Why you should be growing vibrant, colourful salvias

Concluding our series on specialist growers, Clare Foster visits Vicki Weston, whose Welsh nursery is a vibrant testament to the 20 years that she has devoted to cultivating and promoting salvias

‘The colours are so diverse, with yellows, pinks and apricots as well as purples, blues and reds,’ Vicki says. Of the blues, she recommends S. patens and its cultivar ‘Cambridge Blue’, which have huge, intense-hued blooms. She also mentions the late-flowering S. corrugata from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, and the brilliant S. sagittata with huge, arrow-shaped leaves and electric-blue flowers, which grows at 10,000 feet in the Andes. S. uliginosa is an elegant plant for the back of a border, reaching 1.2 metres, with wavy stems and hundreds of china-blue blooms, while S. ‘African Sky’ is a bushy, sturdy plant with tall spires of pretty blue-and-white flowers. Other colours are also widely represented at Vicki’s regular exhibits at local plant fairs, which include cultivars derived from both S. x jamensis and S. microphylla – from the rich crimson ‘Royal Bumble’ and fragrant velvety purple ‘Nachtvlinder’ to peachy pink ‘California Sunset’ and creamy white ‘La Mancha’.

How to grow salvias

Growing salvias is easy, but they need the right conditions to thrive. ‘They’re often hardier than people think – the RHS hardiness zones tend to be pessimistic,’ says Vicki. ‘I grew a lot of salvias in East Yorkshire and you would be surprised at what survived there.’ Often, soil and micro-climate can be as critical as geography. Without exception, they need a well-drained soil and a sunny spot. The soil is the most important element, so if you have a heavy soil, dig in plenty of grit before planting. ‘They don’t need much care while they are growing, but deadhead often to keep them flowering for as long as possible – and after they have flowered, don’t hurry to cut them back, Vicki advises. ‘They’re like penstemons and shouldn’t be cut back until spring, when they start shooting from the base.’

The other plus point with the New World salvias is that it is easy to take cuttings from them, which is a wise thing to do with the more tender varieties that you are afraid of losing over the winter. ‘Making softwood cuttings can be done any time through the summer,’ Vicki says. ‘Cut any new, non-flowering shoot and plant into a 50:50 mix of multipurpose compost and perlite, and they should root easily’.

Westons Salvias: westonssalvias.co.uk