Documents: Regional Gardens (Canada) - West Coast:

Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

August 29, 2004

She asked, “What’s that beautiful blue flower over there?”

Since I have several blue flowers in my front flower beds, I had to have her walk over to it and point. It was blue salvia, the perennial salvia, and I wasn’t surprised that it caught her attention.

Blue salvia is one of the bluest blues we can have in the flower garden. While it likes cool weather to color well, it will still look good in the summer if planted in a spot that gets mostly shade, little sun, but good light. The tall spikes stand up well above the foliage, which is a sort of dusty gray-green, and the spikes are usually six inches to a foot long, depending on soil conditions.

The perennial is salvia farinacea, quite a bit different from the usual red salvia we see growing. It’s taller, has a little different flower spike, and takes different growing conditions. While the red, ivory pink, rose, white, red or orange salvias are common and grow in full sun, perennial salvia isn’t seen too often and is only blue, or sometimes blue and white and needs shade. But it’s just as easy to grow, either from seed or started plants.

Best planted in early spring, I’ve had success starting it from seed even early in the fall and up through the spring, and transplants can go in just about anytime. Catalogs list two or three varieties, seed racks will usually have one, and started plants of one or two can be found in the nursery or garden center in the spring.

Victoria is an old variety but may still be the best. It’s about a foot to 15 inches tall, has long spikes of rich violet blue florets, attractive in the garden and useful as a cut flower, although as it dries the florets tend to shatter. Descriptions say that it can be used as dry flower, but I’ve never had any success doing that.

Strata is a newer variety and its foliage tends to be more silvery than gray and the flowers show white with small blue flowers as the flowers mature. Blue Cloud, Blue Queen and May Night are other perennial blue salvias, not as easy to find as Victoria and Strata, but good candidates for the blue flower garden if you find them.

These perennial salvias can often be carried on for several years if cared for well. They should be cut back when the bloom period appears to be over, and no new spikes are forthcoming. Cut back to about four inches, water well and fertilize a couple of times and you may well get another round of blooms. Most varieties are half hardy, but won’t tolerate frost or freezing.

Since the salvia family is large, be sure you look for blue perennial salvia when buying plants or seed.




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