History of the New World Salvias: Chapter 3

As I like this to be a very informative blog on salvias, I like to start on:

Something about the history,  of mainly the New World Salvias:

Salvia x jamensis ‘Pat Vlasto’ named after one of the pioneer growers of Salvias

Here in Britain we had Pat Vlasto, Beth Chatto, Beryl Davies (from former Probus Demonstration Garden in Cornwall) and later Christine Yeo to thank for the wonderful pioneering work the’d done with salvias!

We now have two lovely salvias to at least honour them in Salvia x jamensis ‘Pat Vlasto’ and Salvia ‘Christine Yeo’, which is, what I always believed,  a tough cross of   S. microphylla and S. chamaedryoides. 

The flowers are mostly purple but I also had sometimes violet flowering forms! Both Beryl Davies and Christine Yeo (part I & part II) have written some of the first little handbooks on salvias, which are rare and not easy to get hold off any more.

I had to have a read in John Sutton’s book: ‘the Gardener’s Guide to growing Salvias’ and discovered that:

Salvia azurea as grown at the College was grown in the B.I. in the 19th Century.

“Salvia microphylla (listed as S. grahamii then,  but this is an old name or  synonym ) was already grown in these Isles by the 19th century and that John Cree of Addlestone Nursery offered 31 species of American or ‘New World’ Salvia, including S. azurea, S. fulgens S. chamaedryoides, S. involucrata,       S. leucantha,  S. microphylla  and S. lyratain its  catalogue of 1837.   (p. 22: a history of salvias until 1945).”

Alan Bloom was the next important person to be written about since the Second World War.  “He was the prime mover in the founding in 1957 of one of Britain’s most successful national gardening societies; the Hardy Plant Society (HPS).

In 1975 the Nottingham Group of the Society took a remarkable initiative, which was to have far reaching consequences for gardening enthusiasts and for the nursery trade and would eventually impinge on the availability of huge numbers of species and cultivars, including those of salvias: it published The Hardy Plant Finder, a successful attempt to make it very much easier for gardeners specifically interested in herbaceous perennials to find out which nurseries stocked which plants…..

Salvia has experienced a rapid burgeoning of species available in this country since the 1970s: the first edition of the Hardy Plant Finder (1975) listed just eight species…  and the twelfth, now called since 1996 ‘the RHS Plant Finder’ , had 168 salvias listed in 1998.”

The RHS  Horticultural Database has now got over 1400 entrees although not all of those can be found in the publication of 2019.

Salvia species and cultivars, especially the hardy herbaceous perennials and shrubs, were and are widely present in National Trust garden plantings. A few National Trust properties have also had a special place in raising visitors’ awareness of the half hardy and tender species. Coleton Fishacre in South Devon is one, but it is Powis Castle in mid-Wales which deserves special mention.

Salvia patens ‘Cambridge Blue’, which is a handsome sky blue form.

Not only did the former head gardener Jimmy Hancock grow species like S. guaranitica, S. involucrata and S. patens with conspicuous success, but by doing so he also showed that it was unnecessary to have a garden in a climatically privileged area in order to cultivate these fine plants successfully.”

The Rodbaston Salvia collection was also of good use whilst I was Head Gardener there as several salvia plants were obtained  from the College by the Supervisor of all the terraced borders at Powis and still thrive to this day!

Dr. James Compton is the next influential botanist to have done important taxonomic work on the genus Salvia  and I was lucky to have met him when we invited him to our Salvia Study Day held in 2004 at the College. More from John Sutton’s book:

“Of his numerous contributions to the knowledge of both the botany and culture of the genus, those arising from Dr. Compton’s 1991 trip to Mexico have attracted most attention. From this visit, both S. x jamensis (natural hybrids between S. greggii and S. microphylla) and  S. darcyi were identified and described for the first time, and both have proved themselves as notable additions to the garden flora. Since then many cultivars of S. x jamensis have been raised”.  (26 were grown with the 2012-2014 RHS trials and there will be even more cultivars now anno 2019.)

“In Britain, two other botanists have played a significant role in the recent history of Salvia as a British garden plant.

Dr. Ray Harley has specialized in the family Labiatae at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew since 1968. His interest in salvias has concentrated on the South American species, especially from Colombia. Ray Harley and James Compton share optimism for the prospect of still further species being successfully introduced to British gardens from the New World.

at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Ian Hedge has maintained a strong interest in the genus over a long period. He has specialized in Old World species and contributed entries on the genus in the published floras of both Europe and south-west Asia. His influence is plain to see at the Logan Botanic Gardens in south-west Scotland, an annexe of Edinburgh’s botanic gardens. This garden was private property until aquired as a specialized garden of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, in 1969. despite its northerly location, Logan is certainly a garden for the salvia enthusiast, the diversity of species there in late summer being one of its outstanding features.”

Nowadays we have many Salvia enthusiast all over the world keeping in touch through the internet and I will be no doubt talking about them in future blogs!

Leave a Reply