Rentrée Posted on September 13, 2010

Salvia uliginosa mingles with Verbena bonariensis

Every gardener should go away on holiday from time to time to clear his vision. Familiarity breeds content – and content (or acquiescence) is not good for a garden. The end of summer is a good time to make a break, see different and foreign gardens, collect ideas and come home with resolutions. It worked perfectly this year. The first of September was the beginning of autumn, as clearly as if a bell had been rung. Three inches of rain in August had given plants a spurt in height and bulk until borders were bulging – not always with the right elements or in the right places. Suddenly it was the salvias and dahlias and big yellow daisies that had the limelight – and in the deep green grass the cyclamen.

alvias get more column inches in this diary than they should. I am captivated by their variety, their easiness in cultivation and the length of their flowering season. The snag, particularly it seems this year, is that many of the ones from subtropical parts are unconvinced by our summer and only really start to perform when it ends. Our September rentrée found some of them, notably my new South African recruit from Vergelegen, still growing rapidly but flowerless. S. splendens,

S. calcaliifolia (small flowers of brightest blue among lush green leaves), S. madrensis (yellow, on strong plants almost worth it for their foliage), even the sky-blue S. uliginosa are merely finding their places in the score and clearing their throats.

In Scotland, where they have less heat but more summer rain, salvias seem to get down to it earlier. But this year I have the feeling that half the plants in the garden were put on hold for almost a month in July; I don’t have the figures to prove it, but surely everything is happening late.

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