"Salvias in autumn"

Autumn is the best season for salvias!
Sunday, 10 May 2020     

Summer-flowering salvias have a renewed flush in autumn

Those who know me know that I have been mad about salvias for a very long time. I still do adore them but my plant choices have changed over the years since this blog was originally written (May 2009), so this week, I have decided to update the blog and note how my thoughts have changed over the years about certain salvias, and add in a few extra ones that have joined my garden in the intervening years. I would love to hear about readers' favourite salvias that are blooming at this time of year!

Autumn is the very best season for these wonderful plants: all of the summer-blooming ones, such as violet 'Indigo Spires', maroon 'Van Houttei', cerise 'Wendy's Wish' (and the other 'Wish' specimens), bright pink 'Joan', bluish-white 'Phyllis' Fancy', white and lilac 'Waverly', bright blue 'Marine Blue', purple 'Amistad', rich blue 'Omaha Gold' and Salvia guaranitica Large Form, along with the many Salvia microphylla cultivars and hybrids, have a renewed flush of flowers when the cooler weather arrives. I am getting increasingly fond of these more compact salvias, as I am finding the larger ones take up too much room! This year I am going to prune these latter types in May instead of my usual August time, to see if they might flower earlier in spring.

These salvias are joined by an entourage of others which only begin their blooming season in autumn, bringing new life and vibrant colour to the garden at this time. Some are tall, needing lots of space, such as Salvia iodantha (ht 3-4 m) with its feathery magenta flowers, and Salvia purpurea (ht 3 m) with its haze of lavender-violet blooms. They both start flowering in late autumn. I loved these two salvias for many years, when they were intertwined amongst some Camellia sasanqua, a tree daisy (Montanoa bipinnatifida) and a tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) where they formed a wild mixture of swaying blooms which delighted me every time I looked at that spot in autumn. However, I eventually found these giants needed too much work in cutting back, and took up too much space, and they have all gone, along with their companion plants - apart from the camellias. However, cuttings from those salvias live on in gardens of my friends with acreages, which is a comforting thought.

On a slightly smaller scale, but still needing a fair amount of space, is the bright yellow Salvia madrensis (ht 1.5-2 m), which will grow quite well in part shade and looks fabulous nearby yellow-variegated foliage plants such as Euonymus japonicus 'Aureus' or Miscanthus 'Zebrinus'. It creeps around a bit so you need to keep an eye on that, but I would never be without its wonderful splodges of yellow in autumn, which last for at least three months. 'Anthony Parker' (ht 1.5-2 m) has inky blue spires, forming a rounded dome smothered in flowers. I discovered over time that you do need to have the room for this one, as it grows quite wide and can smother other plants, so in the end it too went to a friend's garden; I didn't feel it flowered long enough to justify the space it occupied. In its place, I put 'Meighan's Magic' (ht 1.4 m), also quite a wide plant but one which flowers for a longer time, with spectacular white blooms held within dark blue calyces. Suckering pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, ht 2 m) has bright red flowers and can become a bit invasive: I got rid of it early on but I have kept the gold-leaved cultivar of it called 'Golden Delicious', which has the same flowers matched with stunning foliage, and so far this one hasn't spread too badly.

Salvia mexicana Lime Calyx (ht 1-2 m) is a stunning salvia, with purplish-blue flowers held in lime bracts. It looks brilliant with a lime-leaved foliage plant nearby, such as Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' or Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'. There is a compact version of this Salvia called 'Little Limelight' that only gets to 1 m, apparently.

A very beautiful autumn-blooming species is Salvia semiatrata (ht 1-2 m) which has bicoloured flowers of deep violet and lavender, held in pretty dusky purple calyces. The small leaves are attractively textured. In some gardens (not mine) it flowers almost constantly. It needs a bit of trimming through the growing season to keep its shape neat. Bright pink Bethel sage (Salvia involucrata 'Bethellii') which grows to about 1.5 m, also comes out in autumn and looks eye-catching with silver or purplish foliage plants.

Salvia leucantha (ht 1.3 m) has been around for a long time and its velvety purple flowers are quite dramatic in autumn. One form has white flowers held within purple calyces, the other is all purple. It does tend to flop around a bit as the season wears on; 'Santa Barbara' is a good upright and compact form, which grows to only 60-90 cm and makes an excellent low hedge or a pot specimen. In 2008, two new cultivars of Salvia leucantha were released: the all-white 'White Velour' and the pale pink and white 'Pink Velour', which grow to around 1 m. These have proved over time to be good plants but I probably still love the original purple one and 'Santa Barbara' the best. They are incredibly robust plants and a last year, our local garden club planted some clumps in our village park around the war memorial where the Anzac Day ceremony is held each year. This year, alas, there was no service held, but they looked amazing on the day. I hope they will be just as good next Anzac Day.

Salvias mix in well with many other types of plants: in cottagey styles with autumnal roses, Camellia sasanqua, Pentas and Japanese windflowers; or in tropical gardens with bold foliage plants, Dahlia, Canna, Plectranthus and Tibouchina. Those with blue, purple or hot-coloured flowers associate well with autumn foliage. Many of them look spectacular with ornamental grasses, as the shape of the grass foliage seems to be echoed in the curving flower spires of the Salvia.

This blog was first posted on 3 May 2009; updated 10 May 2020.

 Reader Comments

1/12  Alida - 4566 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 04 May 2009

Deirdre - Your enthusiasm inspires me to plant more salvias. Somehow I will find the space! Mine are giving me so much joy at the moment. Thanks, Alida! Deirdre

2/12  Gillian - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 May 2009

What an absolute inspiration the Salvia blog is. I am growing to love their colour and habit - adding another dimension to the garden. I want to collect these beautiful plants and learn more about how best to grow them. Well done Deidre from Gillian. That is great, Gillian! Deirdre

3/12  Trish - 2330 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2020

Deidre I am becoming a lover of Salvias, I found your article particularly very informative, guess I will have to start looking around for some more to buy, many thanks, regards Trish That is great, Trish! They are such rewarding, long-flowering plants. Deirdre

4/12  Bob - 2567 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2020

Yes it is good to see all my salvias out in bloom together. From one small punnet of the common red variety I have had salvias growing at my place for the last 5 yrs. Love self seeding and a great plant to give away to my friends or people passing by. Keep up the wonderful stories on plants you bring us. Thanks, Bob! Yes that red Salvia splendens is amazing - the original plants seem to go for a few years and there are always some self-seedlings around. I find it even grows quite well in a bit of shade. Deirdre

5/12  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2020

Hi Deirdre, my salvias are looking good at the moment, My favourite is S. semiatrata for its colours. I have two S. leucantha, the all purple cultivar which I love, and the one with purple sepals and white flowers. The latter looks good surrounded with lots of of the early white jonquils, 'Paper White'. Sounds great, Pam! Semiatrata is such a pretty salvia. Deirdre

6/12  Patrick - 3156 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 11 May 2020

Great article - especially concerning the big Salvias. Like you S.madrensis is the largest that I have as the bigger ones take up too much real estate and require a lot of pruning.S semiatrata is definately my favourite. Yes those bigger ones, although gorgeous, just take up too much space. I enjoyed growing them once but have given most of them up. I do like S semiatrata, as the colours are so beautiful. Deirdre

7/12  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 11 May 2020

Hard to choose really. S. semi atrata, S.lasiantha, S. purpurea. I'd love S. corrugata too if I could get it to flower. i still have a few of the big ones planted along the back fence but, as you say, they do require a lot of hacking into. Almost forgot..Silkie's Dream is also a favourite. Thanks, Sue. I could never get S corrugata to flower either! I have never grown Silkie's Dream - must try it some time. Deirdre

8/12  Lois - 2088 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Hi Deirdre, Ive recently moved from Canberra where Ive been following your blogs for years. Im now in Mosman so your blogs are entirely relevant to gardening I hope to be doing up here. Its going to be quite a change to go from my large perennial garden to a courtyard garden. Can you point me towards some interesting nurseries/smaller garden centres please? Im finding them hard to sort out from the extravaganza types. Lois Lois, there aren't as many smaller nurseries as there used to be but the Honeysuckle Nurseries are good (I think there is one in Mosman and one in Turramurra where Parkers Nursery used to be). Mother Earth at Annangrove is a good one. The Collectors Plant Fair is set to go ahead in September out at Clarendon and it has many salvias available on various stalls. You may also like to try Sue Templeton's Unlimited Perennials nursery online - she is a salvia specialist and I think is still selling salvias. Hope this is of some help. Deirdre

9/12  Lois - 2088 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Especially interested in places which have a good range of salvias. Thanks again.

10/12  Judy - 2770 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 16 May 2020

Mouth watering article Deidre! The salvias this autumn have been spectacular after late summer, early autumn rains - Indigo Spires, Meigan's Magic, Armistad, the leucanthas (purple and pink velour), the microphyllas (Hot Lips, Musk Pink and San Carlos Festival) - I'm loathe to start tidying them up!. One I particularly have come to love is s.muirii - such a delicate flowered but sturdy little bush that seems to flower all year round. Thanks, Judy. It has been a wonderful autumn for our salvias. Salvia muirii is a good one - thanks for mentioning it. It is very tough too - we planted it in the park mentioned in the blog and it survived the harsh summer we had. Deirdre

11/12  Noeline - 2081 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 May 2020

Thank you Deidre for the update on salvias I think I will follow your lead with the smaller ones as my garden is getting squished now it has become established i will have a hard prune in winter to make more space for spring planting as I see Sue Tempeltons nursery is not selling till then. Thanks, Noeline. Hope you can add some interesting ones to your garden. Deirdre

12/12  Marianne - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 15 June 2020

How wonderful are Salvias! I was first introduced to them 15 years ago and am always inspired by their beautiful colours, amazing hardiness and their ability to attract so many insects and birds to the garden! Having been through the recent drought and (very close) bushfires at Kurrajong, the salvias in my garden have been true survivors. The Secret Garden & Nursery at Richmond has lots of Salvias available!! That's great, Marianne. Hope all well. Deirdre

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