Scintillating Salvias

Just home from England hours ago, I’m up early this morning sorting mail and other detritus and just discovered one of the newspaper columns published while I was away failed to include any of the plant photos submitted with the text.  I’m sure there was reason, but was sad to see the Toronto Botanical Garden (which I visited during the Garden Bloggers Fling, June 4-8) didn’t get its due.  To compensate, I’d like to highlight a few of its spectacular plantings here.

Meadow-Like Garden in Toronto Depends on Salvias (excerpted from the Greenville News)

Toronto Botanical Garden's Entry Garden Walk

Toronto Botanical Garden’s Entry Garden Walk

Recently, I visited the Toronto Botanical Garden, and though the garden is relatively new, there was much to enjoy.  I particularly liked the Entry Garden Walk, an area comprising a double border of herbaceous and woody plants designed by Dutch garden designer and plantsman, Piet Oudolf, which is true to his usual “sophisticated meadow” style.

More of the double border, with Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ in the upper right.

More of the double border, with Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ in the upper right.

Typically, Oudolf combines bold drifts of perennials and grasses interspersed with shrubs and small trees.  His plant selection is driven by a strong predilection for architectural form and texture, plus autumn and winter interest.

Though flower color is not Oudolf’s main focus, he has a flair for creating harmonious combinations.  The early-June mix in the Toronto garden was dominated by shades of purple, accented with touches of white, pink, and burgundy.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' (B. alba x B. australis)

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ (B. alba x B. australis)

There were purple ‘Globemaster’ alliums, as well as ‘Purple Smoke’ baptisias, and a very handsome clump of lavender-hued Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’.  What really caught my eye, though, was a stunning trio of salvias that punctuated the borders with vivid, upright jolts of color.

The first, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, a plant I grew in my previous, sunny garden, is a beautiful old world sage with dusky grape-colored flower stems and striking blue-violet flowers.  Its narrow bloom spikes, crowded with flowers, typically stand 24 to 30-inches tall.  Soon after its introduction, it was honored as winner of the 2000 Outstanding New Perennial Award by the International Hardy Plant Union.

Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’

Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’

Similar in form and standing equally tall, Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’ offers neon purple stems and calyces accented with rich, lavender-pink flowers.  Raised by Oudolf himself and honored with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it’s considered the best pink-hued variety.

Saliva nemorosa 'Amethyst'

Saliva nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The final salvia, ‘Madeline’, also introduced by Oudolf, was discovered as an open pollinated seedling in a patch of Salvia hians.  Featuring branching spikes of bicolor flowers with a violet-blue upper calyx with a white lower lip, the eye-catching ‘Madeline’ grows to about 2-feet tall.

Salvia 'Madeline'

Salvia ‘Madeline’

Perennial salvias, such as those mentioned here, are easy to grow in the Upstate, as they are both heat-loving and drought-tolerant once established.  I’ve never seen them suffer from pest or disease and they actually prefer little or no fertilizer.  Maintenance is limited to removal of old stems just as new growth begins to emerge in early spring and pruning after bloom to encourage a second or even third flush of flowers.

22 thoughts on “Scintillating Salvias

  1. Chloris

    How lovely, I thought it had the Oudolf stamp on it. He certainly gets around. I love Salvias too; Salvia nemorosa always gives such a good display.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Chloris–I need to get busy and see if there are any salvias that tolerate a fair measure of shade; probably not, as I never see any, but I surely miss these striking plants.

  2. pbmgarden

    Welcome home. The photos perfectly illustrate your points. Glad you highlighted these salvias. I’ve been searching for some to try that won’t just take over.

      1. FlowerAlley

        Ok. I just had time to look up the Fling????? I assume you did not mean the rock band or something perverted. I need more info. Also, I am going to Portland, Oregon next week. Name your favorite garden near there. i’ll try to sneak away to it.

  3. casa mariposa

    I loved the Oudolf garden in the front. It was just incredible and very inspirational. I loved the meadow quality. I have lots of salvia but they bloom so early and then send out new growth from the base that slows down the blooming since I need to cut back the first growth to allow the newer growth to speed up. I end up with a big gap in the bloom time but once they bloom again the pollinators go nuts. I would love to go back and explore that garden again. :o)

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Tammy–It’s amazing when you look at the border photos and realize, despite the blooms shown here, how many plants have yet to come into their own. I would love to see it again in August/September, wouldn’t you?

  4. Julie

    I love Salvias Marian and Piet Oudolfs work, the garden you’ve shown us is beautiful. The newspaper missed some gorgeous photos! Looking forward to your reports on the gardens you visited whilst you were over here too.

  5. gardeninacity

    Those entrance borders at TBG were just amazing. As for the Salvias, I have ‘Caradonna’ and it is great performer. The other two I don’t have. ‘Madeline’ is certainly very striking – I like the two tone flowers.

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Jason–One of the best things about the borders is they are so deep, allowing plenty of space for creating drifts. I liked the color scheme too, eye-catching but not too bold.

  6. rusty duck

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post as this is exactly the look I want to achieve for the slope.. A transition between the wildness of the wood and more formal parts of the garden. But salvias have never lasted over the winter for me, even the so called hardy ones. It will have to be lots of cuttings this year.

  7. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Jessica–Perhaps you should try one of the self-sowing annuals, such as S. coccinea; there is a peachy-pink selection that is very nice. Another good upright plant is Celosia specita Flamingo, but take care to get the color you prefer. There is a pretty pink, a vibrant purple, and then some gosh awful neon orange and yellow.


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