Gardening: Beautiful salvias at Great Comp

PUBLISHED: 11:44 02 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:44 02 September 2016

The array of nursery containers

The array of nursery containers


Enjoy the jewel highlights of salvias among the parchment tones of ornamental grasses and late-season perennials with a stroll around the atmospheric gardens of Great Comp. Words and pictures by: Leigh Clapp

William has planted salvias through the gardenWilliam has planted salvias through the garden

Extending over seven acres, Great Comp at St Mary’s Platt is the creation of the late Roderick Cameron, who moved here in 1957 with his wife Joy. They opened the garden to the public for charity in the early 1960s. It continues through a charitable Trust under the expert guidance of curator William Dyson, who has been at the gardens for more than 20 years.

A rather quirky garden set around a 17th-century manor house, it’s park-like in part with vast swathes of lawn edged in borders, unexpected romantic ruins planted with ferns and more intimate areas of herbaceous planting.

Within the garden William runs his own nursery, which specialises in his favourite plant, salvias; he also stocks many of the plants growing here, so you can take some of the inspiration home.

With one of the finest collections of salvias in Europe it is here that you can discover how to get the most out of these often under-used beauties of the summer-to-autumn garden. You may not know that the genus salvia actually contains a staggering 900 species, some of which are the most highly ornamental in the plant kingdom.

The World Garden at Lullingstone CastleThe World Garden at Lullingstone Castle

“There is an intensity of flower colour seldom equalled in other genera. Some are hardy here in the southern counties of Britain, while others are tender and require glasshouse protection over winter,” says William. “At Dyson’s our main interest lies in New World species and cultivars from Mexico and the southern states of the USA.”

The stock in the nursery collection numbers well over 250 different species and every time I visit or see William’s wonderful displays at RHS Chelsea or Hampton Court Flower Shows there is always something new and exciting to see.

With their decorative spires of colour – from greys and greens, through blues and mauves to the jewel-like intensities of scarlets and crimsons – they are wonderful in the border, starting their show in mid-summer and continuing the display throughout autumn.

The perennial varieties have become much more popular as there are so many that cope with the UK climate, such as the bi-colour crimson and white ‘Hot Lips’ or the clump-forming 
‘Caradonna’ with its deeply purple spires, which are now frequently seen in gardens.

Clear blue Salvia uliginosaClear blue Salvia uliginosa

“People should grow more salvias, they are easy, you just need well-drained soil in a sunny spot and they repay you with a long flowering season and are a great source of nectar for bees and other insects,” adds William.

At Great Comp I like how the taller, arching salvias, such as ones like S. ‘Phyllis Fancy’ with its mauve and white inflorescences and rose pink S. involucrata, are placed with with tall, feathery Miscanthus sinensis as their backdrop.

The way William uses the salvias in densely planted blocks of mixed colours close to the house is another idea to inspire. As they are so airy the colours of pinks, reds, burgundies all jostling together is quite enchanting.

“Other combinations that work really well are intensely purple Salvia ‘Amistad’ against red dahlias in the border and also scarlet S. fulgens and violet ‘Indigo Spires’ with miscanthus and Molinia caeruIea variegata. Another use is to with spring shrubs that have finished flowering to add interest,” he adds.

Tubular pink salvia flowersTubular pink salvia flowers

Take time to explore the salvia collection, admire the planting combinations, and complete your visit in the delightfully retro tearoom.

How to grow salvias

- Sun-loving plants

Salvias jostle togetherSalvias jostle together

- Grow in well-drained soil

- They do not like to be starved

- Easy to propagate by softwood cuttings in spring

- Prune twice a year for shape and extra flowering

William has combined pink, blue and purple salviasWilliam has combined pink, blue and purple salvias

- Give the shrubby varieties the ‘Hampton Hack’ in July, a term William has originated

- With ones that stay out in the garden, don’t cut back until spring when growth starts

- Give them a go, many are hardier than you think

- If you can’t provide the right conditions for salvias, growing in containers makes them a moveable feast and you can pop them in the greenhouse to overwinter

- Bees adore the flowers and actually drill holes in the side to reach the nectar

- Combine them with grasses, sedum, dahlias, geraniums, crocosmia, helenium, Nicotiana mutabilis and Verbena bonariensis

5 varieties to try

- Indigo-blue ‘Mainacht’

- Bright blue S. patens ‘Cambridge Blue’

- Maroon ‘Nachtvlinder’

- Deep purple ‘Amistad’

- Candy pink S. microphylla ‘Cerro Potosi’

Plant of the month: Sedum spectabile

- Striking plant for interest in late summer through to autumn

- Masses of flat, bright pink heads that turn russet toned

- Succulent leaves

- Looks wonderful with ornamental grasses


- Full sun

- Well-drained, light soil

- Hardy

- Divide every few years to improve flowering

- Butterfly and insect attracting

- Easy to grow

Jobs to be done

- Start planting spring bulbs: daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and scilla. Co-ordinate a succession of blooms in containers or plant bulbs in natural drifts under trees as well as in garden beds. Ensure you buy healthy, fresh, plump bulbs that are firm to the touch for the best flowering potential, and plant them within a week before they start to sprout.

- Enjoy the feast of colour this month from plants such as asters, sedum, dahlias, heleniums, rudbeckias and ornamental grasses that will continue through autumn. Look over borders and decide any changes, decide what needs moving, cutting back or which clumps of perennials need dividing.

- Plant container-grown shrubs and trees while there is still warmth in the soil to encourage good root development and establishment before the cold weather.

- Consider planting some late-season food plants for the wildlife that visits your garden, for example verbena and asters, Michaelmas daisies, in flower now, are an ideal nectar and pollen source

- Sow forget-me-nots now in beds, borders and containers. They make a pretty combinations with your spring bulbs.

Find out more

Great Comp Garden, St Mary’s Platt TN15 8QS

Open: 25 March to 31 October, 11am-5pm

Adults £8, concs £5, children £3

RHS members free in September and October,

Diary date

A new event at Lullingstone Castle World garden, Shrubs of the World, 17 and 18 September, talks and tours with Tom Hart Dyke.

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