Among my many obsessions over the years, salvias remain constant. I find them fascinating, especially the tender, generally South- and Central American species. In some part this is due to my innate awkwardness. The hardy species do not have the appeal of the tender ones even though they are excellent garden plants. A top ten list of perennials must surely include a hardy salvia, probably the trustworthy ‘Caradonna’ though this is in danger of becoming too widespread to merit mention. No, it is the spectacular and usually tender salvias that get my attention.
I think this began when I was in my twenties when I got hold of Salvia gesnerifolia. I liked its robust habit and I had a greenhouse that could house it when it finally decided to bloom. Large, vibrant red, hairy flowers that began in October and continued into the New Year, if protected from frost. It was then that I also had the tender Buddleia asiatica with white, sublimely scented flowers at the same season. This pair were my star plants and I miss them both. I then searched out Salvia dombeyii, the most awkwardly postured plant in existence but oh, those flowers. Dangling red claws, the biggest flowers of any salvia, captured my heart.
The years roll on and I have to start over. A new garden and a new range of plants. But my need for salvias has not waned. As soon as the glasshouse is up I will start to collect in earnest but the recent visit to Picton Castle allowed me a minor indulgence.
As well as the salvia already mentioned and Salvia corrugata, which has yet to bloom, I came away with two others. Neither have created the haze of colour they are capable of but both are showing their hands with fascinating blooms.
The most extraordinary, and you can probably guess, with the smallest flowers, are carried by Salvia bullulata ‘pale form’. The deeply embossed leaves are carried on rather awkwardly branched and spreading stems, so far at least, and terminate in stiff spires of small blue flowers. To call them blue is to do them a disservice; they are a pale icy blue touched with green that makes them almost turquoise. In a genus where the production of true blue is taken for granted this colour is dreamy.
A feature I don’t like, though when it gets into its stride and bedded down will be less obvious, is that the bracts around the verticels of blooms turn brown just before they drop. It will probably not be hardy so I have taken cuttings and will protect the plant in the polytunnel. Various sources say it is hardy in US zones 9b-11.
It was once known as Salvia sp. from Camchaque and it is recently introduced from Peru. It may do better in part shade than full sun according to some. The heavily veined leaves have given it a made up common name of puckered sage (bullata means puckered or knobbly) – a very ugly name for a lovely plant.
Equally lovely, S. curviflora ‘Tubular Bells’ (I am not sure how valid the cultivar name is) is another recent introduction. It has a willowy, upright habit with greyish stems and discreet foliage and the looks of a supermodel. The wiry stems terminate in masses of hairy pink flowers of the brightest carmine, with lots of buds ready to replace fallen blooms.
Like a lot of these salvias, the stems are a bit ‘snappy’ so it will be interesting to see how it gets on in my windy garden. But for now it is a time for pampering and propagation. It is also recently introduced, this time from Tehuacan area of Mexico. How hardy it is is open to question. Some sources say definitely not while others state confidently that it is hardy. I will be cautious for now.
Fortunately, salvias are easy to grow from cuttings and now is a good time to take them (just). I cannot give these rating yet, just say that I like them a lot, so far.