Cast your vote for the prettiest Salvias

FROM THE SUMMER 2019 ISSUE OF IN THE GARDEN, OUR QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER.

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Each spring, in collaboration with Southwood Landscape and Nursery, volunteers at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden at Woodward Park select twenty plus species/cultivars from a single plant genus for a side-by-side comparison trial to determine which ones perform best under local growing conditions.

The genus Salvia has been selected for this year’s Linnaeus trialing exercise.

Represented by over 900 species of annuals, herbaceous perennials and small shrubs, Salvia is the largest genus within the amazing mint family. North America is home to the greatest number of wild Salvia species (approximately 500), with Europe and Asia a close second. From these native plant communities, plant breeders have, over the past half century, produced a huge number of gorgeous hybrids loved by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and, of course, a great many urban gardeners.

The name Salvia comes from the Latin word salvere, meaning “to save or heal.” Many Salvia species thrive throughout the arid Mediterranean region and were, for centuries, prized by ancient Romans and Greeks for tonics and medicine. Today, most gardeners grow Salvias for their lovely flowers which come in a dazzling array of colors: deep blue, purple, red, white and cream. Heights range from ten inches upward to four or five feet.

Salvias generally prefer full sun, but many perform reasonably well in a half-day of shade. It’s wise to fertilize newly planted Salvias with a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote or an enriched compost.

Most of the Salvias being trialed in the Linnaeus Teaching Garden are hybrids of popular herbaceous species such as S. nemorosa, S. splendens and S. farinacea, the latter a North American native found growing from Oklahoma south to Mexico.

Much of the early Salvia breeding work was done by German plantsman Ernst Pagels who, shortly after the Second World War, is credited with breeding the beloved salvia varieties Blue Hill and Snow Hill. Both of these revered cultivars are still in commercial cultivation today. Possibly the most common cultivar to date is May Night, also a product of German breeding. May Night was selected as the Perennial of the Year in 1997. Today, hybrid Salvias are listed as the third or fourth best-selling bedding plants in the retail nursery trade. It will be great fun discovering which of the twenty four Salvias in the Linnaeus trial/demo beds show the greatest tolerance to summer heat, drought and disease.

S. greggii (Autumn Sage) is another huge favorite of mine. It’s the most commonly grown of woody (shrub-like) Salvias, with new cultivars arriving on the local nursery scene each spring. Flower colors range from white to red to purple. S. greggii varieties tend to flower best in spring, slow in summer, and are followed by another great show in early fall. They are marginally winter hardy perennials in the Tulsa area. However, this bushy little botanical showboat typically survives temperatures in the low to mid-teens.

I invite Tulsa Garden Center members and the local gardening public to join Linnaeus Garden Volunteers in judging the Salvias in this year’s trial planting. Starting in mid-June, evaluation forms will be available in the Linnaeus Visitor Center (aka Big Red Barn). Simply pick up a form and head straight for the trial beds to mark your choice for best-looking Salvias on display. Over the summer we will tabulate the results to share with our nursery industry supporters and the gardening public.

Barry Fugatt, Director of Horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden at Woodward Park. He can be reached at (918) 576-5152 or by email at bfugatt@tulsagardencenter.org.

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Dylan AxsomComment