Few plant genera offer the amazing diversity and ornamental potential found in the genus Salvia. These members of the Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family are first cousins to Nepeta (Catmint), Mentha (true mint), and Monarda (bee balm), to mention but a few. Salvias plants range from woody subshrubs to annuals, and are native to virtually every continent. Salvias are known for their fragrant foliage and subsequent deer-resistance. Most Salvias are full sun plants although a small handful are shade tolerant. I am omitting the popular herb, Salvia officinalis, since it is a short-lived plant that does not like our NC climate.
The focus of this article is Salvias which make good perennial garden specimens between Hardiness Zones 3 and 8. For the sake of making sense of the genus, I'll divide the Salvia plants into three groups; those with woody stems, those which are both herbaceous (non-woody stems) and deciduous (die to the ground) in the winter, and finally those which are herbaceous and form basal rosettes.
Woody Stem Salvia
The woody Salvia group include several worthy garden subjects, Salvia greggii, Salvia microphylla, Salvia chamaedryoides, and Salvia regla. Salvias in this group could also be classified as shrubs or subshrubs. Most of these Salvias are evergreen to a certain temperature, below which they can behave as herbaceous perennials.
Salvia chamaedryoides is a Mexican native which goes by the common name of Blue Oak sage. Salvia chamaedryoides forms a 1' tall x 2' wide clump of woody stems adorned with small ever-grey leaves. From midsummer through fall, the plants are adorned with dark pure blue salvia flowers. Good drainage and bright sun are preferred ... Salvia chamaedryoides has been quite easy in our experience. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia greggii (often spelled incorrectly as Salvia greggi) is the most commonly grown of the woody salvias. This amazing plant, native to both Mexico and the US, thrives under a wide range of conditions, growing equally as well in Florida as England ... as long as the drainage is good. The flower color of the species ranges from white to red to purple. In warm climates, Salvia greggii flowers best in spring, slows in summer, then puts on another superb show in fall. There are many named selections of Salvia greggii that vary in size, hardiness, and flower color. While many selections of Salvia greggii are only hardy in Zone 7, others can tolerate Zone 5b (-15 degrees F) temperatures. Salvia greggii prefers sunny, well drained sites and are intolerant of poorly drained soils. While Salvia greggii is tolerant of severe pruning, this is best done only in spring or summer. Salvia greggii has two types of foliage ... smaller evergreen leaves and slightly larger summer leaves ... don't be alarmed when the summer leaves drop in fall as the plant prepares for colder temperatures.
Salvia greggii 'Big Pink' (Big Pink Sage) Salvia greggii 'Big Pink' is a very nice, large flowered pink form of S. greggii collected by Texan Pat McNeal near Saltillo, Mexico. The rigidly upright form and very shiny foliage make this a great plant, even for the small garden. From May through July, and again from September through November, the 3' wide clump is topped with a stunning array of large, violet-pink flowers (RHS 57C). The flowers are further accented by the unique, dark maroon calyces that surround them. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia greggii 'Dark Dancer' (Dark Dancer Sage) Salvia greggii 'Dark Dancer' is a Rich Dufresne introduction of a plant that was discovered by Nevin Smith of Suncrest Nursery in California. Salvia greggii 'Dark Dancer'makes a 4' tall x 4' wide clump, topped with raspberry flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia greggii 'Diane' (Diane Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Diane' is an introduction from Barton Springs Nursery in Texas from cuttings shared by a customer named Diane. Salvia greggii 'Diane' makes an 18" tall x 4' wide clump, topped with small purple flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-9)
Salvia greggii 'Flame' (Flame Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Flame' makes a 30" tall x 3' wide clump, topped with brilliant red flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' (Furman's Red Sage) This easy to grow and very hardy selection of S. greggii has a very upright growth habit, making it a splendid choice for a narrow spot in the border. When mature, expect a 3' tall x 2' wide clump. From late spring, throughout the summer and early fall, the clumps are topped with bright red flowers. (Hardiness Zone 6-10)
Salvia greggii 'Lipstick' (Lipstick Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Lipstick' makes a 3' tall x 3' wide clump, topped with lipstick red flowers, white throat, and brown calyx. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia greggii 'Pink Preference' (Pink Preference Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Pink Preference' named by the late Logan Calhoun, makes a 2' tall x 3' wide clump, topped with dark red-pink flowers, highlighted by a nearly black floral calyx (like Black and Blue Salvia). It is darker flowered and more compact that Salvia greggii 'Big Pink' (Hardiness Zone 6-10)
Salvia greggii 'Teresa' (Teresa's Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Teresa' was selected by Texan David Steinbrunner and named after his wife, Teresa. The branch sport from a red Salvia greggii has white flowers highlighted by a light purple base just above the calyx as well as purple streaks on the lower lip. For us, it makes a 2' tall x 2' wide clump. (Hardiness is Zone 7-9)
Salvia greggii 'Texas Wedding' (White Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Texas Wedding', often sold as Salvia greggii 'Alba' makes a 2' tall x 2' wide clump, topped with pure white flowers. The plant traces back to the late Carol Abbott of Kerrville, Texas (Hardiness Zone 5b-10)
Salvia greggii 'Variegata' (Desert Blaze Texas Sage) Salvia greggii 'Variegata' is a John Augustine introduction, atented under the invalid name of Salvia greggii 'Variegata' and illegally trademarked as Desert Blaze, a name which has no valid standing. The plant is quite nice with white edged leaves and bright red flowers on a 2' tall x 3' wide clump. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips' (Hot Lips Little-leaf Sage) is another Mexican native, closely related to Salvia greggii. As a general rule, Salvia microphylla makes a larger clump, also with larger foliage than Salvia greggii. Additionally, Salvia microphylla is much more tolerant of hot, humid weather than Salvia greggii.
Salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink' (La Trinidad Pink Sage) Salvia 'La Trinidad Pink' is a Yucca Do introduction from Mexico that forms a 2' tall x 4' wide clump topped with red violet flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-9a)
Salvia microphylla 'San Carlos Festival' (San Carlos Festival Sage) This 1997 Yucca Do introduction was discovered 5 years earlier in Tamaulipas, Mexico, in the village of San Carlos at 3,800'. The 2' tall x 3' wide clump is adorned with red violet flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-9a)
Salvia microphylla 'Wild Watermelon' (Wild Watermelon Sage) This 1996 Rich Dufresne introduction is a selection of S. microphylla from a seedling population from a Don Mahoney collection at Cerro Potosi, Mexico at 7000-8500' elevation. The plant was selected and named by Rich during a visit to the Strybing Arboretum. Salvia 'Wild Watermelon' is adorned with large pink flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7-9a)
There are also a number of wonderful hybrids between these woody species. Hybrids of Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla are known as Salvia x jamensis (pronounced "haamensis"). There is a wide range of hardiness in this group, depending on which clone of each parent is used. Some Salvia x jamensis selections are only hardy in Zone 8b, while others are fine to Zone 7.
Salvia 'California Sunset' (California Sunset Sage) Salvia 'California Sunset' forms a 3' tall x 4' wide clump, topped with peachy orange flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Salvia x jamensis 'Cienego D'oro' (Cienego D'Oro Sage) Salvia 'Cienego D'Oro' is a Yucca Do selection, discovered in Mexico. The 30" tall x 3' wide clumps are topped with light yellow flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia 'Maraschino' (Maraschino Cherry Sage) Salvia 'Maraschino', a Rich Dufresne hybrid of Salvia microphylla and Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' forms a 30" tall x 3' tall clump, topped with bright velvetred flowers. (Hardiness Zone 6-10)
Salvia x jamensis 'Moonlight' (Moonlight Sage) Salvia 'Moonlight' is a selection from California's Nevin Smith. Salvia 'Moonlight' makes a 2' tall x 3' wide clump, topped with light yellow flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia x jamensis 'Pat Vlasto' (Pat Vlasto Sage) Salvia 'Pat Vlasto' comes from a James Compton expedition to Mexico with the folks from Yucca Do. Salvia 'Pat Vlasto' makes a 3' tall x 3' wide clump of light orangy-peach flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia x jamensis 'San Isidro Moon' (San Isidro Moon Sage) Salvia 'San Isidro Moon' is a Yucca Do introduction, discovered in Mexico, which makes a 30" tall x 3' wide clump, topped with light peach flowers with a darker rim. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia x jamensis 'Sierra de San Antonio' (Sierra San Antonio Sage) Salvia 'Sierra de San Antonio' is a Yucca Do selection from Mexico. Salvia 'Sierra de San Antonio' makes a 30" tall x 3' wide clump, topped in light pastel yellow and orange flowers with dark calyxes. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia x jamensis Stampede Series (Stampede Sage) This series of Salvia x jamensis hybrids were bred by the breeding company Floranova. Each makes a compact 18" tall x 2' wide floriferous clump. Varieties include Salvia 'Stampede Cherry' (cherry flowers), Salvia 'Stampede Punch' (pink fruit punch flowers), Salvia 'Stampede Citron' (light yellow flowers), and Salvia 'Stampede Lavender' (lavender flowers). (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
There is an array of other woody-stemmed interspecific hybrids including other species. Some of the more popular ones are listed below.
Salvia 'Christine Yeo' (Christine Yeo Sage) Salvia 'Christine Yeo' is the first Salvia hybrid between S. microphylla and S. chamaedryoides, originating at Christine Yeo's Pleasant View Nursery in England. For us, Salvia 'Christine Yeo' makes a durable 15" tall x 3' wide clump, topped with purple violet flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Salvia regla (Orange Mountain Sage) A woody Salvia species that is a must for fall garden color is Salvia regla, (Orange Mountain Sage). In the trade, Salvia regla is represented by Salvia regla 'Jame', a Dr. Rich Dufresne collection from Coahuila, Jame, Mexico that makes a 4' tall x 3' wide clump, adorned with glossy, round green leaves and topped, starting in September, with 3" long scarlet orange, tubular flowers ... a hummingbird's favorite. South of Zone 7, Salvia regla could reach 10' tall. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Deciduous Herbaceous Salvia
The next group of Salvias are those which die to the ground during winter. These include Salvia azurea (syn. Salvia pitcheri), Salvia darcyi, Salvia disjuncta, Salvia elegans, Salvia engelmannii, Salvia farinacea, Salvia glabrescens, Salvia glutinosa, Salvia guaranitica, Salvia koyamae, Salvia leucantha, Salvia longispicata, Salvia madrensis, Salvia mexicana, Salvia nipponica, Salvia puberula, Salvia reptans, and Salvia uliginosa. Some members of this group are particularly sensitive to cold, wet winters at the northern end of their hardiness range. We have found that not cutting them back until spring greatly helps winter survival. When they are cut in fall, the stems have a tendency to fill with water and freeze during the winter.
Salvia azurea ssp. pitcheri (Tall Blue Sage) The North American native, Salvia azurea ssp pitcheri is the most cold hardy of this group. Many forms are quite tall and gangly, making them poor garden subjects.
The best is unquestionably Salvia azurea 'Nekan'. The 3' tall, upright stems are clothed with linear grey green foliage. From July through September, the stems are topped with lovely, pure blue salvia flowers. S. azurea is at home in dreadfully hot, dry sites, as well as nestled in the midst of the perennial border. Salvia azurea 'Nekan' (Nebraska Kansas) is a seed strain named for a selected population found north of Lincoln, Nebraska. For us, this has proven to be a great improvement on the species with its more sturdy upright constitution and larger flowers. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia darcyi (Darcy's sage) is a large-growing Mexican species that was originally offered as Salvia oresbia. It was renamed and officially published by England's James Compton in a 1994 issue of "Kew." It was originally discovered in Galeana, Mexico, by Yucca Do Nursery collectors who, unfortunately, received no credit in "Kew." When given plenty of room and bright light, Salvia darcyi makes a huge, 4' tall x 7' wide clump of heart shaped, highly fragrant, light green leaves. Throughout the summer, the clump is topped by spikes of bright orange red flowers (RHS 43A), but in the fall the floral show is nothing short of spectacular. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia disjuncta (Misplaced Sage) is a Mexican native species, first distributed in 1993 by California's Strybing Arboretum, which collected it from the southern Mexican mountains in the late 1980s. The mahogany brown stems stretch to 6' tall and are covered in tiny white hairs ... as are probably the folks who originally collected the salvia. The stalks are adorned with fragrant, fuzzy heart shaped leaves and topped, starting in late October, with intense carmine red tubular flowers. In mild climates, flowering continues through the winter or until a hard freeze. Our plants have survived 6 degrees F unmulched. (Hardiness Zone: 7b 10)
Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage) This popular Mexican Salvia is prized for its pineapple-scented foliage. The 4' tall clumps are topped with bright red flowers, starting in midsummer and continuing until frost. Salvia elegans is intolerant of wet soils in cold winters. Salvia elegans is represented in the trade by the following cultivars. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia elegans 'Frieda Dixon' (Frieda Dixon Pineapple Sage) Salvia 'Frieda Dixon' is a Jon Dixon selection that forms a 4' tall x 3' wide clump, topped with salmon pink flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' PP 17,977 (Golden Delicious Pineapple Sage) Salvia 'Golden Delicious' is a bright gold-foliage selection from Illinois's Brent Horvath. The flowers which top the 4' tall x 3' wide clumps are typical bright red. 'Scarlet Pineapple' (Scarlet Pineapple Sage) Salvia 'Scarlet Pineapple' has more, and larger, flowers than the wild species.
Salvia engelmannii (Engelmann's Sage) is another of those wonderful Salvias that is strangely missing from the mainstream nursery trade. S. engelmannii hails from only 17 counties in Texas ... the equivalent of three normal US states, and forms an attractive deciduous clump of light green leaves 1' tall x 1' wide. The clump is topped in June with short spikes of light lavender blue salvia flowers. While Salvia engelmannii prefers slightly alkaline soils, we have found this to be a superb rock garden plant in soils with a pH above 6.0. Although we have found Salvia engelmannii easy to grow, good drainage is very important. (Hardiness Zone 7-8, at least)
Salvia farinacea (Mealy Cup Sage) is one of those rare North American native plants (Oklahoma south into Mexico) that has been readily embraced by the bedding plant industry, where it has been hybridized and sold as an annual. In fact, Salvia farinacea is one of the finest, longest-flowering sages that can be grown. Salvia farinacea prefers full sun and good drainage. It is represented in the trade by the following selections. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Salvia farinacea 'Augusta Duelberg' (Augusta Duelberg Mealy Cup Sage) This Greg Grant selection was discovered in an old graveyard in Texas. This splendid selection makes a compact 30" tall x 4' wide specimen, topped from May until frost with hundreds of spikes of silvery white flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10) Salvia farinacea 'Blue Bedder' (Blue Bedder Mealy Cup Sage) Salvia 'Blue Bedder' is a seed strain, often sold as a bedding plant, forming a 2' tall x 1' wide clump, topped all summer with stalks of blue salvia flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia farinacea 'Henry Duelberg' (Henry Duelberg Mealy Cup Sage) This Greg Grant selection was discovered in an old graveyard in Texas. This splendid selection makes a compact 30" tall x 4' wide specimen, topped from May until frost with hundreds of spikes of blue flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia farinacea 'Strata' (Strata Mealy Cup Sage) This seed strain cultivar is also often sold as a bedding plant. It reaches 18" tall x 1' wide and is topped all summer with spikes of blue and white bicolor flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia farinacea 'Victoria' (Victoria Mealy Cup Sage) This cultivar is also often sold as a bedding plant. The 16" tall x 1' wide clumps are topped all summer with spikes of blue-violet flowers. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia glabrescens (Japanese Woodland Sage) Salvia glabrescens is an 18" tall Japanese woodland sage, topped in late summer and fall with spikes of pink flowers. In our trials, it seems to prefer a cooler climate to the heat of Eastern NC. Barry Yinger seems to be the first to bring this into the country from Japan (Hardiness Zone 6-8)
Salvia guaranitica (Anise Sage) hails from Argentina, Brazil and surrounding countries. The cultivars vary in size, spreading ability, and hue of blue salvia flowers Salvia guaranitica prefers full sun and rich moist soils, but an amazing ability to tolerate adverse conditions such as light shade and very dry soils ... although it will not perform as well. Salvia guaranitica grows by short-spreading underground rhizomes. Unlike bamboo, a clump of Salvia guaranitica will not take over your garden, but it will enlarge quickly in good soil. Salvia guaranitica is represented in the trade by the following cultivars.
Salvia guaranitica 'Argentina Skies' (Argentina Skies Anise Sage) This Charles Cresson selection of S. guaranitica is dramatically different from the normal species. The 3' tall plant is topped, from midsummer until fall, with hundreds of tubular sky blue flowers (RHS 97A) ... not the dark blue salvia flower, which is more typical. This vigorous selection is also somewhat stoloniferous although it doesn't run far. (Hardiness Zone 6-10)
Salvia guaranitica 'Brazil' (Brazil Anise Sage) Salvia 'Brazil' forms 30" tall clumps, adorned with green leaves and topped with cobalt blue flowers held in green calyxes from early summer until fall. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia guaranitica 'Costa Rican Blue' (Costa Rican Blue Anise Sage) Salvia 'Costa Rican Blue' is a large grower and the least winter hardy of the Salvia guaranitica clones. It now appears that this may actually be a hybrid of Salvia guaranitica and Salvia mexicana, which certainly makes sense. The 6' tall giant is topped with large dark blue flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia guaranitica 'Kobalt' (Kobalt Blue Anise Sage) We have grown Salvia 'Kobalt' for many years and find it to be very similar to Salvia guaranitica 'Brazil'. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia guaranitica 'Omaha' (Omaha Anise Sage) This unique Salvia is a variegated leaf version of the Salvia guaranitica 'Costa Rican Blue'. Each fuzzy, dark green, heart-shaped leaf is surrounded by a wide, chartreuse green border. In areas with cool night temperatures, the contrast in the leaves is absolutely stunning. During periods of high night temperatures, the leaf contrast disappears until evenings cool. Regardless of the leaves, this 6' giant is topped in late summer and early fall with 6 10" long stalks of large stunning dark blue salvia flowers! (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia guaranitica 'Van Remsen' (Van Remsen Anise Sage) This amazing hummingbird favorite makes a stunning 7' tall clump that doesn't run. The green stems are clothed in large 6'' long x 5" wide dark green leaves, then topped, starting in late May, with spikes of cobalt blue salvia flowers ... a stunning garden specimen and favorite of high flying hummingbirds. Salvia guaranitica 'Van Remsen', a probable hybrid of Salvia guaranitica 'Brazil' x Salvia guaranitica 'Costa Rica', was discovered in James Van Remsen's Louisiana garden and later named and distributed by Salvia guru, Rich Dufresne. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia koyamae (Japanese Yellow Sage) The Japanese Salvia koyamae has large, hairy, green foliage that makes a spectacular bold effect in the garden. While Salvia koyamae will grow in the part-day sun, it prefers a shady woodland setting. The 18" tall x 3' wide clumps are adorned with soft yellow flowers from late summer through fall ... great in a mass planting! (Hardiness Zone 4b-10)
Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) The Mexican bush sage is so wonderful that northern gardeners grow it as a prized annual. Fortunately for us, it is hardy in the warmer parts of Zone 7 ... reliable for us to 0 degrees F. The key to winter survival in the northern end of its range is early establishment and dry soil in the winter. We like to plant near a large shrub that sucks the moisture from the soil. The other key is that the stems not be cut back until the plant resumes basal growth in spring. The hairy leaves clothe the 40" tall upright stems that are topped with spectacular purple and white velvety flowers from very late summer until frost. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
In the trade, Salvia leucantha is represented by the following cultivars:
Salvia leucantha 'Midnight' (Midnight Mexican Bush Sage) (syn: Salvia leucantha All Purple) Salvia leucantha 'Midnight' is from the California garden of the late Victor Reiter, and is the same wonderful late summer and fall blooming Salvia as S. leucantha, but instead of the white florets inside the purple calyces, the florets are also dark velvety purple. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' PP 12,949 (Santa Barbara Dwarf Mexican Sage) Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' PP 12,949 is an amazing introduction from California, reaching only 2' tall, but with a spread of 3 4' in width. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia longispicata (Long-spike Mexican Sage) The Mexican Salvia longispicata is a bit of a mystery, but we feel that Salvia Blue Chiquita represents a selection of that species. This late season flowering Mexican native sage was discovered by Yucca Do on an expedition in 1997. The heavily quilted, dark green leaves, each backed with silvery white, form a 2' tall x 3' wide, compact mound of foliage. From late September until frost, the clumps are topped with rigid 20" spires of blue flowers (RHS 89C). This is very late to emerge in spring. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia madrensis (Forsythia sage) Salvia madrensis is a high elevation Mexican Salvia that makes a large clump, whose exaggerated square green stems reach 7' tall by the time it bursts into flower in late September. We have found some forms to be reliably hardy to 0 degrees F, while others die out at 15 degrees F. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia madrensis is represented in commerce by the following cultivars:
Salvia madrensis 'Dunham' (Dunham Forsythia Sage) Salvia madrensis 'Dunham' is a very winter hardy, early flowering form that we obtained and named from Cary, NC gardener, the late Rachel Dunham. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia madrensis 'Red Neck Girl' (Red Neck Girl Forsythia Sage) Salvia madrensis 'Red Neck Girl', a Plant Delights Nursery introduction, is a very winter hardy selection with bright reddish purple stems, and typically yellow flowers in fall that bloom slightly earlier than other forms we have trialed. This is a seedling from a seed batch from Southwest Native Seed. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)
Salvia mexicana (Giant Mexican Blue Sage) Salvia mexicana is an imposing clump that can easily reach 7' tall. It flowers from midsummer until frost with tall spikes of blue flowers. One of our favorites is Salvia mexicana 'Limelight' with contrasting green calyces, which accent the cobalt blue salvia flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Salvia nipponica (Japanese Woodland Sage) Salvia nipponica is very similar to Salvia koyamae in the trade may actually be Salvia nipponica), producing an 18" tall x 3' wide patch of stems with hastate light green leaves and topped, starting in late summer, with short spikes of light butter yellow flowers. Salvia nipponica is another of the sages which prefers light shade to part sun. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least) Salvia glutinosa is a similar related species. Salvia nipponica is represented in the trade by the following cultivar.
Salvia nipponica 'Fuji Snow'(Fuji Snow Japanese Sage) Salvia nipponica 'Fuji Snow' is a Barry Yinger introduction from Japan which has leaves surrounded by a white margin that disappears during the summer. During late summer, the clumps are smothered with 18" stalks of light yellow flowers. (Hardiness Zone 6-9, at least)
Salvia puberula 'El Butano' (El Butano Mexican Sage) This selection of Salvia puberula (with particularly large and colorful Salvia regla 'Jame' flowers) was collected by John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld of Yucca Do in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, at 7,000' elevation. The velvety green leaves adorn the 4' tall upright stalks that are topped, starting in late October, with a flower head of deep magenta pink, resembling a pink cotton ball that was plugged into an electrical outlet ... a great form of this wonderful salvia. We have had this for over a decade and have never had any winter losses in Zone 7b. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Salvia reptans West Texas Form (Cobalt Sage) (aka: S. leptophylla) This easy to grow Texas native is a close relative of S. pitcheri, but, in my opinion, is a much nicer plant. Normally a lax plant, this upright form was collected by Pat McNeal of Texas in the Davis Mountains in Davis Co., Texas, at 4,000'. The needle thin, green leaves adorn the 3' tall stems, and in September they burst forth at the tips with vivid, dark cobalt blue flowers. Native to the Trans Pecos region, it is found in dry, gravelly, mountainous washes. Despite this affinity for well drained soils, it has performed marvelously in the muggy Southeast. (Hardiness Zone 5-9)
Salvia uliginosa (Bog Sage) Salvia uliginosa is a 55" tall, upright stoloniferous salvia, native to South America, including Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Salvia uliginosa displays a beautiful cloud of clear, light blue flowers from June (NC) through fall ... an open and airy habit ... one of our favorites! Bog sage is at home in a moist full sun setting; ours doesn't spread as fast or get as tall in drier sites. (Hardiness Zone 6-10)
The following are hybrids with the aforementioned species:
Salvia 'Anthony Parker' (Anthony Parker Sage) This hybrid from South Carolina garden designer Frances Parker is a cross between Salvia leucantha 'Midnight' x S. elegans (Pineapple sage). Frances rescued the young seedling from her lawn just ahead of the mower and named it for her young grandson, Anthony, who was one year old at the time (1994). Salvia 'Anthony Parker' makes a compact, 3' tall x 8' wide clump that is covered, from late September until frost, with 1' long, terminal, dark purple flower spikes. The purple spikes are adorned with dark purple calyxes as well as dark blue purple (RHS 89A) flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia 'Balsalmisp'PP 18,054 (Mystic Spires Sage) (aka: S. 'Mystic Spires') Salvia 'Balsalmisp' is a great new creation from the folks at Ball Seed. Unfortunately, it is also another disgraceful example of incorrect/double naming from a company that should have respect for proper nomenclature. Salvia 'Balsalmisp' started its life in 2003 as a radiation induced mutation on the popular S. 'Indigo Spires'. Salvia 'Balsalmisp' has much shorter internodes, making it a more compact plant than its parent. Narrow flower spikes of violet blue top the 2' tall clump from June until fall. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia 'Indigo Spires' (Indigo Spires Sage) This hybrid of Salvia farinacea and Salvia longispicata comes from California horticulturist John MacGregor and was introduced in 1979 by the Huntington Botanical Garden. S. 'Indigo Spires' has dark blue purple flowers, borne on long, arching 3' tall stalks throughout summer until frost. The unusual, twisting flower spikes create a form of their own in the garden. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia 'Phyllis Fancy' (Phyllis Fancy Sage) is named for Phyllis Norris. This wonderful seedling, thought to be a hybrid between Salvia leucantha and possibly S. chiapensis, occurred at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. It is similar but larger and hardier than S. 'Waverly' and has been perennial to 8 degrees F in our trials. The 7' tall clumps are only 1' wide at the bottom but have a 7' wide spread at the top. Starting in early September and continuing until frost, the clumps are topped with 1' long purple spikes of light lavender flowers, each held in a bicolor calyx, purple on top and green on the bottom. (Hardiness Zone 7b-9)
Salvia 'Purple Majesty' (Purple Majesty Sage) is a hybrid of Salvia guaranitica and Salvia gesneriflora 'Tequila' from California's Huntington Botanical Garden. Salvia 'Purple Majesty' is much slower-growing than its parent, clumping instead of spreading. The 3' tall clumps are topped with short spikes of dark purple flowers. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)
Salvia 'Silke's Dream' (Silke's Dream Sage) is a cross of Salvia darcyi x Salvia microphylla, discovered by Art Petley of Austin, Texas. Looking superficially like Salvia darcyi, the 3' wide clump is topped all summer with 15" spikes of rich, dark orange red flowers (RHS 42A). In the fall, the number of flowers explodes into a solid mass of color. (Hardiness Zone 7-10)
Salvia 'Waverly' (Waverly Sage) is a Salvia leucantha hybrid, possibly of English origin, originally distributed as Salvia 'San Marcos Lavender'. The 5' tall clumps are topped with light pink-lavender flowers from late summer through fall. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10)
Rosette Form Evergreen Salvia
The third group is those which form an evergreen rosette. The primary garden species with this trait include Salvia lyrata, Salvia nemorosa, Salvia haematodes, Salvia pratensis, and their hybrids. Other similar species include Salvia verticillata and the unique Salvia penstemonoides. Many of the Salvias sold as these species are actually interspecific hybrids known as Salvia x sylvestris (formerly called Salvia x superba).
Salvia lyrata 'Purple Knockout' (Purple Knockout Lyre-leaf Sage) This East coast native is an easy-to-grow plant, but not all natives belong in the garden and Salvia lyrata is a great example. Despite the lovely purple foliage of this selection, Salvia lyrata is a weed that seeds everywhere in the garden (especially gravelly soils) and if that wasn't bad enough, it produces only tiny light lavender flowers on 2' tall stalks. Because it's easy and cheap to produce, nurseries unfortunately still sell it. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Salvia x sylvestris (Superba Sage) (aka: Salvia x superba) As mentioned earlier, Salvia x sylvestris is a mixed bag of similar hybrids. Although these are fairly easy-to-grow garden plants, they dislike waterlogged soils and hot, humid summers. In northern climates they flower all summer, but in warmer climates, they take the summer off and most are not recommended south of Zone 7a, since they are not good performers. This group of hybrids are represented in the trade by the following cultivars.
Salvia x sylvestris 'Blauhugel' (Blue Hill Sage) (aka: Salvia Blue Hill) From Germany's renowned plantsman, Ernst Pagels, comes Salvia 'Blauhugel', a selection that makes a very compact 16" tall x 30" wide mound. For us, it is covered in flowers in April and May (later in more northern climates). Cutting back the old flower stalks often results in a nice rebloom in October. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Blaukönigin' (Blue Queen Sage) (aka: Salvia Blue Queen) Salvia 'Blaukönign' is an old seed strain that produces a clump 20" tall x 2' wide ... taller in cold climates and shorter in hot climates. The blue-violet flowers top the clump in late spring. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' (Caradonna Sage) Of the Salvia x sylvestris cultivars we have seen and trialed, Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' is one of the finest and most tolerant of our hot, humid climate. From Zillmer Nursery in Germany, Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' was discovered as a seedling of Salvia 'Wesuve' and in 2000 was awarded the Outstanding New Perennial award by the International Hardy Plant Union. The 12" tall x 18" wide clump is composed of dark purple stems clothed with felty green leaves. In midsummer, the clumps are topped with dramatic, upright, 2' tall spikes of vivid blue violet (RHS 89A). (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia 'Eveline'PP 14,905 (Eveline Sage) From one of Holland's premier plantsmen, Piet Oudolf, comes this stunning new Salvia hybrid, a sister seedling to Salvia 'Pink Delight'. The deciduous clump emerges in early spring with basal, light green, hastate leaves which are topped, starting in early April (NC), with up to two dozen flowering 20" tall stems of small lavender pink (RHS 68D) flowers. This is another selection that has been outstanding in our hot, humid climate. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Haeumanarc' (Marcus Sage) (aka: Salvia 'Marcus') Salvia 'Haeumanarc' is a 2002 release ... a very compact 14" tall selection from Marcus Hauserman of Germany. The main flowering season of lilac purple spikes is April and May in NC, but the plants will rebloom if the old flowers are removed. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Mainacht' (May Night Sage) (aka: Salvia 'May Night') This 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year forms an 18" tall x 2' wide clump with spikes of dark lavender flowers. Most of the plants sold as Salvia 'Mainacht' are the wrong plant. Unscrupulous nurserymen found a plant that would propagate faster in order to keep up with the demand. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Ostfriesland' (East Friesland Sage) (aka: Salvia 'East Friesland') East Friesland Salvia is a sterile selection, forming an 18" tall x 18" wide clump that better withstands the summer heat. The clumps are topped with dark purple flowers. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Pink Delight' (Pink Delight Sage) We have been thrilled with this new 2000 Salvia introduction from world famous designer, Piet Oudolf, of the Netherlands. This hybrid of cultivar Salvia 'Amethyst' and Salvia 'Tanzerin' has both S. pratensis and S. nemorosa in its background. S. 'Pink Delight' forms 18" wide basal rosettes of large, green leaves, which give rise to 2' tall spikes of pink starting in late March (NC) and continuing through most of the summer. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia 'Rhapsody In Blue' PP 15,148 (Rhapsody in Blue Sage) Salvia 'Rhapsody In Blue', the blue flowered equivalent of Salvia 'Eveline', is another great new sage from one of Holland's premier plantsmen, Piet Oudolf. This Salvia nemorosa 'Amethyst' hybrid forms a compact deciduous clump of dark green leaves topped by up to 36 flower spikes. The 22" tall spikes are clothed with blue purple flowers (RHS 93A) from mid April into June. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Rosaköönigin' (Rose Queen Sage) (aka: Salvia 'Rose Queen') Rose Queen sage is the pink-flowered counterpart to Salvia Blue Queen. This seed strain forms a 2' tall x 2' wide clump of dark rosy pink flowers. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Royal Crimson Distinction' (Royal Crimson Distinction Sage) From Holland's Eleonore de Koning comes an exciting new selection that flowers from May to June (longer in cooler climates), Salvia 'Royal Crimson Distinction' makes a 2' tall mound of royal crimson spikes ... a very exciting new color break! (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Schneehugel' (White Hill Sage) (aka: Salvia 'Snow Hill') From Germany's renowned plantsman, Ernst Pagels, comes this sport of the popular S. 'Blauhugel' which makes a tight, 18" wide mound of fuzzy, light green, disease resistant foliage, smothered in April and May with 10" tall spikes of pure white flowers. Cutting back the old flower stalks often results in a nice rebloom. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia nemorosa 'Sensation Rose' PP 18,230 (Sensation Rose Sage) Salvia nemorosa 'Sensation Rose' is a compact Salvia hybrid, topped with branching flower spikes of bright pink. Each 1' wide clump is composed of quilted green leaves topped in late April/May (NC) with stalks of well branched, lavender pink (RHS 72B) flower heads. (Hardiness Zone 4-8)
Salvia penstemonoides (Giant Red Sage) This Federally Endangered native from the Edwards Plateau in central Texas was presumed extinct until five small populations were rediscovered. We are pleased to offer seed grown plants of this rare but easy to grow gem. In appearance, the shiny green basal leaves of Salvia penstemonoides resemble a penstemon, as do the cherry red flowers atop 3' stalks (occasionally reaching 5') that top the clump from June through September. In the wild, it occurs in sunny, well drained moist seeps. In the garden, we have found that a full sun, well drained but occasionally moist site is the perfect home to this long lived sage. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' (Purple Rain Sage) A Piet Oudolf introduction, Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' makes an 18" wide clump of large hairy basal leaves, topped with 2' tall spikes of smoky purple flowers from June through September. This has not been a good performer in our hot, humid climate. (Hardiness Zone 5-7a).
I hope you agree that Salvias are an incredibly versatile genus of plants with a very long season of interest. Whether you grow them for their ornamental garden value or relaxation value (for medicinal use only), we hope you find several of the selections we mentioned worth trying in your own garden.