Book Review: Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias

I can’t remember when or how I discovered Salvias, but last year I bought a few little cuttings from Ebay and that was that. Our garden is now full of techno-neon Salvias powering the border and pots for most of the year. The Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias is one of the latest in Kew’s new range of books that takes a deep-dive into a single genus or family of plants, perfect for expanding my Salvia knowledge.

Production on all of the books is high, with hardcover and glossy, colourful, clear photos throughout. This Salvia book explores a genus that is now very much in vogue for its classiness and long lasting colour.

I really like Salvias, particularly the frothier ones, where the flowers are spread out and mingle with other plants, like Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’. I have six different Salvias and they really are useful, flowering from spring right the way to the frosts here in London.

Like all of the Plant Lover’s Guides, this one starts with an exploration of the plants, where they come from, their growth habits and care instructions. This is useful for context and learning how to grow Salvias in the right place and right conditions.

There is also a guide to propagation from cuttings and seed. And at the end, a section on pests and diseases.

The bulk of the book is made up by a directory which lacks a useful structure and sadly, photography that doesn't make the plants jump out at you.
The bulk of the book is made up by a directory which lacks a useful structure and sadly, photography that doesn’t make the plants jump out at you.

The bulk of the book then goes into an alphabetical directory of 150 of the most popular Salvias with some basic info and a photo for each.

So far so good. Anyone looking to explore Salvias in detail is definitely recommended to start here.

However, this book had a few small issues for me:

  1. Directory – an alphabetic list is good if you know what you’re looking for. But as a practical guide to exploring Salvias, or as a reference for garden design, it doesn’t really work. The Dahlia book groups plants by colour, which worked much better for me.
  2. Photos – the pictures in the book are high quality, but the photos selected don’t show the plants in their best light. I’ve found this with Salvias myself, they’re difficult to photograph well and generally look better in real life. It’s tricky to know from this book if they will fit in the position that you want them. As the info on each Salvia isn’t very detailed compared to online, I feel the space would have been better used for more photos of each plant.
  3. Advice on practical garden design – this book is for plant geeks like me, people who want to know everything about the plants. However, in reality, most plant geeks have a garden they want to look good. So more advice on slotting the Salvias in first time would have been helpful. There is a lot, just not quite enough visually.
  4. US focussed – a big problem with this whole series, which is odd given’s it’s by Kew Gardens, is that it hasn’t been adapted for a UK market, having been first written for the US. Very frustrating for hardiness ratings which use the US hardiness scale. And slightly frustrating that the selection of plants in the directory are more focussed on US gardens.

Summary: Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias

I do really love this book. I enjoyed reading it and will return to it in future – I’m glad I have it. My time with it was marred slightly by the photos that don’t showcase Salvias as best they could be (my biggest issue) and the directory structure, or lack thereof. The US focus and lack of rewriting for publishing in the UK is a problem with the whole series so I won’t dwell on that. It’s a recommended read regardless and I’m glad I own it.

Score: 4/5

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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