purple salvia flowers

What can I plant for the WOW factor?

Geoff Stonebanks selects his standout plants for his garden at Driftwood-by-sea.

Perennial sages are invaluable in ornamental borders for their display of spiky flowers from summer through to autumn. Until a few years ago they were not really on my radar screen. That was until I glimpsed a group of pots containing Salvia ‘Amistad’ in a local nursery back in 2015 and fell head over heels in love with the stunning colour.  Salvia Amistad is a bushy upright perennial with aromatic, slightly downy, corrugated, bright green slender leaves that have pointed ends. The plants flower from May to November with petals that look like they’ve been cut from silk velvet. It’s an unfussy plant that’s easy to grow in a pot or the border. I instantly decided I had to invest in a couple of plants to try them in my garden at Driftwood-by-sea.

Large, deep purple flowers

These beautiful plants are particularly floriferous, bearing unusually large, deep purple flowers with almost-black calyces and stems. It is a stunning and relatively new cultivar, which, if deadheaded regularly, will flower from late spring right into to mid-autumn. 

purple salvia amistad flowers
Salvia ‘Amistad’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Salvia ‘Amistad’ is extremely popular with bees and other pollinators as it has nectar/pollen rich flowers which also make excellent cut flowers. I, however, prefer to leave mine in the garden to be appreciated!

I’ve found that for the best results, you need to plant them in a sunny, sheltered spot in well-drained soil. They will also survive in dappled shade too. It is usually recommended that they are planted in a sheltered location, but I have found they still work really well in my exposed seaside garden. OK, the flowers may get a little wind-burned but with regular deadheading of the spent or damaged blooms, this helps to encourage flowers into mid-autumn. I’ve even had mine flowering in December some years! The guidelines also say protect from winter frosts and cold. Many of my garden visitors comment positively about the plant and ask what I do in the winter. They are all quite surprised when I say nothing!  

Insurance policy

To play safe you may want to take a few cuttings in late summer as your insurance. To be honest, I’ve not needed to do this, but they can be propagated from softwood cuttings in spring or early summer and from semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or autumn. My plants have been in the ground now for 5 years. 

Care and maintenance

Salvia ‘Amistad’ dies back to below ground level each year in autumn, then fresh new growth appears again the following spring. Mine have bounced back even more the following year! They should grow to about a meter or so tall, but mine are usually between 1.5 to 2m in height. Maybe it’s Richard Jackson’s Flower Power which allows them to gain the extra height!

These plants are generally disease free but can be affected by slugs and snails. You can protect them using Richard’s Slug and Snail Control.

Planting tips

Generally the best time to plant out salvias is from late May to early June, or as soon as possible after the risk of late spring frosts have passed. This gives your plants the maximum time to establish and get their roots down before winter. If you purchase your plants late in the season, they are probably best kept frost free and planted out the following spring. 

purple salvia and white hydrangea flowers
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and Salvia ‘Amistad’. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

You can trim back your salvias before planting, to encourage sturdy growth. Salvias generally have few demands, but some are brittle and require support when planted out in an open or windy position. To combat that in my garden, my two established plants are growing in a bed containing a couple of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’. The Salvia ‘Amistad’ flower heads look wonderful popping through the hydrangea’s white flowers and they are also given the support they need.

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