In the Garden:
First seen in a hillside planting of daisies and poppies at Chanticleer, the vibrant flowers and stems of Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' now also grace the garden at home.
Sage Gardeners Select Salvias
A few weeks ago I was scratching my head over the first brave shoots of a perennial emerging from my cottage garden's cool, moist soil. For the life of me, I couldn't recall what grew in that particular spot last year.
Days later, however, I noticed the plant's square stems and remembered the vibrant-hued perennial that bowled me over on a 2008 visit to Chanticleer, an exciting public garden located just outside Philadelphia. The mystery plant was Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna,' a meadow sage that blooms with narrow spikes of vivid blue-violet flowers above dark purple stems.
Wherever I travel I'm always on the lookout for new salvias to add to my garden. Soon after the gardening bug bit more than two decades ago, I began a love affair with these plants that is yet to wane.
The genus Salvia, often called by its common name, sage, includes roughly 900 species of plants that are shrubs, herbaceous perennials or annuals. The botanical name derives from the Latin salvare, meaning "to heal," a nod to its many medicinal uses.
Salvias are especially easy to grow in the Middle South, as they are both heat-loving and drought-tolerant. I've never lost one to pest or disease, either, and little to no fertilizer is required. Maintenance is limited to light pruning after bloom, and for the perennials and shrubs, removal of last year's stems just as new growth begins in early spring.
In addition to square stems, all salvias have whorls of two-lipped flowers, either neatly spaced or tightly crowded along their stems. Bloom colors range from white and yellow to all shades of pink, red, blue, and purple. Most all have aromatic foliage and some offer fragrant flowers.
Annual salvias flower throughout the long growing season. Many of the perennial and shrubby species have an extended season of bloom too. In general, early-bloomers flower in spring and summer, and late-flowering types show color from summer well into fall.
As beautiful as they are in the garden, salvias also make good cut stems, adding drama to flower arrangements with their long, slender spikes of color. Some are even edible and can be used to flavor salads or desserts.
What I love best about salvias, however, is their magnetic power to draw bees, butterflies, and humming birds. For me, these creatures and critters are the heartbeat of a garden, and salvias never fail to please their palate.
While 'Caradonna' will always be a favorite, there are a number of others I wouldn't want to garden without either, namely:
Texas sage 'Coral Nymph' (Salvia coccinea), a favorite annual plant for its salmon color, profuse bloom, long season of flowers, and ability to reseed itself.
Brazilian blue sage 'Black and Blue' (Salvia guaranitica), a vigorous perennial that grows to 5 feet tall and blooms in summer with extraordinary indigo-blue flowers emerging from a black calyx. Another exceptional cultivar of this species, 'Argentine Skies,' has sky-blue flowers and shorter stems, growing to just over 3 feet.
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), a late-blooming red flowered salvia that is somewhat tender and may not survive harsh winters. Pineapple sage attracts hummingbirds and has a delicious pineapple fragrance and edible flowers.
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), also tender perennial but well worth the effort. It produces spectacular purple and white velvety flowers that bloom in autumn on 4 or 5 foot stems.
'Indigo Spires' and its sport, 'Mystic Spires' (Salvia farinacea x longispicata), tall, woody perennials with twisted spikes of violet-blue flowers that bloom from spring through frost.
Autumn sage (Salvia greggi), a somewhat smaller, shrubby plant that blooms in summer and autumn in brilliant colors such as red and pink, and sometimes white. Autumn sage is very drought tolerant and likes lean soil.
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