There are many herbaceous plants that are still in bloom at this time of year, but one of the glories of the fall garden in the Mid-Atlantic region has to be the wonderful show of tender Salvias. Most of the showy Salvias are not hardy or are marginally hardy and may survive in a warm microclimate next to a house foundation or further south in our region, but they are well worth growing for the late season drama that they add to a bed or border.
In our rush for showy plants we should not forget the hardy Salvia, Common Sage (Salvia officinalis), that is traditionally found in the Herb Garden but is also perfectly presentable in the mixed border too. Sage foliage is a light silver green and mixes well with many other plants, especially blues and purples. Make sure that you do not cut sage back too early in the spring, but wait for new growth to emerge, which may be later in the spring. I have nearly pulled my sage out thinking that it must be dead, but it wasn’t. Just writing about sage is making my mouth water, as I think about using it in wonderful stuffings for pork or poultry. One of the best pasta dishes I ever had was a simple gnocchi with sage and butter. It was however, served in the Piazza Navrona, in Rome, so that may have made a difference. But try this dish at home. When using herbs in cooking, (as in gardening) simple is often better.
Common sage is now found in different foliage colors and shapes. Some of my favorites of different sizes are; ‘Berggarten’ a vigorous plant with larger rounder leaves and ‘Compacta’ also known as ‘Nana’ which is a dwarf plant with little leaves, great for the front of a border. For foliage of different colors there is the multicolored ‘Tricolor’, with silver/purple/cream leaves, sounds awful but it works, and ‘either ‘Aurea’ or ‘Icterina’ that are slightly different from each other, but both have golden foliage. Neither of these grows very strongly for me but they a nice color and are great in a container.
Tender Salvias are purchased and planted in May. For most of the summer many of them will have little or no bloom. Some, such as Salvia vanhoutii, will bloom in the summer, others such as the wonderful Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, reward you in the summer with fruity, fragrant foliage, but no flowers until the days and nights get cooler in late September or early October. All of a sudden, the bright red blooms appear at the ends of the stems and the hummingbirds arrive to feed. You may ask why you would grow something that flowers so late? But what a joy to have something to look forward to in the garden (as in life!).
In the Formal Perennial Gardens here at the Landscape Arboretum at Temple Ambler, we have a wonderful selection of tender Salvias that are in bloom in October. The most dramatic are 2 six foot tall by five foot wide, specimens of Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy.’ This afternoon they are covered in Monarch butterflies. The flower color is white, tinged with purple and the bract that holds the flower is purple with green lines. Subtle colors but very pleasing in a fall border of grasses and asters. Another plant that stands out due to its height is the seven foot Salvia involucrata var. hidalgo. The flower is a fuchsia pink that is rather like a ball of petals at the end of the stalk, the ball opens as the stem elongates. Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ has bright royal blue flowers with a black bract as contrast. Stunning!
Salvia leucantha, the Mexican Bush Sage, has fuzzy white and purple flowers that visitors love to touch. There are an assortment of other smaller salvias in this garden, some in the ground, and some in the containers. One of my favorites is Salvia macrophylla ‘Hot Lips’, in true Temple Colors, the top lip of the flower is white and the bottom one is red.
Do come for a walk at the arboretum. We are free and open to the public every day. The fall is a lovely time to be outside and enjoy the crisp air and the sunny days.
If you have any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Rose Carey
Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler
In Bloom Archive