Long-blooming salvias are saviours in the garden. This warm-climate perennial and a fast-growing annual in colder growing areas, adds colour and interest to any seasonal border. Their rich colours play well with other strong colours: deep yellows, oranges, and pinks. Their forms, from upright sub-shrubs to smaller edging plants, extend their versatility.
Salvias thrive in dry conditions, appreciating free-draining soil and with regular deadheading, they can flower from late spring until the autumn. Salvias can do elegant or cottage, large or small, in full sun or dappled shade. With their intense colouring, salvias can lift a garden into something special. They are also good mixers, providing long-flowering verticals that flatter complementary shades of purple, blue, and red, while shimmering against textural green. (Culinary or medicinal Salvia officinalis can become large and unwieldy in an herb garden and can be better placed among flowers, with its wonderfully textured foliage.)
The Salvia genus contains more than 900 species. The species and cultivars of interest to gardeners generally hail from the southern US, Mexico, and through Central America into Brazil. There are 22 indigenous species in Southern Africa, with 19 in the Western Cape. The most well known indigenous ones in our region are S.africana caerulea, S. africana-lutea, A.chamelaeagnea, Salvia murii.
The names “salvia” and “sage” both come from the Latin “to save,” which refers to the health-giving properties of the culinary and medicinal herb. However it is clearly a garden saviour in a decorative sense: for keeping late summer borders alive, and as an important source of nectar for pollinators.
Salvias belong to the Lamiaceae or Labiatae family, which are a family of flowering plants commonly known as the mint, deadnettle or sage family. Many of these plants are aromatic in all parts. The alternate family name Labiatae refers to the fact that the flowers typically have petals fused into an upper lip and a lower lip (labia in Latin).