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By kowhai


Several years ago, some friends took us to Wisley and in the shop, I found a wonderful plant in bloom, which turned out to be salvia buchananii. (See last photo below.) So, of course, I bought one and it started my small salvia collection. My interest in salvias increased when I realized that they are a good plant for drought proofing the border, although, in fact, most of them are grown in pots, and they provide a moveable display on the patio, the one exception being salvia microphylla wisiizeni, which does well in the garden. (For potting, I use John Innes No. 3, and I regularly feed the potted plants during the flowering season.)

One striking addition to the patio collection is salvia micorphilla ‘hot lips’. This is one of what I call the ‘woody’ salvias which will, under the right circumstances, grow into a small shrub, as salvia microphylla wisiizeni gives every indication of doing (see 5th photo below). They are also relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, which is a distinct advantage, particularly as they are very brittle, so it’s easy accidentally to knock off a piece simply by brushing against the plant.

‘Hot Lips’ starts the season with a plain red flower, which after a while appears in white and red form, with the lower petal forming the shape of lips, thus the name (obvious in the photo below). She is now a bright presence on the patio, and one of her ‘daughters’ has gone to my daughter-in-law, who has recently moved into a new house, with a garden that will need some restocking.

Hot lips also has another virtue: she grows into a good, regular form. All the other ‘woody’ varieties in my garden and in their pots have a tendency to go kind of leggy and to sprawl. I’ve seen untidy woody ones in other gardens, so maybe this is an inherent characteristic, although the fact that hot lips, despite her name, doesn’t sprawl all over the place may mean that she’s an exception.

The most striking addition to our collection is one called ‘Merleau’, which has the flower form of ‘Cambridge Blue’, but is a deep, rich blue. (See first two photos below.) Unlike the other salvia, this isn’t a ‘woody’ one, the stems being more fleshy, though equally brittle, and the shield shaped leaves are larger than the leaves of the woody varieties. It is very difficult to propagate from cuttings, although I have succeeded in bringing on three ‘daughters’, which survived the winter. Two of them are now blooming in concert with their matriarch.

A few years ago, I also succeeded in growing from seed the very large salvia argenta. This grows to a height of about four feet, and produces lots of silver white flowers with quite a strong and distinctive scent. My wife says it smells like sweat, but I prefer to think that its quite pungent aroma is more minty than sweaty! Unfortunately, unlike some plants in my garden, this salvia doesn’t seem to self seed, so although I managed to have some in the border for a couple of seasons, I’ve not been successful in retaining it.

The great thing about these salvias is that the ‘woody’ ones have a very long flowering life, and with trimming, will keep flowering through much of the summer. Even Merleau keeps flowering for weeks. And they also have another benefit: since they are all members of the sage family, their leaves can be used instead of culinary sage if necessary. I don’t suppose there are many flowering plants which have such a potential dual use!

More blog posts by kowhai

Previous post: Kiftsgate Rose

Next post: Hemerocallis -- day lilies



Really interesting blog which prompts me to ask a favour of you ... I recently bought a Salvia oceana blue which has no care instructions at all ... if you have a moment would you look at my photo of it on page 3, third row, far right and tell me a little more about the after-care required ? Many thanks.

2 Jul, 2010


Beautiful plants,Kowhai,and a species I know very little about,except for the usual red one,used in summer bedding.It is very interesting to read and learn a bit more about them.thanks for sharing...:o)

2 Jul, 2010


They're nice plants. I've tried them a few times but have no success. I don't know why. The only one I can grow is the ordinary sage for cooking.
Actually I didn't realise there were so many types.

2 Jul, 2010


Salvias are really beautiful.They are among my fav may be because they tolerate the temperature over here.Yours are superb..all but the little red and white one is the best.

10 Jul, 2010

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