Mediterranean Garden Society

Salvias at Sparoza revisited

by Caroline Harbouri
Photographs by Lucinda Willan

Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No. 108, April 2022

The photo at the top of this page shows Salvia canariensis on the Terraces at Sparoza in May 2021 (Photo Lucinda Willan)

Caroline Harbouri has been a visitor and friend of Sparoza over many years. She writes: “In January 2004 (TMG 35), I wrote about salvias in the garden of Sparoza. Indeed, since its early days this journal has published several articles on salvias including those by Tim Longville and Tom Wellsted in TMG 3 and TMG 5 respectively. It seemed high time to take another look at the salvias grown at Sparoza.

Salvia canariensis on the Terraces at Sparoza

Small and neat is S. officinalis subsp. lavandulifolia (formerly S. lavandulifolia) with small grey leaves and pale mauve flowers. For some reason I didn’t mention it in my earlier article although it was already present in the garden then.

Salvia officinalis subsp. lavandulifolia

Many so-called blue flowers have a tinge of mauve to them but there are some salvias that are truly blue. In TMG 35 I described S. chamaedryoides ‘Argentea’ as being a “low-growing, wiry plant with tiny silvery leaves and small lipped flowers of clear speedwell blue with a white throat”, adding, “It is quite lovely.” It was then growing only by the ‘threshing floor’ but I’m glad to say is now also to be found on one of the terraces. Other blue-flowered introductions in the terraces since my original article include S. ‘Blue Note’ (I haven’t happened to see this flowering at Sparoza but know it from my sister’s garden in Provence), S. clevelandii ‘Allen Chickering’ with its flowers arranged in tiers of whorls and – a paler blue – the beautiful S. africana-caerulea.

Salvia africana-caerulea

Another old favourite still going strong is the statuesque S. canariensis with its more or less triangular leaves. In 2004 I described its flowers as “wine-coloured” which isn’t strictly speaking true – they are in fact mauve, but combined with their darker, reddish calyces they always give me a wine-coloured impression.

Salvia canariensis

Two salvias at Sparoza have yellow flowers instead of the more common shades of mauve to purple. One is S. africana-lutea, an addition to the garden since 2004, which starts off yellow then becomes rust-coloured: I think I prefer it in its rusty stage.

Salvia africana-lutea

The other is S. madrensis. When I first wrote about it Sally Razelou had recently planted it outside the walled garden. Over the years, however, it proved to be thuggish and spread unconscionably, swamping other plants; as a result Sally removed most of it a couple of years ago.

Salvia × ‘Bee’s Bliss’

Other salvias introduced into the garden of Sparoza since 2004 include:
S. × ‘Bee’s Bliss’
S. coccinea ‘Coral Nymph’
S. elegans
S. hierosolymitana
S. leucophylla ‘Figueroa’
S. melissodora
S. namaensis
S. ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’
S. somalensis.

Salvia hierosolymitana

I hope that in time yet more salvias will be grown at Sparoza. This large genus contains species native to different countries and continents with an astounding variety of sizes, leaf forms, textures, aromas and colours: some are stately plants and some low-growing or ground-covering; some have green leaves and some grey or silvery foliage; their flower colour ranges from yellow through crimson, purple, mauve and blue to white. Some need summer water, like the Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’ mentioned above or S. uliginosa, the blue-flowered bog sage. But even more Salvia species require no (or minimal) water in summer, making them eminently suitable for dry Mediterranean gardens where they maintain a quiet beauty throughout the year.

Salvia ‘Southern Belle’, a hybrid between Salvia officinalis and S. recognita

For more photos and details of Salvia varieties please go to the Gallery of Salvias.

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