My summer garden starts now with the addition of lovely new sages. The genus Salvia includes the classic aromatic herb sage and rosemary, along with a host of tender horticultural bedding varieties that enliven our flower borders from June to October. A few may winter over in mild years, but after months of freezing temperatures, we get to start this season with a clean slate.
Some older types can still be grown from seed, but most newer selections are produced from cuttings. Choose several cultivars if you want to lay out a continuous banquet for hummingbirds, honeybees, native bees, bumblebees, butterflies and moths.
I asked Julie Hess which kinds of sage she liked best for beds, in large pots and in trials at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Her go-to list follows:
Mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) may overwinter in mild years. Julie has tried and liked some of the new varieties in the Candle series (Candle Light and Midnight Candle), the Sallyfun series (Sallyfun Blue Emotion) and the Evolution series (Evolution Violet and Velocity Blue).
Blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica) grows in full sun into a big, bold, strikingly beautiful plant that can reach heights of 3 to 4 feet with an equal spread in a single growing season. The classic variety, Black and Blue, is reliably hardy in the metro area. Julie says she has trialed Purple and Bloom for the last two years and finds it a bit tidier in habit but extremely effective as a pollinator plant.
Hybrid salvias in the Skyscraper Series – new in 2019 – contain attributes of several parents, including the heavy blooming of the annual S. splendens, the extra toughness of the hardy salvias and the showiness of blue anise sage. Skyscraper Orange, a vivid red-orange, is a great pollinator plant that continues to push out blooms after being nipped by frost and surrounded by bees every day until late into autumn.
Salvia Roman Red, another hybrid, offers blooms in the most pleasing shade of red. Although a little slow out of the gate, it more than makes up for that slowness with its late-season display. It was a showstopper in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s front meridian Pfautch front median last year, prompting many inquiries about how to grow it.
Ranging across hues like midnight blue, violet, magenta, scarlet, orange red, coral, rose, pink, lavender, mauve, white and bicolor and in size from low edging annuals to bodaciously large shrubs, there is a sage variety to suit both your color scheme and scale. Save some space in your pots and borders for the late-summer stunners in this beautiful group of plants.