I was both delighted and kind of annoyed, in equal measure, when I visited the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and found Buddleja salviifolia in bloom. I was delighted because it’s a highly perfumed shrub that blooms in mid winter, and one can’t help but be grateful for these small compensatory mercies in a climate like ours.
The annoyance (slight and passing) arose from finding it in bloom this early in Melbourne, when mine in Woodend doesn’t tend to flower until spring, by which time I’m over it. And not only over it, but I’m kind of critical and censorious, and can’t help frankly communicating to it that a shrub as modest and homely as it is really needs to boost its point score by flowering well before anything else – that by the time spring comes around, I’ve got better options.
But back to its benefits. Buddleja salviifolia is evergreen, salvia-like in colour and leaf form (hence the name, obviously), phenomenally drought tolerant, and a trouble-free, reliable ‘early’ bloomer (early in the seasonal sense). It’s homeliness is a product of its modest leaf colouring, which, while interesting enough up close, having a rich green upper side and nearly white under side, can appear dry and dusty in a drought year when there’s no supplementary water available. And the flowers aren’t at all showy, being such a pale mauve that you’d probably never give them space but for the perfume they emit, and the time of year they do so. By shrub standards it’s pretty big, at about 3m in height and spread creating a vase-like shape, but for reasons discussed in last weeks plant of the week, its cane-like growth means that once it reaches full height, it simply won’t get any bigger.
It’s hard to stress how hugely advantageous this is. The majority of shrubs grow cumulatively from tip growth, and simply get bigger and bigger over time, often opening up beneath. That’s not the case with these cane growers. And that makes them perfect for screening. As long as their ultimate height is the height you need for privacy, or to block out an ugly view, or as windbreak (and you wouldn’t think to grow them otherwise, as you can’t manipulate their height), then they need no care to maintain them at that height.
This is particularly handy in the case of Buddlja salviifolia, as it’s homeliness is such that you wouldn’t give it pride of place. It’s one of those plants that best lurks in the depths of a shrubbery or windbreak planting, then delights you with it’s (slightly soapy, but as stated last week, I’m no scent-snob) perfume on the air, before you’re even aware of it coming into flower.
The only maintenance from which it will visually benefit (and this is optional) is the removal of old, tired canes. In this case, you can fuss over which to remove and which to retain, or you can take a chain saw to the whole plant, and let it renew itself entirely from the base. Personally, I’d rather take the time to remove about 1/4 of the canes each year, so that it stays fresh, but I understand that that takes a degree of confidence many home gardeners don’t have.
All things considered, I give Buddleja salviifolia 6.5 stars our of 10. They’re mostly work-horse points, boosted by winter perfume.
How many do you give it?