Late summer is an exciting time, when lots of exotic blossoms come into their own in a riot of colour. At the forefront are late-flowering salvias, both species and hybrids derived from varieties in warmer parts of the world such as the southern states of the USA, Mexico and South America.
Their appearance is highly variable, a motely band spanning herbaceous perennials, small, thin-twigged shrublets to taller perennials with a woody rootstock. Most have strongly aromatic foliage, often beautifully shaped or textured. Whether large or small, the wide-lipped, hooded flowers are unmistakeable.
This group come in a wide range of jazzy to demure colours, from screaming reds, vibrant blues and dramatic purples, to dreamy pinks, creamy yellows and serene whites – and just about everything in between. Taller ones look good threaded through dahlias and late-season daises, such as rudbeckias, while shrubbier kinds are good in pots or at the front of borders.
All need full sun and like some moisture, but they need good drainage, particularly in winter. Cut back the perennial kinds after the first frost and give the shrubbier ones a trim in late spring. Their hardiness is relative to where you live and the prevailing winter, so be prepared to experiment. A light mulch also helps protect roots from frost. A few softwood cuttings overwintered under glass act as an insurance policy.
If you want to attract pollinators, varieties with short flower tubes are best for bees and butterflies so their tongues can reach the nectar inside.