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Monday, June 30, 2014


Where would our gardens be without the genus Salvia; annuals, biennials, perennials, herbaceous and woody shrubs; all the colors of the rainbow. These dependable plants are of immense value in the Texas garden where several mechanisms help them through the tough Texas summers.

Above is one of my salvias not commonly seen in Austin gardens. Salvia clevelandii, is native to California and Baja where it grows as a short lived perennial. It is more difficult to grow here because it prefers a dry summer with less humidity. I grow it for its fragrance. In the early morning it perfumes the air and, at other times, I can barely walk by without brushing it with my hands and bringing its exquisite scent to my nose.

I grow the common culinary sage, Salvia officinalis for cooking. If you haven't tried fried sage leaves then you are missing out on a treat. Fry the leaves in butter until crisp and serve over ravioli with lemon butter or other non-tomato pastas. This sage blooms for long periods in the early summer after which it can be cut back to make new growth. The bees love it.

Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten', has a more rounded leaf and downy grey leaves. It too can be used for cooking but also adds beauty to any garden. Unlike the common sage it does not produce flowers. It has the tendency to travel as stems touch the ground and put down new roots. The older part may eventually become woody and die back.

There are several smaller leaved sages, among them the yellow, Salvia officinalis 'Icterina' and purple leaf Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens', grown more for ornamental purposes.

But the main stays of the Texas garden have to be the blooming sages. The Salvia greggii which come in white, red, pink and purple.

And Salvia microphylla 'hot lips' These are always a favorite of the hummingbirds. I probably have more Salvia greggii in my garden than any other plant. That is because they seed freely. The plant is sometimes called autumn sage but this is really a misnomer as it flowers throughout the summer and autumn. Shearing the plant partway through the long summer will bring on a new flush of flowers.

I shall have to wait a little longer for the Salvia leucantha, to bloom. Outside my vegetable garden it grows in a good base of decomposed gravel. It receives no additional water, makes a delightfully shaped bush and is completely deer proof. Winter frost results in it dying back down to the ground but it is extremely hardy. It will spread by underground stems which make for plenty of plants to share with other gardeners. This one is seen blooming in my garden in September. It has both the purple flower and calyx. Another variety has the white flower and purple calyx.

Another fall bloomer is Salvia madrensis, sometimes called forsythia sage for its long arching stems and yellow flowers.

 It is slow to come back from die back in the winter but over the summer it builds up to reach a height of over 5' by fall. It has unusual square stems with a ridge at each corner of the stem, which make it easy to identify. In my garden it is planted under the Lady Banks' rose which probably helps it survive some of the lowest winter temperatures.

One of my salvias is becoming a little pest and I am rapidly removing it from my garden. Salvia farinacea, mealy cup sage. Best allowed to grow in the wild.

                                                                TO SALVIA

                                               In these times of fashionable rages
                                               Let us honor enduring sages.
                                               Known to cure, to mend, to ease;
                                               Companions to cooks; splendid teas.
                                               Hundreds of species our world adorn,
                                               Richly diverse in flower and form.
                                               Hail to Salvia, that scented salvation,
                                               Worthy of study and our admiration.

                                                                                            - Andy Doty

Do you grow Salvia in your garden? Please share your successes.


  1. What would we do, in Central Texas, without our salvias?
    Your Leucantha is way ahead of mine. Probably gets more sun.
    I need to look for the Madrensis, too. I have some Berggarten, because it looked so nice in your garden. I like it.
    Thanks Goodness for salvias.

  2. I use a lot of Salvia in my garden in Southern California as well, although I'm not sure any of them look as robust and healthy as yours. One of my newer introductions is Salvia macrophylla, which has exceptionally bright blue blooms and large leaves.

  3. Here where I live near Los Angeles, in California, I grow almost exactly the same species of salvia as you do ... clevelandi (very good, if no standing water in winter, attracts butterflies), 'Hot Lips' (love how it changes color with the temps, right now it is white indicating heat), 'Berggarten' (didn't know it didn't bloom), leucantha (almost always in bloom, as a child I used to strip off the fuzzy balls and use them as ammo to throw at people, lots of fun); can't grow officinalis neither purpurescens nor regular, always dies. However, the star of the fall garden is pineapple sage, Salvia splendens ... and splendid it is grows and spreads all by itself, it smells great, it is buzzing with bumblebees and hummingbirds and it is tall and colorful. Love the poem, thanks.

  4. Nice profile of salvias--they are so great. I'd love to have a madrensis, but I don't think I have room for it. Too bad.

  5. My garden would also look empty without the salvias, especially the native ones. Fried sage with ravioli is so good and you've reminded me we haven't had it for a while. We have been busy pulling out mealy cup sage from several areas in the gardens where I volunteer. It just takes over and it too much for the garden spaces near the buildings at least.

  6. I have tropical sage that puts summer color in semi-shade where deer freely roam and munch and purple sage in the same area for a little non-floral color accent. I put mealy sage into a hellstrip area where I'd be thrilled if it spread. Funny how we gardeners can have different needs for the very same plants.

    As to the fried sage leaves they are a wonderful treat. We use them atop sausage/squash soups in the winter and they are perfect over potato gnocchi the rest of the year. The rather blue-green of their leaves is a nice color contrast in the garden as well. Great profile of a workhorse family in Texas gardens.

  7. I also love the sages. Some of yours we can grow in Oklahoma. Others we can't. Salvia farinacea doesn't reseed much here either. It's funny how different our climates really are. I guess they would be though because we do live very far apart.~~Dee

  8. I love salvias too. They smell so good, but not to deer!

  9. Your salvias look happy! There are so many kinds I want to try them all. The Sage/salvia has some of my favorite gray/green leaves and yours look delightful.


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