Flowering Salvias are my new passion and are my feature plant for April, even though May has just begun!!! While I have always known about the culinary herb sage, Salvia officinalis, with its fragrant grey-green leaves and spikes of pretty mauve flowers (photo below), I knew very little about its flowering cousins. In fact, I don’t think that they were even on my radar until we lived down south. My first introduction to them was the Salvia Collection in the Geelong Botanic Gardens in 2012 (photo below), so when we were developing our new garden in Candelo, salvias were definitely on the list of desired plants! While I have bought the odd specimen, most of my salvias have been struck from cuttings from my sister’s gardens and while some of the seedlings from plants in her South East Queensland garden have since died, all the ones from her Tenterfield garden are flourishing, due to their ability to either withstand or recuperate from frost! The photo below shows my salvia collection in my Moon Bed.Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family (Laminaceae) and includes over 900 species from herbaceous shrubs to perennials, biennials and annuals, and there is a salvia for every climate, environment, season and gardening style! The photo below features salvias with their cousins Mint and Lavender.Salvias come in a huge variety of form and flower colour, including blue, mauve, cerise, pink, red, white, yellow and orange. Most types bloom from Spring through Summer to Autumn, though there are some Winter-flowering salvias from the cool, mountainous areas of Central and South America.
The genus is distributed throughout Eurasia and the Americas with three distinct hot spots of diversity with 500 species in Central and South America; 250 species in Central Asia and the Mediterranean and 90 species in Eastern Asia. Many species and hybrids easily interbreed, so new cultivated varieties are constantly appearing, resulting in its huge diversity and climatic tolerance. Below is a photo of all the different types of salvias in our garden.Types:
I have to admit I get very confused when it comes to identifying sages, but here are the names of some of the salvias we grow!
Salvia microphylla, Small-Leafed Sage or Baby Sage or Mountain Sage
One of my favourites for its generosity, being constantly in bloom, their light airy flowers complementing the roses, both in the garden and in the vase! It has tiny dark green leaves, as indicated by its species name ‘microphylla’ meaning ‘small leaves’, which have a fresh fruity fragrance like those of black currants, giving it its final name, Black Currant Sage.However, it is a very complex species which easily hybridizes, resulting in a huge number hybrids and cultivars, making it very difficult to identify accurately. It has a wide colour range from magentas to rose pink and reds. Unfortunately, because all my forms were produced from cuttings from my sister’s garden, I am a bit hazy about their names!
One variety I do know for sure is the unmistakeable bicolour red and white form called ‘Hot Lips’, though it will also throw pure white and pure red blooms. Apparently, its flower colour varies with the weather and water and nutrient availability. Cooler weather and more nutrients and water result in more red flowers, while heat and nutrient stress in warmer Summer weather results in the blooms turning white.However, I have a major problem identifying my magenta and deeper red salvias and I’m not the only one! Apparently, Salvia microphylla is often confused with Autumn Sage, S. greggii, with which it frequently hybridizes. Maybe, one of my readers can help me? Here are some photos!
The magenta variety with small fragrant leaves and dark stems:The red variety with larger more deeply veined rounded leaves and dark stems:The photo below shows the differences between both varieties: magenta on top, red on the bottom.However, I do know my Pineapple Sage, S. elegans, especially because it was labelled when I bought it from a nursery!!! I love the pineapple scent of its long, light green pointed leaves and have planted one at the top of my new herb garden next to the path, so that every time the gas bottles are changed, there will be a whiff of its beautiful fragrance! It bears spires of bright red flowers which are highly attractive to birds and butterflies and which bloom for a long time! Growing to 1.5 to 1.8 metres high, it is frost tolerant, though it is more compact in colder climates.I am a bit more definite about my blue salvias!
‘Indigo Spires’, another labelled nursery purchase, is a hybrid cross between S. longispicata and S. farinacea. It is a large shrub, at 1.5 metres tall and 1 metre wide, and has 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 inches) long spikes of purple-blue velvety flowers, from early Summer through to late Autumn. While easy to grow, it is not frost tolerant, but it does regrow after frost.Salvia uliginosa, Bog Salvia, is another tall prolific flowerer, bearing clear sky blue flowers on long stalks all Summer and Autumn. It is one of the few salvias, which likes wet feet, though it will still grow in dry conditions, though probably not as tall and unruly!I think my third blue salvia is Salvia x chamelaeagnea “African Sky”, a cross between two South African species, Salvia scabra and Salvia chamelaeagnea. It has leathery sticky stems and leaves and beautiful soft azure blue flowers on long floppy spikes from late Spring to Autumn.Three more blue salvia species I would love to grow and photographed below in order are:
Salvia nemorosa ssp tesquicola with spikes of rich violet flowers set in large lilac bracts from late Spring until Autumn; Gentian Sage, Salvia patens, with its royal blue flowers; and the attractive Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ with its lime green calyces and electric blue flowers and lime green calyces.And then, there is the monstrous Rose Leaf Sage, Salvia involucrata Bethelii! This was one of the cuttings I took from my sister’s subtropical garden in South-East Queensland and because I lost its identifying tag, I mistakenly planted it in the Moon Bed, where it then proceeded to grow like Jack-and-the-Bean Stalk, engulfing my poor roses and totally dominating the garden bed! It would have been at least 2.5 metres tall, though they can grow up to 4 metres tall and 1 metre wide!It has heart-shaped, long-stalked leaves to 10cm in length and 5cm long, tubular, two-lipped, deep cerise pink flowers, with conspicuous rose-pink bracts, that give it its common name, Roseleaf Sage, and which fall off as the flowers grow bigger. The Eastern Spinebills LOVED it! This salvia does get frosted, so we propagated some more cuttings last year and this time, we planted them against the fence behind the Moon Bed, where they were free to romp to their hearts’ delight!For anyone interested in knowing more about the different types of salvias, it is well worth visiting the Nobelius Heritage Park in Emerald, Victoria, where the Salvia Study Group of Victoria has a wonderful display garden. See: http://salvias.org.au/about-us/. They have a wonderful website, with descriptions of all the different salvia varieties and their suitability for different climates (http://salvias.org.au/lists-of-salvias/) , as well as an excellent Links page (http://salvias.org.au/links/) with links to other sites like: http://www.robinssalvias.com/ (UK); and http://salvias.com.ar/ (Argentina). Another good website is: http://www.salviaspecialist.com/catalog/.
Cultivation and Uses:
Most salvias love well-drained soil and full sun or semi-shade, with some tolerating cold temperatures and frost. Many are drought-tolerant. They are long-flowering, easy to propagate and easy to grow, providing copious nectar for bees and birds. In fact, the labiate design of the salvia flower includes a bottom lip which makes a perfect landing pad for bees. For more about their flower anatomy, see: http://www.worldofsalvias.com/flower1.htm.
Our salvias are full of the constant buzz of bees from dawn to dusk every day! I particularly love watching the Blue-Banded Bees, Amegilla cingulata, which positively adore the Bog Salvia, though they will never sit still long enough for a decent photograph! Butterflies and beetles also love the salvias!So, salvias are fabulous for encouraging pollinators in the garden! I also love using them in floral arrangements as fillers and dots of delicate colour, though the flowers of the Bog Salvia often start falling the first day and the flowering stems of the Indigo Spires salvia wilt easily the minute they are cut from the plant! Nevertheless, both provide beautiful colour and contrast in both pastel and bright floral arrangements.Culinary Sage, Salvia officinalis, has a long history in the kitchen, being the main ingredient in stuffings for goose and pork dishes, as well as flavouring soups and pâtés. The leaves can be made into a tea for colds and sore throats and gum disease. In fact, ancient herbalists used salvia to cure a multitude of ailments from snake bite to epilepsy, the genus name, ‘Salvia’ deriving from the Latin ‘salvare’, a reference to the plant’s ability to heal. It is also said to enhance memory and lift the mood. See: https://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/sage-medicinal-salvia.php.
Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea, also has a strong tradition of medicinal use, the essential oil being used to treat menstrual pain and hormonal imbalances, depression, anxiety and insomnia, stomach and digestive problems, and kidney complaints. See: https://draxe.com/clary-sage.
Salvia chamelaeagnea is used to treat colds and coughs, colic and heartburn in the Cape region of South Africa, while the roots of Red Sage, Salvia miltiorrhiza, are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine to treat cardiovascular disease and chronic renal failure. In Mexico, Salvia microphylla is used as a medicinal and tea plant, while Diviner’s Sage, S. divinorum, is a psychedelic drug , which was used by Mazatec shamans to produce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions. White Sage, Salvia apiana, was also used in religious ceremonies and purification rituals by Native Americans tribes on the Pacific coast of the United States. The seed is the main ingredient in pinole, a staple food and was also ground into a sticky paste for removing foreign objects from the eye, much in the same way as the Europeans did with Clary Sage. Other medicinal uses include the treatment of colds and fevers, stomach upsets, heavy or painful menstruation and to promote healing and strength after childbirth. See: http://www.herbcottage.com.au/white-sage.html.
All in all, Salvias are a very useful and beautiful addition to the garden! Next week, I will tell you a little more about our recent trip to Victoria, in which we explored a number of gardens, including the Salvia Display Gardens, mentioned previously in this post!