Whether used for attractive, aromatic foliage or for vibrantly coloured flowers, there’s a salvia that’s just right for your garden.
The salvia family, also known as sage, is a well known and appreciated plant in both the flower and herb garden. All salvias are easy to grow and have a long flowering season from late spring to early autumn. The most important thing to remember about salvias is that they all need good drainage in order to flourish, and cannot grow in waterlogged soil. Although many will grow in poor, sandy soil, plenty of compost in the planting hole produces the best results.
The South African salvias commonly used in gardens are all water smart plants :
Salvias from the dry parts of Mexico are invaluable for a low water usage border:
Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is a frost tolerant, 1m-tall shrub that bears rosy-red flowers and bracts from spring through to autumn. Plant in full sun and prune to shape after flowering. Many smaller cultivars are now available. Look out for:
– ‘Neon Pink’ with deep pink blooms, 50cm tall.
– ‘Red Surprise’ with cerise-pink flowers, 50cm tall.
– ‘Salmon Smoothy’ with soft salmon blooms, 50cm tall.
– ‘Sweet Lips’ with pink blooms, 50cm tall.
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) grows into 1,5m-tall clumps with spikes of woolly, purple bracts and mauve-white flowers all summer long. The cultivar ‘Midnight’ has purple flowers, and there are also white- and pink-bloomed cultivars. Plant in full sun and allow space for it to spread. It can withstand drought, but not heavy frost. Cut back old flower stems in spring to allow new growth room to develop.
Canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis) can reach a height and spread of 2m. It has attractive grey-green leaves and trusses of rose-red flowers at the ends of long arching branches. Prune back by two-thirds after flowering to produce another show in autumn. Plant this frost tolerant shrub in full sun.
Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) is an evergreen shrub with flowers ranging from lavender to blue. It grows to1,5m with a 2m spread. The grey-green leaves have intense fragrance. It likes sun and perfect drainage and tolerates frost.
The bracts of some salvias make for an outstanding display:
If you become enamoured of salvias, the following less common salvias are available at specialist nurseries: bog sage (Salvia uliginosa), gentian salvia (Salvia patens), Brazilian sage (Salvia guaranitica), prairie sage (Salvia azurea), Salvia rubiginosa and Salvia transsylvanica, all with blue or indigo blooms; fuchsia sage (Salvia buchananii), Salvia guaranitica and Salvia ‘Marachino Red’ with magenta blooms; Jupiter’s distaff (Salvia glutinosa) with yellow blooms; and Andean Sage (Salvia discolor) with purple-black blooms that protrude beyond the silvery green calyxes.