Salvias: giants of the garden

In Business and Environment, Environment, Ethical and Eco Agriculture by Dan ThomasLeave a Comment

Salvias are like giants of the garden and the perfect plants to add depth to your yard this spring.


It was in February last year when I decided to visit a friend’s nursery on the South Coast that specialises in some of the rarest, most sought after perennials in Australia. I always feel like a kid in a candy store when I arrive. There’s so much to look at and as a plantaholic, I have to resist the urge to not come home with a van full of plants and a lighter wallet. We usually take a casual stroll around her garden; its wild and untamed plants are left to self-seed and grow in the cracks in the pavement. It’s an approach we both have in common with our gardens; we enjoy the feeling of freedom and only apply restraint when necessary. As a perennial expert herself (although she doesn’t see herself as one), it can be quite easy for me to get out of my depth when discussing plants with her, as she is quick to pull me up on pronunciation of certain species – “It’s Thalictrum, not Thalectrum”!

I had made the trip down the Coast to look at some plants to purchase for our own home garden. My wife and I had just bought a small plot of land in the Southern Highlands with an old country house that was in need of TLC, and a garden that looked worse for wear.

I had already worked on some sketches and ideas for the new garden at home earlier in the year. I knew that I wanted a feeling of immersion within the space, and plants that were durable and had long seasonal interest into the cooler months.

I was shown around several corners of the nursery, discussing the size, shape, and structure of a range of potential candidates for our garden. We went to the front of her property, just past the vegetable beds where I was shown some of the largest Salvias I had ever seen. For those of you who may not know, Salvias are a large group of herbaceous and woody perennials that belong to the Lamiaceae family and are part of the mentheae, or mint tribe. They are known for their long-lasting flowers and medicinal use.

I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the sheer size of the plants as I stood there looking up; they were like giants of the garden.

First, there was Salvia Karwinskii with its striking fluorescent pink flowers that hung on long arching stems up to 2.5m tall. I knew this would be a great plant for structure and drama within our garden. Salvia Confertiflora also caught my attention with its deep red tangerine flowers at eye level, making the spectacle all the more dramatic. As we walked a bit further I was shown Salvia Desley Its deep, dark purple, almost black flowers would look great against almost any plant you put it with and it also seemed quite happy growing in part shade. But my favourite would have to be Salvia Involucrata ‘Timboon’, which I believe to be the most stunning of all the giant Salvias. Thick with flowers of velvet red, it will continue to bloom right through the cooler months and well into spring.

I knew I had made the right choice and without delay I purchased what I could, said my goodbyes, and with a van full of plants, I raced home eager to get them in the ground before nightfall. The last of the plants were put in the ground around 9pm, which if you ask my wife, is not too unusual for me to still be in the garden that time of year. I provided a thin layer of sugar cane mulch to protect them over winter and left them to grow.

It has now been just over a year since we planted our garden and when friends and family stay over they seem shocked by how quickly it has all grown. But there is no mystery or secret in the soil, no special fertiliser or sea extracts, just the right plants for the right spot.

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