Height 38-90cm (15-36in)
Planting distance 30-45cm (12-18in)
Flowers mid summer to autumn
When considering salvias, many gardeners never look beyond Salvia splendens, the bedding plant with spikes of redseen in almost every park in the country. But salvias form a large genus incorporating shrubs and perennials as well as annuals. Here, annual and tender perennial species used in bedding schemes are described. All have spikes of tubular flowers, but they come in a range of colours.
Salvia argentea is a short-lived perennial grown as a biennial foliage plant. Reaching 60cm (2ft) high, the plant forms attractive rosettes of oval leaves covered with silky, silvery white hairs. If the white flowers flushed with purple do appear remove them to encourage healthy foliage. Plant 38-45cm (15-18in) apart in a rockery, on a wall, or as a dot plant.
Salvia farinacea, commonly known as mealy-cup sage, is a 75-90cm (30-36in) tall tender perennial, usually grown as a half-hardy annual. It bears spikes of blue flowers flushed with purple from mid summer to autumn. A waxy dusting which gives a grey-green appearance covers the stems and foliage. The variety ‘Victoria’ (height 45cm/18in) is widely grown, its dense spikes of violet-blue flowers looking at home in formal bedding schemes. The flowers are excellent for cutting.
Salvia horminum, an annual, has an upright branching habit and reaches 45cm (18in) high. The pale pink or purple flowers appear from mid summer to early autumn, but it is the deep purple bracts around the flowers that give this species its decorative appeal. ‘Colour Blend’, offering a mixture of pink, violet-blue and white coloured bracts, and ‘Claryssa Pink’ – a pink-flowered variety – are also available. The flower spikes can be dried as everlastings.
Salvia patens, another perennial species grown as an annual, is distinguished by its striking clear gentian-blue flowers which appear from late summer to early autumn. These are widely spaced on 60cm (2ft) high slender stems. The upright well-branched plants bear mid-green oval leaves. Salvia splendens, otherwise called scarlet sage, has spikes of brilliant red flowers between mid summer and autumn, accompanied by rich green foliage. Reaching just 38cm (15in) high, this species and its varieties are some of the most popular annuals for formal bedding schemes. Though the red-flowered varieties are most commonly seen, cultivars with blooms in shades of pink and purple are also available. ‘Blaze of Fire’ is an early-flowering variety with vivid scarlet flowers; ‘Laser Purple’ has rich deep purple flowers; ‘Phoenix Mixed’, up to 25cm (10in) tall, has scarlet, purple, white, deep or pale pink and lilac flowers; ‘Rambo’ is especially vigorous, growing to 60cm (2ft) high, with vivid scarlet flower spikes and deep green foliage; ‘Tom Thumb’ is a dwarf variety, just 15-20cm (6-8in) high, with shining scarlet flowers.
Sow the seeds in pots or pans of seed compost in late winter and early spring at a temperature of 18°C (64°F). Prick out the seedlings into boxes when they are large enough to handle and harden off before planting out in late spring. Set the plants about 30cm (1ft) apart.
Salvia argentea may be difficult to grow from seed. Buy the plants from a garden centre and set out in late spring.
Grow all salvias in ordinary well-drained garden soil in a sunny position.
When the plants are 5-7.5cm (2-3in) high, pinch out the growing tips to encourage branching and bushy growth.
Pests and diseases