Lambley Gardens & Nursery, 395 Lesters Road,  Ascot,  Victoria 3364
Phone +61 (03) 5343 4303,  Fax +61 (03) 5343 4257

Frost tolerant Salvias

The garden varieties of Salvia nemorosa are amongst the most beautiful and obliging of all garden perennials. They flower for a good half of the year in the tough windswept plains of the Central Victorian Goldfields where I garden. They are frost hardy down to -20C and didn’t show any signs of distress when we had four days of 47C a couple of years ago.

Just after the second world war a young German nurseryman, Ernst Pagel, was given a seed packet of Meadow Sage, Salvia nemorosa, by his compatriot, the pacifist master gardener, Karl Foerster. Foerster told Pagel that there were three good plants in this packet, plant the seed and find them. Pagel raised the seed, planted the seedlings in nursery beds and selected three plants. Those three plants are still grown in gardens throughout the world. They are the very dark violet early flowering Salvia nemorosa ‘Mainacht’ (May Night), the glowing violet-blue ‘Ostfriesland’ (East Friesland) and the neat, tidy, dwarf violet-blue ‘Lubecca’. Ernst Pagels went on to breed some of the best varieties of ornamental grasses and Achilleas. He was still breeding new plants well into his nineties.

The Pagel selections were the first named clones of Meadow Sage I ever grew. All three, to this day, glow in my garden even though I now grow a dozen or more newer cultivars.

This group of Salvias are so good and so telling because they hold their flower spikes well above the foliage. Maintenance is simple. The first flush of flowers begins in October, peaks in November and December and by the new year the best is over even though there are still lots of flowers left on the spikes. At Lambley all the Salvia nemorosa clones are cut to the ground just after Christmas. Within a week new growth appears and by early February flowering begins again. This second blooming goes on until May when again we cut them to the ground.

Mind you it’s much better to plant the named cutting grown varieties which have been selected by nurserymen over the past seventy odd years as being the best selections from millions of seedlings. Cheap seed raised strains are rarely if ever as good and should be avoided if you want a decent show.

Salvia nemorosa garden. Salvia nemorosa garden. Salvia nemorosa garden.

Last autumn I planted a garden for our granddaughter Molly. The garden is about 35 metres long. A wide grass walk is flanked on each side by 4 metre wide garden beds.  Molly’s birthday is in August so we planted several thousand Dutch Crocuses as these bulbs flower during that month. We then planted mirror image blocks of a dozen or so Salvia nemorosa cultivars. Musk roses have been planted against the fence to flower during late spring and early summer.

It’s difficult to choose the Salvia nemorosa varieties I think are the best as all of them are good but the following are some exceptional plants.

Salvia ‘Lye End’ Salvia ‘Lye End’ is one of the tallest varieties growing to 120cm tall and the flowers are a ghostly lavender blue. It was raised by Miss Poole, who, for many years, was  active in the British Hardy Plant Society. She also raised the excellent Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’.
Salvia ‘May Night’ (Mainacht) Salvia ‘May Night’ (Mainacht) is the earliest to flower here at Lambley and is in full bloom by mid October. It has the darkest violet blue flowers of all. It grows bout 40cm tall and as much across.
Salvia nemorosa subsp. tesquicola Salvia nemorosa subsp. tesquicola is one of the best of nemorosa types with spikes of rich violet flowers set in large lilac bracts from late spring until autumn. It responds well to dead heading although we cut it to the ground when it looks tired after the first 12 weeks of flowers. It repays this ruthlessness by flowering again in late summer and autumn. Wonderful in our dry garden.
Salvia ‘Kate Glenn’ Salvia ‘Kate Glenn’ is a plant which popped up in our dry climate garden and is a cross between Salvia nemorosa ssp. tesquicola and Salvia ‘Wesuwe’. It makes a plant some 90cm tall by 100cm across and has glowing violet flowers set in purple calyces. A splendid plant which I named for my daughter.
Salvia ‘Blue Hills’ (‘Blauhugel) Salvia ‘Blue Hills’ (‘Blauhugel), the most nearly true blue of all the cultivars, makes a marvellous companion to roses and has been planted by the thousand at Flemington Race Course by Terry Freeman, the head gardener. It never fails to be in flower during the Spring Racing Carnival and most importantly Melbourne Cup Day. ‘Blue Hills is very neat and tidy in habit growing, when given enough space, 40cm tall by 50cm across. It is so tough that it bounced back immediatleyafter being ground into thedust by thousands of young people at a rock concert held in the race course grounds.
Salvia ‘Snow Hills’ (Schneehugel) Salvia ‘Snow Hills’ (Schneehugel) is the only white flowered variety that I grow. We’ve planted ’Snow Hills’ in occasional ribbons in Molly’s garden as its white spikes are essential to give a sparkle and an added vibrancy to the mauves, violets, purples and amethysts of the other  cultivars under the intense light of an Australian summer. ‘Snow Hills’ has the same growth habit as ‘Blue Hills’.
Salvia ‘Amethyst’ Salvia ‘Amethyst’ was raised by the Dutch gardening maestro Piet Oudolf and for many years has been the best pink flowered variety. It grows 90cm tall and is best given 90cm of garden space. If cramped flowering time is much reduced. I know these plants look small when first planted but it does pay to give them room to breathe.