Sage advice will guarantee autumn colour
Becky Sheaves learns from keen gardener Peter Wadeley how to add colour to an autumn garden.
If you are wondering how to inject a dash of colour into your autumn garden, then inspiration is in abundance at a truly wonderful garden in Axminster, East Devon.
For 14 years the garden at Prospect House has been the pride and joy of owner Peter Wadeley, who retired here from London. He has transformed the one-acre plot into a treasure trove of colour and surprise, thanks to his passion for plants. At this time of year, the garden is fresh from a successful opening day for the National Gardens Scheme, which attracted hundreds of visitors. Peter doesn't find opening in early autumn a challenge at all: "The garden is at its best at this time of year, full of colour and excitement," he explains.
The many borders are packed with late summer perennials including rudbeckia, helenium, echinacea and crocosmia. But the highlight of Peter's garden, throughout the summer and up until the first frosts are his stunning salvias, also known as ornamental sages. He admits these dainty but colourful plants have become "something of an obsession" over the years.
"There are so many different colours and forms to choose from with salvias," he explains. "Somehow, they never clash, no matter how bright they are. I think it is because the flowers are so delicate-looking and the stems allow for so much movement. I can never get bored of salvias."
Salvias are part of the mint family and the name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere ("to feel well and healthy"), referring to the herb's healing properties. Originally from Mexico, today's salvias have become a remarkably varied plant type, with everything from coal black flowers to ones with leaves scented with pineapple or blackcurrant. They stay true to their name by being remarkably disease-resistant and come in a wide range of shapes and forms, from large bushy plants with woody stems to much smaller tender varieties.
Peter doesn't have ambitions to amass a national collection of salvias, preferring instead to pick and choose the ones he likes best.
Even so, his edit of the best salvias available comes to a cool 200 or so varieties. "They mostly flower from May right through to October and beyond if he weather is mild," he says. The effect of a whole border packed with Peter's salvias is dazzling, like a Persian carpet.
Some of the salvias are hardy and live out all year round in the sheltered walled garden at the 16th century home he shares with his partner Luiz and their adorable fox terrier Jake. Others are dug up as winter approaches and cosseted through the cold weather in pots in a greenhouse.
Also in the greenhouse are numerous cuttings: "Salvias are so easy to propagate. It literally is a case of just breaking off a stem and jamming it into a pot," says Peter, who organises the East Devon area of the National Gardens Scheme.
Although the garden at Prospect House in Axminster only opens twice a year, in July and September, Peter is happy to offer bespoke tours to groups of six or more.
So if you are looking for colour and interest this autumn, then why not take a leaf from Peter's book and let salvias be your salvation?
For more information on Prospect House and other Westcountry gardens open to the public with the National Gardens Scheme, visit www.ngs.org.uk