Surprising salvias

I am very fond of salvias and want a lot more. I particularly like the tender salvias and, although they need protection in winter they are so lovely and flower for so long that they are worth the effort. I bought a few several years ago and although I lost one this last winter in the polytunnel, most survived and now I have the greenhouse up I can be more confident of getting more. But first a remarkable story of survival.

This is ‘Royal Bumble’ a bright red salvia that is usually assigned to S. greggii. These small-leaved, shrubby salvias are a confusing lot and seem to hybridise freely so that there is now a swarm of hybrids. ‘Royal Bumble’ is hardly exceptional among these, with rather typical flowers. It is like the vastly more popular ‘Hot Lips’ in red and white but the endearing habit of producing very irregular flower colour, according to weather conditions, that makes ‘Hot Lips’ so distinctive, actually annoys me so it will be a late addition to the garden, if ever. All these plants are borderllne hardy and are recommended for dry, sandy or chalky soils and hot sun. My plant had to go where there was a vaguely suitable spot, two years ago, and is at the front of the border beside a peony and a crab apple. It is not far from the wet spot that killed my laburnums. So what is it doing looking so happy?

Admittedly it didn’t look happy a few months ago but these salvias never do – they are not pretty in winter; just rather bare, twiggy stems and undistinguished habit. But once they get into their stride they are lovely all summer and well into autumn. It is easy to grow from cuttings and it also sets a few seeds, though I have not sown them. Bumblebees do love this plant but they cheat when visiting the flowers and bite through the back to get the nectar.

Salvia corrugata is a different kettle of fish altogether. This is tender and it just made it through winter in the unheated tunnel. I kept it dangerously dry, did not cut it back, it kept all its leaves and burst into growth this spring and it has a smattering of blooms. This is rather odd. When I have grown it before it has always bloomed very late in autumn, making it useless for garden display because it does not bloom till October. But kept in a pot and brought into the greenhouse it is a lovely thing with deeply veined leaves with a beige, felted underside and stumpy clusters of rich blue flowers. The blooms are not huge – about 2cm long – but a lovely shade.

This salvia is from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, at high elevations. It only entered cultivation in Europe in 1995. It was collected, as a herbarium specimen, in 1988 by Jim and Jenny Archibald as an unidentified salvia and when the herbarium sheet was inspected by James Compton in 1995 six seeds fell out. These were sown and resulted in the plants we grow today. It is a rather dense, compact plant and has rather nice, grey bark. I will try to keep the plant as a specimen to see how it develops over the years. Most salvias are best as young plants but this one has a compact, shrubby habit that suggests that an old plant in a pot could be quite attractive.

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10 Comments on “Surprising salvias”

  1. Meriel
    June 21, 2021 at 11:31 am #

    I love S. Corrugata’s little yellow eyes!

  2. tonytomeo
    June 21, 2021 at 9:55 pm #

    Many or most of the Salvia greggii cultivars have been deprived of their species name, so are now know simply by their genus and cultivar name. It can be annoying. I really do not know what the other parent or parents are. Perhaps Salvia microphylla is an option. I have seen some labeled as Salvia thymifolia, but can not find information about it.

    • thebikinggardener
      June 22, 2021 at 5:33 pm #

      Yes I think that S. microphylla is involved – most are S. x jamensis, a hybrid between it and S. greggii.

      • tonytomeo
        June 24, 2021 at 6:35 am #

        Yes, that makes more sense, and is, I believe, how I remember it being explained. I just do not know; and I know that I can not believe all that I read. I still have no idea what Salvia thymifolia is.

  3. Paddy Tobin
    June 22, 2021 at 9:51 am #

    ‘Royal Bumble’ is a great one; grows very well in the garden. We saw an unnamed salvia in Lismore Castle Gardens at the weekend, small-flowered, strong purple/blue with a very strong smell from the foliage when touched. Very attractive.

    • thebikinggardener
      June 22, 2021 at 5:28 pm #

      If I ever become brave enough to go out I will have to revisit Lismore

      • Paddy Tobin
        June 22, 2021 at 6:07 pm #

        We go on days that are forecast to be a bit dull or even damp, not the best for gardening, and then arrive as the gardens open so it is very quiet. It was a little busier last weekend but on the previous visit we saw only two other people.

  4. Paddy Tobin
    June 27, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

    We are waiting for our second also but feel we will continue to be as cautious as we have been just, maybe, a little less worried.

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