05
November
2018

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’

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Dramatic blooms of Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ 

You may remember Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ from Field Day last summer. It garnered a lot of votes as the most admired plant in the gardens, giving Hamelia ‘Lime Sizzler’ a run for its money as the top plant of the day. This is one of those plants where its strength is its weakness—all of the attention goes to the top. No one remembers the plant itself.

We planted ‘Black and Blue’ in three of our Display Beds, and we found that companion plantings work best with this Salvia. Adding contrasting colors around the base creates even more drama in the display at the top. Let’s take a closer look at this clearly popular denizen of the garden.

SAL Black and Blue with COL Pineapple Surprise
True blue flowers that rise well above Coleus ‘Pineapple Splash’

SNAPDRAGON-LIKE BLOOMS WITH DISTINCTIVE BLACK CAPS

As a cultivar, ‘Black and Blue’ is very much about the display—everyone remembers the deep, cobalt blue blooms. This is one of the few true blues you’ll find and you’ll have a hard time missing it because the flower spikes are so large. The individual florets are oversized for a Salvia, bordering on Snapdragon territory.

They’re attached along the thick, black, shiny stems by extended black caps that hold them in place. After emerging from the glossy cap, called a calyx, each bloom stands proudly on its stem and on display—there is no overcrowded look here. It’s a very memorable setup: flowers are high enough to nod in the wind, and they bloom in a continuous cycle from early summer until frost.

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Big jaw-like blooms complete with a slender little tongue

A VERY GREEN HABIT

‘Black and Blue’ starts to bloom in the early summer and grows in a clump about waist high. It’s not bushy, but it’s not scrawny, either. The leaves follow the blooms up the stems, but most of the plant sits below the flowers. A major benefit is the length of the blooming season—ours kept the bees busy until we saw our first frost in late October. Butterflies were frequent visitors as well but the deer couldn’t care less.

This plant does best in a prepared garden bed—it’s not a wildflower by any stretch of the imagination. In our three Display Beds, the flowers are bluest and blackest in full sun and the stems stay shorter, stiffer, and stronger. However, we also have a couple in partial shade and we’ve had no problems. You’re OK as long as this Salvia gets a reasonable amount of sun; dark shade presents a challenge, where the plant does well but the blooms stretch out and start to flop.

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Large blooms add motion to the garden by nodding with the slightest breeze

PLANT WITH COMPANIONS

For the best display we recommend planting ‘Black and Blue’ tightly together in stands of three or five. It branches at the crown, so one plant sends up several blooms that interweave with each other as they mature. Each resulting stand is much more impressive with an extra-generous complement of flowers.

Fortunately,  ‘Black and Blue’ is well behaved and plays nicely with other neighbors in the garden. Since the plant itself is so ordinary, we like the extra drama that comes from pairing it with a companion. Foliage is the best choice, especially if it grows about knee-high with lots of gold in the mix. We selected Coleus ‘Pineapple Splash’ for its high contrast and we’re very pleased with how the combination worked. You may remember this Display Bed— as you walk toward the office door it’s on the right-hand side.

This combination works effectively with complex patterns because the Salvia colors are simple, just black and blue. All the wonder comes from the exaggerated Salvia shapes—the thick black stems, the black hooded caps, the dark blue jaws that lunge out to form the blooms. It’s all very big and easy to see. Creating a major stand gives ‘Black and Blue’ presence, and surrounding it with a sea of gold gives it a striking platform to really strut its stuff.

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Golden or light backgrounds work best with ‘Black and Blue’

ALMOST A PERENNIAL FOR US

Technically, ‘Black and Blue’ is a perennial but it is classified as tender around Cincinnati. We’ve heard reports of it surviving the winter in Zone 6b, which is just to the south of town, and even a few scattered reports in our Zone 6a. However, one hard winter will take it down so we treat it as an annual. If you want this plant to survive it does better with a winter mulch and when planted close to some protection like a building, foundation, or rockery. Keep in mind that your mileage will probably vary from year to year.

‘Black and Blue’ does surprisingly well in containers, too. Its bee and butterfly attraction has created a lot of buzz so it’s a good choice for patios, decks, and porches. This is a bigger plant so it requires a large container, and we find that it benefits from a filler/spiller combination.

Salvia 'Black and Blue'48
People talk about those massive black caps as well

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Diefenbacher Greenhouses is a supplier of annuals and creative green goods. We sell directly to Garden Centers and Landscapers in the Cincinnati Area. 

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