Salvia or sage

Plants that flower and thrive during the hottest days of summer and continue to bloom until frost are always worth knowing and growing. Such is the case with salvias or sages. These versatile members of the mint family offer the gardener a wealth of choices with flowers of every color from white to pink, blue, red, yellow, orange and all the shades between.

Whether you grow ornamentals or edibles or both, you have probably cultivated at least one salvia along the way. The Greeks and Romans thought this herb to be one of the most sacred and declared it herba sacra. Much as I could never choose a single favorite food, I would have a hard time growing only one type of plant. If for some reason I did have to choose, the genus Salvia offers a range of types including those that are edible, fragrant, colorful and exotic. They vary in size from small annuals to tall perennials. Most are drought tolerant, easy to cultivate and make good companions with perennials, annuals and shrubs.

The classic annual blue salvia, Salvia farinacea 'Blue Victoria' grows 18" tall and produces spikes of purple/blue flowers all summer long. Pair it with yellow-leaved sun coleus and red pentas and your garden will become a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies. 'Blue Victoria' also makes a good cut flower or container plant. One of my favorites, Salvia guaranitica, is sometimes called blue anise sage. Depending on the selection the flowers range from sky blue to deep blue or purple blue, and bloom from June until frost. In my garden I have it paired with a purple leaved Eastern ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo,' and the elegant and tall daylily (6 to 8') Hemerocallis 'Autumn Minaret' which has slender orange-yellow petals with rust markings on the throat. The Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha is great for its late season color with velvety purple and white flowers but it can develop into a large rangy plant reaching 4' or taller.

The selection 'Santa Barbara' (available at Ashe-Simpson) offers gardeners the same long season of color but with a compact habit, 2 ½' tall and 4' wide. In our southern gardens this plant may overwinter as a tender perennial but is hardy only to zone 8. Combine it with ornamental grasses, butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa with brilliant orange flowers or the annual Salvia regla 'Jame.' If you want to mix in an edible, pineapple sage, Salvia elegans has bright red flowers and leaves that when crushed give off a strong pineapple scent. (They can be used dry or fresh for seasoning.) The result of a cross between two salvias Salvia 'Red Velvet' has bright red flowers and glossy green foliage while 'Hot Lips' has red and white flowers. A selection of autumn sage Salvia greggii 'Wild Watermelon' has hot pink flowers from spring until frost.

Erica’s pick

Wild Watermelon sage

Botanical name: Salvia greggii 'Wild Watermelon'

About the plant: A hardy perennial, Autumn sage is found growing from Texas south to Mexico. This heat lover grows 3 to 4' tall and offers shocking hot pink flowers from June to November.

Use in the garden: Plant it in masses or as an accent in the herb garden or perennial border. Colorful companions include Geranium 'Rozanne' with purple flowers, Coreopsis with yellow blooms or the soft white flowers of Calamintha nepatoides 'White Cloud.'

Planting and Care: Plant this salvia in a well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. Cut back plants to control the height and encourage a second flush of flowers.


McMahan’s Nursery

5727 Cleveland Hwy., Clermont, GA 30527


Ashe-Simpson Nursery- for Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara'

4961 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.

Atlanta, GA 30341


Erica Glasener is a horticulturist and host of "A Gardener's Diary" which airs at 6:30 a.m. Fridays on HGTV. For questions visit Erica Glasener's Web site.