Gardening: ‘Add a little magic with this versatile shrub’

Phyl Boyce


Phyl Boyce

The common sage, Salvia officinalis, has been grown for centuries to use in cooking
The salvia or sage family is very diverse, containing annuals, herbaceous, evergreen perennials and shrubs.

The salvia or sage family is very diverse, containing annuals, herbaceous, evergreen perennials and shrubs.

The common sage, Salvia officinalis, has been grown for centuries to use in cooking. Most salvia types are native to Mexico so they can be tender plants. Salvia patens produces intense royal blue flowers from summer to late autumn and grows to a height of 18 to 24 inches. The plant likes a fertile, moist soil in full sun. It is not reliably hardy and will need the protection of a cloche in winter in mild gardens. In cold gardens it is recommended to lift and store in a frost-free greenhouse. Carefully lift the entire plant with a fork. Try to make sure that as much of the root system as possible is retained. Cut down all the stems to about 3 or 4 inches from the base. Tidy up the root ball so that it will fit into a large pot. Fill the pot with a free draining compost and firm the compost around the roots. Place the pot in a green house or cold frame. Keep the compost just moist throughout the winter. Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’ has large, pale blue flowers on erect stems. We grow this plant from seeds sown each spring.

Climber of the week

Billardiera longiflora is a tender evergreen twining climber from Australia. It produces bell shaped pale green flowers in summer that are followed by large purple-blue berries that will survive until winter. The plant is not very hardy and will not survive severe frost. It likes a humus rich, neutral to acid soil in a sunny position with shelter from cold winds.

Dregea sinenis is another twining woody semi-evergreen climber that grows in the tropical frosts from South Africa to China. It has heart shaped green leaves and produces very fragrant creamy white flowers in late summer. It is a plant that flowered very well this year due to the warm temperatures. The flowers are followed by long slender seed pods. It likes a well drained soil in sun or partial shade. Tie the young shoots onto support wires until they start to twine themselves. Prune after flowering to control size and remove dead wood in spring.

Hanging baskets and pots

Planting up a hanging basket or pot is a job we associate with late spring but you can also plant up a hanging basket or pot now to provide welcome colour through winter and into spring. Line the basket with moss or a liner in the usual way. Cover the base of the basket with compost, then put in a layer of dwarf tulip bulbs that almost touch and add more compost. Choose a central plant that has ornamental evergreen foliage like a dwarf conifer or ornamental cabbage that produce red leaves when night temperatures drop. Plant up the top of the basket or pot with winter pansies and primulas. Use variegated trailing ivy around the edge to hang down the sides. To brighten up the sides of the basket, push dwarf bulbs like narcissus and irises through the liner into the layer of compost. Hang the basket in a warm, bright, sheltered place out of the wind. Water to keep the compost damp at all times and feed occasionally with a liquid feed.

Jobs for the week

In the vegetable garden lift carrots, beetroot and potatoes before the garden becomes too wet and store them for the winter. Remove all weeds and dig the soil, leaving it in rough heaps to expose it to winter frosts.

Collect seeds of your favourite perennials and store them in a dry place. The seeds of some plants, such as myosotidium, dierama, poppies and lychnis can be sown fresh after collection to germinate next spring.

Continue to plant spring flowering bulbs, a few hours’ work now will provide lots of colour next spring.

Collect leaves that have fallen, using a wire rake and place them in plastic bags with holes in the sides. These leaves will break down over the next twelve months to produce very valuable leaf-mould that can be mixed with compost to produce a rich medium for growing plants in pots.