Growing Salvias in the Garden (And for Floral Design)

Sages are one of our favorite plants to grow in the garden. They are vigorous, quick-growing, handle extreme heat and cold without flinching, ad have brightly colored blooms on long stems that make for great displays in the garden as well as in floral design.

I think that sage has always had a place in our garden, but it wasn’t until recently that we started appreciating it so readily. Living in New Mexico where salvias get large and shrubby certainly has something to do with it, but I think an awareness of the fondness of salvias in the UK has really helped them to grow on us.

There’s something really to be admired by a plant family that is practically bulletproof, thriving on seeming neglect and abuse from the gardener and in response giving a massive show of blooms for nearly no input. And when cultivated well, they respond even better, blooming for long periods of time with little to no maintenance required.

Salvias also have an excellent role in the vase, serving as vertical elements. The fact that they come in a wide array of colors doesn’t hurt either - but their productivity and graceful arching inflorescences are welcomed in the vase and in bouquets all season long.

CLARY SAGE

Salvia horminum

clary sage.JPG



Clary Sage is a little known salvia that is not frequently grown here in the states. It’s a shame, because clary sage is such an easy, vigorous, productive plant to grow. Started easily from seed, we cut bunches of purple, pink and white stems by the armload all the way from early spring until the last frost.

The foliage is silvery and round in appearance, almost appearing like a broadleaf sage or a lamb’s ear in texture and color, but the colored bracts of royal purple, bright pink, and pure white always grab your attention first. Hardy in the garden and long-lived in the vase, this sage forms the backbone of many of our spring bouquets.

HEIGHT: 24”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Early Spring through Late Fall
PRODUCTIVITY: High Productivity
DESIGN USE: Filler, Vertical
COLOR: Purple/Pink/White (flowers) mint green (foliage)

SALVIA WENDY’S WISH

Salvia hybrida ‘Wendy’s Wish’

Photo courtesy  White Flower Farm

Photo courtesy White Flower Farm

‘Wendy’s Wish’ is our new favorite hybrid salvia. A tender annual, we’re going to be planning on overwintering in our sheltered courtyard because its blooms are too beautiful to ever miss. A beautiful deep raspberry pink, it has the pagoda-like bloom structure that are so distinctive for the tropical salvias ( as opposed to the more columnar bloom structure of hardy salvias).

A trooper in the garden, Wendy’s Wish will start blooming for you right away, with each spire of blooms lasting a long time due to the fact that the bracts themselves are colorful and structural in addition to each individual flower also being colorful. Each spire can last weeks, giving you enjoyment from the color of blooms as well as attracting bees, hummingbirds and sphinx moths to enjoy its nectar.

Wendy’s Wish salvia also makes a great addition to the vase, its tall and graceful stems playing well with other rich jewel tones. Wait until the plant is starting to get woody at its base, then cut in the early morning or late evening, stripping the stems of foliage before adding to arrangements.

HEIGHT: 24-36”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: High Summer through Late Fall
PRODUCTIVITY: High Productivity
DESIGN USE: Filler, Vertical, Foliage
COLOR: Magenta-Pink (flowers) Dark Green (foliage)

SALVIA SPLENDENS ‘LIGHTHOUSE PURPLE’

Salvia Splendens ‘Lighthouse Purple’

This little annual salvia may only get around 24” tall and wide, but it more than makes up for it in its rich plum colored blooms. Dark and velvety in texture and appearance, each stem is packed in an explosion of tubular inflorescences that hold their color and add a dramatic and elegant addition in color to anywhere it is planted. Can be utilized to show off dark burgundies and deep fuchsias, or alternatively can be used as a foil to support brightly colored oranges, whites and chartreuses.

Useful for low arrangements that don’t need a lot of stem length, ‘Lighthouse Purple’ works well as a filler, but also works well to echo other vertical components in an arrangement. Our favorite is combining with other salvias - ‘Wendy’s Wish’ for instance, allowing the repetition of texture and form in both varieties.

HEIGHT: 24-36”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Summer through Late Fall
PRODUCTIVITY: High Productivity
DESIGN USE: Filler, Vertical, Foliage
COLOR: Dark Plum (flowers) Green (foliage)

BROADLEAF SAGE

Salvia officinalis

salvia officinalis.JPG

The prototypical sage more commonly grown (and used) for cooking, broadleaf sage is a much overlooked plant for cutting. First and foremost, the leaves are a beautiful silvery-green, appearing much like the dusty miller or eucalyptus foliage usually used for floral design - the perfect foil for all sorts of flowers and colors. And given that sage is prolific, cutting from a plant will only encourage it to grow more stems.

In the spring, broadleaf sage will bloom, sending up fragrant flowering spikes with azure blooms held onto the stems like little blue bells. The flowers will hold for many days, adding a wonderful vertical element to any arrangement.

HEIGHT: 24”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Late Spring (Flowers) through late fall (foliage)
PRODUCTIVITY: Medium
DESIGN USE: Foliage, Vertical
COLOR: Light Blue (flowers) silvery grey (foliage)

BLUE BEDDER SAGE

Salvia farinacea

Commonly used as a bedding plant in Victorian-style massed plantings (which I personally feel is a very poor way in which to use and appreciate such an attractive plant) blue bedder sage is actually a great flower for the vase. Spikes of silvery blue-white flowers are held on long and slender stems, and plants will flower prolifically throughout the summer. We sometimes used them as substitute for fresh lavender in late summer and fall - design-wise, they are similar enough to where unless you inspected it closely, you wouldn’t know the difference. The glossy leaves also serve well as a foliage element earlier in the season.

HEIGHT: 36”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Late Spring (second year) or Late Summer (first year)
PRODUCTIVITY: Medium
DESIGN USE: Foliage, Vertical
COLOR: Blue-White (blooms) dark green (foliage)

TEXAS SAGE

Salvia coccinea


Although an annual, texas sage grow very easily and very quickly from seed, quickly transforming into a large plant that flowers in a brilliant bright carmine red. Each flowering stem is packed with tiny trumpet-like bright red flowers that stand out brilliantly in the garden and in an arrangement. A favorite of hummingbirds and other pollinators, it will bloom until frost here and then spring back next year by reseeding.

HEIGHT: 36”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Late Summer
PRODUCTIVITY: Medium
DESIGN USE: Foliage, Vertical
COLOR: Bright red (flowers)

MEXICAN BUSH SAGE

Salvia leucantha




salvia leucantha.JPG

A really unique and beautiful plant, Mexican Bush Sage is definitely a tender annual (reliably hardy only to Zone 9-11). The flowers are to die for - a beautiful deep violet-magenta coloration that is unlike anything else you can grow in the garden. Blooming in the late fall, it’s best grown where you have a reliably long frost-free growing season, although the silvery-green foliage can be used as well if you don’t get the blooms. It’s a perfect contrast for the orange and rust colors so prevalent at that time of year. We usually overwinter it by bringing a plant and taking cuttings, although in milder winters it can come back.

HEIGHT: 36-48”
LIGHT EXPOSURE: Full Sun
BLOOM TIME: Late Summer to Early Fall
PRODUCTIVITY: Medium
DESIGN USE: Foliage, Vertical
COLOR: Magenta/Violet (flowers)