Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are getting excited. It is August and the Scarlet Sage are beginning to bloom.
Tall Scarlet Sage is a form of Salvia splendens but should not be confused with the short bedding plants that are popular annuals sold in 6 packs. Native to tropical Brazil, this Dutch selection was named for the nurseryman Louis Benoit Van Houtte, known also as the father of Belgium horticulture. Leafy plants grow 3-4’ tall and display dark red flowers accented with deeper red calyces from mid August to frost.
S. splendens ‘Van houttei’ enjoys a rich yet well drained soil in full sun or partial shade but requires adequate watering during dry spells. It is a tender perennial and will suffer when temperatures go below freezing. (hardy to zone 10). Plants will need to be dug and wintered over in a frost free area for the winter if grown in colder climates. For fresh stock, propagate by cuttings taken on new growth in the spring.
Only a couple of years ago this form of Salvia splendens had almost disappeared from cultivation after having been rediscovered twenty years ago. We forgot to save a stock plant a few years back, and this form does not come true from seed. At first we thought we could obtain new plants from other growers but to our dismay the only forms of tall Scarlet Sage being sold were impostors. The ordered plants would turn out to be either the orange red ’Faye Chapelle’ or the red/purple form known as ’Paul’. Both are good plants but they lack the beautiful coloring and looser form of the true ‘Van houttei’. We were able to beg some cuttings off a gardener in western MA who had kept stock from plants he had saved for years. We now have a healthy supply and will be sure to take measures so we don’t lose it again.