I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much joy the common red salvia has given me over winter. For there is nothing rare or even particularly interesting about this plant. It is a modern hybrid of a Brazilian native, Salvia splendens, which was taken to Europe in 1822, and turned into a dwarf bedding plant. It is so resilient in the face of abuse and neglect it has become the number one choice of councils and shopping malls. Being overly familiar I held it in a certain amount of contempt until, burdened by indecision and poor choice at Bunnings one day last December, I bought a tray of seedlings.
They started flowering almost immediately, making splashes of red that unexpectedly linked cannas and gloriosa lilies and an old species fuchsia into a sinuous red ribbon. Where the garden is hot they shone, and where it is shady they glowed. And they kept it up all through winter. What was intended to be a quick stopgap, I now find I don’t want to do without, and so they have been cut back in anticipation of a new burst of growth and flower. Though marketed as annuals, I reckon I’ll get a few seasons from them.
There are two new members of the Salvia splendens family available this season: ‘Go Go Scarlet’ and ‘Go Go Purple’. They will grow to about 1.2 metres high and a metre wide, so are more substantial than my skinny red ribbons. The flower spikes are large and will cover the plants all year, as long as spent flowers are snipped off. These German-bred salvias are fine plants but they can’t beat the story behind the Australian salvia success story, the ‘Wish’ collection.
A few years ago salvia enthusiast and collector Wendy Smith found a new salvia growing in her garden in Rosebud, Victoria. The plant grew to a 80cm x 80cm dome-shaped shrub covered in bright pink flowers with burgundy bracts and stems. Smith decided to donate part of the plant sales to the children’s charity Make-a-Wish. When Plant Management Australia, which negotiated the rights to supply ‘Wendy’s Wish’, developed a coral and bronze version, it auctioned the rights to name it. The winners named it for their children, Emma and Brett Shegog, who both died from a rare degenerative disease. Proceeds of the auction, and a portion of plant sales of ‘Ember’s Wish’ go to Make-A-Wish.
Newest to the collection is ‘Love and Wishes’, a deep purple cultivar, developed by a hobby plant breeder John Fisher, in Orange, NSW. A portion of the proceeds from sales of this plant also go to Make-A-Wish. The wish salvias are great garden plants. In fact ‘Love and Wishes’ was a finalist in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, and took home the bronze medal. The three wishes are fast-growing, long-flowering, dry-tolerant and easy-care. And the joy they offer spreads beyond the garden.