. It is a seedling selected by Frances parker of Beaufort, Sth Carolina in 1994.
There are of course several other large species and many cultivars. This is a selection of the more popular forms that are easily available her in Australia. Next month I will look at the large group of smaller, mass flowering forms including the S.greggii, S. microphylla and S. xjamensis cultivars and hybrids.