Saturday, 6 June 2015

Changing my mind

Gardening seems to be all about breaking the rules (even if they are just your own little set of plans).

I’ve written before about my dislike of hectic pink but this electric pink sage, Salvia involucrata `Bethellii’ (above) somehow found its way into the garden, and even near a window (it’s outside the living room), and I’m so glad. It’s winter and while there are still a few roses, and also the enormous fireworks of lilac tree dahlias 15m away, some areas by the house are getting a little bare. (The garden outside the kitchen window still has heaps of colour; see post  23rd May.) It’s just the right cheerful  jolt of colour and being a salvia, it brings in those beautiful honeyeaters frequently to its blooms.
That girlie-cerise advertisers throw at us needs to be used carefully in the garden – too much and you can induce nausea. This candy-pink salvia `should’ be on the far side of the garden; but seems better here, instead – partly to enjoy the unusual shape of the flowers, too. Electric-pink is not the colour I’d normally choose for the garden, for my clothes, or, god forbid, for my house. I think the rules – in the garden - change in winter, when most flowers are welcome (which explains the popularity of Camellia `Hiryu’ (above), that wonderful old cultivar with deep pink flowers in the depths of winter). How glad I am that I ponked the salvia here.
It’s also just the right height, 1.2m (about 4 foot) which is in scale with the surrounding correas and doesn’t hide the garden beyond...but Salvia involucrata `Bethellii’ is meant to grow to nearly 2m (5 or 6 feet, depending on the reference).
And here I’m breaking another of my own rules (a firmly held one); in fact I’ve changed my mind 180 degrees – on this plant, at least.  How often have you chatted to a keen gardener about a plant that looks great but after you enquire about its natural height, they blithely say, `oh, I just trim it twice a year to keep it at the right size’ (or worse: ‘it died in the frost but I’ll replant with more of the same’) (and how often does busyness or ill health get in the way?) and I think `you’re planning high maintenance?’
No, I like to pop in plants that get to the right height for that spot. (And the right level of shade or sun...etc)
But I’ve maybe joined their ranks...just a little. Let me explain.
The salvias vary so much and only some like Salvia involucrata `Bethellii’ flower with such gusto into winter (we’ve now had many nights down to 3°C and it still looks wonderful); it doesn’t flop but stands up, yet not too stiffly, either. It stands against Correa bauerlenii, probably the most funereal of the correas; a perfect foil. And...hourly, it sems, eastern spinebills flutter at the blooms, supping nectar from these candy flowers around the top fat bud.
What’s not to like?
Well, it grew too tall in late spring and so I reached over and snapped off the apical shoot (one snap in spring and the pruning was done for the year). Ever since it’s been perfect: the right height exactly. You really can’t call that hard work or serious pruning.
If I have to do that only once a year, then I think this pink salvia and I have a deal.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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