Life Gardens

Thursday 2 October 2014

Don’t create flower border without Salvia

Salvia is a beautiful plant that grows in a variety of colours so don't create a flower border without it.

Marie Staunton

Published 27/06/2014 | 16:23

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I don't know if you could plant up a flower border without using salvia; not only do they flower continuously through the summer but they come in so many colours that you will be hard pressed to choose just a few.

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Salvia can be both ornamental and edible. The edible varieties are equally as beautiful in flower as their ornamental cousins. We have, for a few years, propagated a lovely red flowering salvia worthy of any garden because of its ability to flower from the end of May through to November and, in a mild winter, into December. There certainly aren't many plants that are as giving and this is why I would have to choose a Salvia as my desert island plant.

If I was to recommend one it would be the one called salvia ‘Huntsman's Red' and this name is tentatively accepted by the RHS, which means you can now look out for it. Names given to plants can be a funny business, it's a bit like Chinese Whispers, bits get added and then the name bears no resemblance to the original. To this end I would usually rely on the RHS website as an accurate guide when it comes to tracking down a plant you might fancy.

So where do we start when it comes to choosing salvia varieties? You can choose by colour, which is usually the way most of us fall for a plant. The purple-flowering salvia nemorosa is a hardy herbaceous perennial plant that is easy to grow and propagate. Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland' is a variety that has really intense violet-blue flowers that add a real flash of colour to the front of a flower border.

What I particularly like about this plant is its ability to attract beautiful butterflies and pollinators into the garden.

Bedding plants are a great way of adding colour but rarely offer anything more than that to visiting insects. However, bedding salvia have become a firm favourite with gardeners because of their uniform height and they fair quite well in wind and rain too.

Salvia greggii ‘Wild Thing' is a fantastic hot-pink flowing variety. I just love the name. It is one of those varieties that like good drainage and certainly won't like its roots swimming in water, so lots of sand and grit mixed in at planting time will see it right. In their native Texas they like a little shade during the hottest part of the day; in Ireland, however, an umbrella might be more appropriate.

IW Marie Salvia No 24 june 21st 3 (Read-Only).jpg

With all of these plants I would be inclined to take cuttings during late summer, just in case we get a tough winter, especially if you have a favourite one.

It's a simple process and only takes a few minutes to do. Using a sharp knife or your secateurs, take a number of cuttings from non-flowering stems in late summer. Cuttings should be taken from the new growth on the plant. Ideally you are looking for a cutting to be the length of your index finger, around 8cm long. Cut just under a leaf node; this is where the leaf meets the stem and then pinch out the leaves at the very top of the cutting and clear some leaves from the base of the stem. All your cuttings should now be a uniform 8cm long and ready to be propagated.

You can use hormone rooting powder or honey to speed up the rooting process. Dip the end of the cutting into either and insert into a mixture of two parts compost to one part horticultural sand, water and place a clear plastic bag over the pot and secure with an elastic band. Each 1lt pot can have around six or seven cuttings. Keep at room temperature until rooted, pot on and over winter in a frost-free cold frame or glasshouse. I do exactly the same with Calceolaria, so give them a go and see how you get on.

I brought a few plants along to a talk I was giving a couple of weeks ago and both the salvia and the calceolaria were a big hit. Calceolaria are without doubt a sight for sore eyes at this time of year and one called calceolaria integrifolia ‘Kentish Hero' is a stunning orange variety. We also have a couple mixed in with |Geranium ‘Johnsons Blue' and the combination works really well.

Ask Marie

Question: I'm going on holiday |shortly and have a number of house plants that will need watering. Could I leave them in the bath with a little water in it?

Answer: You could do that, depending on the amount of plants you have. I tend to use a little |capillary mat that I place on my kitchen sink draining board and let the other end drop into a sink filled with water. While you are away, the capillary mat will take water up and the plants that are placed on the draining board will draw up the moisture they need to see them through.

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