Beloved and annoying! Salvia madrensis

A look at a plant that’s teaching me new things about Salvia’s. Propagating itself and teasing us with its flowers

Salvia madrensis

Aka: Forsythia sage

Native to the Sierra Madre, Mexico. Grows at 4,000-5,000 elevation in warm, wet areas. First documented by botanist Berthold Carl Seemann (1825 -1871) who worked extensively in South America.

In a tip of my virtual hat to Alison levey’s blog ‘The Blackberry Garden’ where she regularly features a plant that has been causing problems Id like to tell you about mine.

There are a million Salvias I’ve never seen I’m sure. There are nearly a 1000 species recorded and this doesn’t include the variations we have bred from crossing and selection, but when I joined Ulting Wick Philippa introduced me to one completely different to all the others id encountered so far.


For a start it has yellow, pure yellow flowers! Not orangey yellow, Not red’ish yellow but almost an acid yellow. I only know this as I had to look it up as our single example didn’t get to flowering size in 2017. I was told it was difficult to get cuttings from, this was made even more tricky by the fact that we only had the one and obviously we wanted it to flower too. Always up for a challenge I managed to get three bits of cutting material from a smaller stem and left the main one alone.

Of those 3, 2 struck successfully! I was made up!

This year those 3 made their way into the main beds in the Old Farmyard, where like all the Salvias in the heatwave they sat and did pretty much nothing. They grew! Oh god did they grow! but no flower spikes forming…. until!

The weather eventually returned to near normal, still very much on the dry side but the temperatures became bearable again and suddenly ALL the Salvias decided it might be worth doing some flowering. S. leucantha which has long been a favourite of mine and is a late flowerer at the best of times was almost a month behind where it was last year. ‘Super trooper’ which had flowered prolifically and constantly throughout 2017 had also been sporadic and S. confertiflora was also far behind the previous year


S. madrensis had flower spikes forming!!

So we waited…. all through September, sporadically checking on progress, getting a stern talking to from Philippa, they progressed slowly. I’m sure glaciers have moved quicker! It was gradually getting there though, by october the colour was starting to show on the spike, still we waited. The weather began to cool, still we waited. The Ensetes and Musa got lifted, still we waited. Eventually today with the prospect of frost on the horizon we gave in and decided to lift them and bring them into a protected place.

Neither of us could bear to cut them down though as we both really wanted to see them flower. So it was agreed they would be lifted entire. As they had flopped a little in situ it kinda looked like they were only around 6 ft tall but as I got in there I had several surprises.

First, they had turned into GIANTS!! The tallest now measures at least 8ft tall.

Second, they had, had babies! Yes babies!

You have no idea of my frustration when I realised exactly how easy propagating from these could be when I had worried and fretted over my 3 measly cuttings from the year before.

Propagating Salvias

There are several different methods you could use depending on genus. The most obvious and commonly used method is stem cuttings. They will all respond well to this. Theres lots of info available on how to do this so I wont cover old ground but I shall say I tend to prefer semi lignate (slightly woody) material and rather than cutting directly below a node as the books will tell you I cut mid-stem. Why? I’m so glad you asked! For a lot of Salvias ,and a few other plants, if you leave them to get old and woody they will start to form adventitious ( aerial ) roots. These roots are always located mid stem, as such it makes sense to think that if they do this happily with no interference from us they will do the same when we take cuttings.

S. madrensis is a bit weird though as it has concave stems, like all members of the sage family they qualify as square, kinda but… well … its easier to show you what I mean


I will also always try to save 2 growing points above my rooting node for 2 reasons. First if you lose 1 there’s always a second chance and second when the cutting does take and you pot on, pot it slightly deeper each time till that lower growing point is eventually buried and even if disaster strikes there is a chance it could recover!

Some Salvias can be divided, S leucantha is one of these. It layers itself readily and in a very short time can become a bit of a beast. If you want to do this I would recommend leaving it till spring though. Layers can be removed in autumn, cut back and potted up but leave it till spring before putting your spade through the crown of the parent plant.

Very few Salvias however do what madrensis does! I’ve only encountered one in 25 years and even that wasn’t quite the same as what I saw on Friday (Disclaimer, others may well know all about this and it might not be that weird) . My first ever Salvia in 2001 was Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’. I adored it! That first winter I brought it into my cool glass house and cried because it died… or so I thought!

In spring I turfed the ginormous pot out to the side of the glasshouse thinking I would deal with it later. A month on I glanced down and a 100 fresh green shoots were popping up! Turns out it develops a tuber! I digress

S. madrensis was making a bid for freedom through root runners!


Back to Friday and I eventually managed to get the monster out of the ground, wrestled its 8ft bulk into the potting shed. Removed the root runners and potted them up. then removed all the big leaves to help it cope with the shocking disturbance id just put it through.


Normally at this point I would advise cutting them back hard to minimise shock and also utilise the stems for all those cuttings but as we would actually like to see this in full flower before cutting it down.

The  aerial roots are fully formed at the base of the plant which means I can either use them for cuttings when we do cut it back or when we plant out next year we can plant it slightly lower and they will help stabilise the plant and give it a better root system.

Plants never cease to amaze me and sometimes annoy me, you spend months waiting for them to do their thing, weeks trying to propagate from them and then when you turn your back for 5 seconds they do it all on their own!

Hopefully if you have a plant that’s been frustrating you, it will do the same.

Apple pruning courses 2019

Apple pruning courses 2019
Wanting to tackle that tree but don’t know where to start?
Learn a new skill or brush up on old ones?
Treat a loved one to a surprise Xmas gift with a difference!
Heres the details for an exciting day course, get in touch and book a place!


As some of you will know for the last few years myself and Nick Black have been running Apple pruning courses, these have been growing in popularity and we try to find a new venue every year to challenge people and also to give people the best experience possible.

I think this year we may have surpassed ourselves and its with much delight I can reveal the venue for our upcoming courses is….. (please imagine a drumroll at this point!)….


Columbine Hall

Columbine dates back to the 14th century, its current owners, Hew and Leslie Stevenson, have spent the last 20 years lovingly restoring the house and grounds. When they first came to Columbine Hall it had been lying empty for 10 years, in 1993 they set to work restoring it and brought in Designer George Carter and employed Head Gardener Kate Elliott.

Kate’s love for the garden shines through and the owners and herself have been amazingly kind to allow us to use their Orchard, which is a perfect age and size, to train a few people on how to prune Apples, Pears, Medlars and Quince.

Kate was kind enough to give us a full guided tour on our visit, which included a peek inside the clockhouse, the west barn, this is hired out for events such as weddings and christenings and the Gig house, which has been converted to a holiday let. The quality of the workmanship is incredible.

The west barn dates back to the early 1700’s
A cozy retreat, the Gig house retains character with all the mod cons

Columbines history is fascinating, its previous owners were notorious and illustrious. Ranging from Sir James Tyrell, the supposed murderer of the princes in the tower(1483) to Robert Carey the grandson of the “other Boleyn girl” and rumoured to be the illegitimate grandson of Henry the VIII. Most recently the Hall and its grounds were used as training centre for the Landgirls in WWII and when the moat was dredged recently 100s of Marmite jars dating from that era were found in the spoil! Being a Marmite fan I can thoroughly approve of this but not of the disposal!

Columbine was also one of the few gardens featured in Barbara Segall’s book ‘Secret gardens of east Anglia’ You can find my review of the book here and find out more about Barbara and where to pick up your copy here

The Course

We have 3 dates this year for extra flexibility and ease of attendance

  • 16th February 2019 – Saturday
  • 24th February 2019 – Sunday
  • 2nd March 2019 – Saturday


The day will run from 10Am to 4PM and will include hot drinks, Soup, bread and some sugary treats such as cake to keep your strength up!

Your Instructors

Nick is a fully trained arborist & whilst we don’t expect you to be climbing huge trees his knowledge of both how trees work & horticulture is invaluable. Nick can be found normally working as The Muddy Gardener. You can also find him being cheeky on twitter @imnickblack

As for me, I have nearly 20 years of looking after fruit trees under my belt, trained at Pershore college under John Edgerly, then at Ryton Organic gardens, I moved onto become the Veg gardener at Sissinghurst where we established a large Orchard under Amy Wardman who had been the Fruit student at RHS Wisley and was very generous at passing on her knowledge.
It was there that I first started training people to prune fruit & it gives me great joy to help people become confident and proficient.


The day will start at 10am where you will all gather and we can discuss where your skill level is as we are happy to take on absolute beginners through to those that have experience & want to progress.
You will be shown all the tools you will need and have their safe use & maintenance explained to you. Then we will go through pruning maiden trees to establish the correct framework for freestanding, espalier, fan & other styles of fruit trees.
After a short break, to warm up & refuel on hot tea & cake, we will start to tackle the big trees! This will give us an excellent opportunity to discuss different methods of pruning & the reasons for it. If you have a tree which has got out of hand this will be exactly what you need!
A break for a warming lunch of soup and then..
Once the demonstration is over you will be let loose on your own trees with both of us at your beck & call for advice if you get stuck!
Finally, we will gather to discuss any questions & do a quick session on apple tree pest, diseases & disorders.


The Cost
The day will cost £70.00 per person but will include Drinks, soup & snacks
Also £20 will go straight to Marie curie via my Just giving page
If you’d like to sign up just fill in the form below and I will send you further details or if you wish to buy it as an xmas present for a loved one and keep it as a surprise we can arrange that too, look forward to hearing from you