Salvias - Just about the perfect plants
Salvias have lots going for them. They have gained recognition over the years for their many attractive garden qualities. As members of the mint family, most types of salvia have some kind of fragrance from the distinct aroma of culinary sage to the fruity, sweet tang of pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). In the genus salvia, you can find summer bloomers, fall bloomers, long- blooming annuals and perennials, and a wide variety of hues, from the bluest of blue, purples, whites and corals, muted shades of yellow to dazzling bright red. Some small annuals grow only 12” tall but Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) can grow to five feet in a protected garden. I discovered Mexican Bush Sage a few years ago and put it in a large pot all by itself. The silver-gray foliage was attractive, but by August, I was wondering where the flowers were, and I gave up and stopped watering it. Luckily, we had enough rain after that to keep it watered, and in mid-September, it produced hundreds of beautiful, subtle lavender blooms, and kept going until it blew off the porch in a nor-Easter in November! Now I plant it in the ground, and it’s tough enough to withstand the dogs tramping around it. It’s only hardy to Zone 8, so I replant it every year. Now there’s a new leucantha that is much shorter. Look for Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara.’ It’s a beauty.
There are so many ornamental varieties available one could have an entire garden just of salvia that would be in bloom from June right through frost.
Annual salvias (bedding salvias) can be massed together for a large scale landscape display (think of the rotary at the Bourne Bridge) or they can be used as accent plants in any sort of border. They are some of the showiest plants you can plant in containers as they are strong bloomers right out of the gate. Bedding salvia varieties include the ‘nymph’ series, a relative newcomer in the salvia world. Coral nymph and snow nymph are both good for long summer bloom. Their flowers are dainty but their multiple stems give them substance and provide a splash of color. They prefer full sun, but can tolerate some shade.
Another neat annual salvia is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans.) The crushed leaves have a pineapple scent and the scarlet flowers that appear in late summer attractive hummingbirds. They grow to about 4’ before they begin to flower, but it’s worth the wait. The scarlet is a nice burst of color when many plants are starting to fade.
‘Indigo Spires’ falls into the category of ‘temperennial’ or tender perennial. It has dark blue-purple flowers that appear on long arching stems. It grows to about 4 ½’ tall, and spreads nearly as far. Give it plenty of room to get established it will reward you with plenty of growth and blooms. Pinch the dead blooms and foliage back regularly to help keep its shape and to keep it blooming. Indigo Spires dies back completely to the ground every year, and may or may not re-appear the following year.
Perennial salvias are usually extremely long-blooming, sometimes lasting until Thanksgiving, depending on the autumn weather.
‘May Night’ is another useful salvia. Its name is the English translation of the actual German name, 'Mainacht'. As this cultivar like cool nights, it blooms most heavily in May and June, hence the name. It gets to be approximately two feet tall and 18 inches wide and each plant produces spikes of deep, blue-violet flowers over aromatic foliage. Planted in drifts, May Night makes a spectacular early season display and it doesn't flop over like some other perennial salvias. Plant it in full sun, and when it is done blooming, cut it back to about 2” below the spike. It should produce a second bloom later in the season. Because of its superior qualities, it was selected as the 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.
Salvias are just about the perfect plants. They are not very susceptible to diseases or insects, and as a group, they are quite drought tolerant and like well-drained soil. Most prefer full sun and only require moderate feed to keep them blooming for months, and they can provide six months of consistent, colorful blooms. They’re useful as cut-flowers, as accents or in mass-plantings. They smell good and they’re mostly deer-resistant. What more could you ask?