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.
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.
Wrapping up that trip to Santa Barbara...
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