By Joyce Driemeyer
Confused about sages? An herb garden can contain a vast array of salvias (sages). They can be annual, biennial or perennial, but they are not confined to herb gardens. Some beautiful ones provide bright accents in borders, planters and raised beds.
The basic culinary sage is Salvia officinalis. Whenever you see a genus defined as officinalis, it means that plant originally had a medicinal history. “Berggarten” is a cultivated low-growing, large-leaved sage that also can be used for cooking. It is a handsome plant but seldom flowers. S. lavandulifolia (lavender sage) is a tidy, low-growing, small-leaved plant used commercially and in cooking.
Other Salvia officinalis that are grown primarily for accent or ornamental value – often in the front of a border because they are low growing – do not flower much but have very attractive foliage. There is ‘Icterina’ with variegated yellow and green leaves, ‘Purpurascens’ with reddish, purple leaves, and ‘Tricolor’ with leaves of cream to gray- green to purplish pink. None of these are winter hardy in our area, but you can take cuttings to bring inside for next season.
An important and handsome must-have for back of the border is pineapple sage, S. elegans (also not hardy here) which can get 3-4′ tall, blooms in very late summer into fall with scarlet flowers, and is loved by the hummers. There is an especially beautiful form with gold colored foliage. Another really beautiful plant frequented by hummingbirds is Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ with deep blue and black flowers all summer.
Mealy cup sage has a number of blue flowering varieties, such as ‘Victoria’ and ‘Blue Bedder’ – grown as annuals here. Among reliable perennial sages are the 18″ S. nemerosa ‘May Night’, and S. verticillata, ‘Purple Rain’, also at 18″, with spikes whorls of spiky purple flowers over a long period. And the biennial Clary sage is a handsome tall plant 3-4′ with showy flowers early in the summer. I find the aroma of the foliage overwhelming inside the house.
All of these sages have defining aromatic foliage of no interest to rabbits!
A final note: So-called Russian sage (Perovskia), which I have mentioned in previous articles, is neither an herb nor a sage, but an extremely vigorous, aromatic perennial loved by bees.
Joyce Driemeyer says she’s semi-retired after more than 25 years as a professional landscape designer. She is a Master Gardener, and volunteers, lectures and conducts classes at Missouri Botanical Garden, and has actively served in both the St Louis Herb Society and The Herb Society of America.