Sage advice for growing salvias

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Cape Town – Did you know that the salvias are largest group of plants in the mint family?

The original use of the most well-known of salvias, sage (Salvia officinalis), was as a culinary and medicinal herb, one of over 900 species found almost worldwide.

With so many different species of salvia available, the plants are able to thrive in a variety of different climatic conditions. Some species do well in full sun, while others tolerate cooler conditions and semi-shade during the day.

Salvias come in myriad different colours from bright reds, pinks, purples and oranges to soft shades of brown, white, green, salmon, coral and burgundy. Many species tolerate the hot, dry summers of the Cape.

While sage may have lost its reputation for assuring long life, it is still valued for flavouring savoury dishes, and as a decorative plant.

One of the largest collections of salvias in South Africa – around 70 different species – is found in the gardens of Klein Optenhorst in the historic Bovlei Valley, near Wellington

When Naas and Jenny Ferreira purchased the property in 1987, Jenny started the garden from scratch. Unfamiliar with the hot, dry summers of the Cape, she began to experiment with various plants.

“I stumbled on the salvias and soon learned that they are able to stand up to the heat and even the wind,” Jenny recalled.

Now, some 28 years later, Jenny’s garden is renowned for its fine collection of salvia species, including various South African indigenous varieties. “The indigenous salvias are happy in a very hot, sunny position but they need very good drainage,” said Jenny.

 

How to grow salvias

Salvias are versatile and can be grown in different areas of the garden – a mixed border, a meadow garden, as a companion for roses, fillers or groundcover. The mounds of grey-green, variegated green and gold and green, purple and white leafed varieties are attractive in herb gardens, along pathways and in containers.

 

Ornamental salvias

Shrubby perennial salvias are under-appreciated. They are tough, generous in flower and heat resistant. Autumn sage (S. greggii) is a tall shrub with rosy-red flowers and bracts. S. “Hot Lips” has two-toned red and white flowers, “Neon Pink” bright pink flowers and “Salmon Smoothy” salmon-pink flowers.

Pineapple sage (S. elegans) is valued for its dainty pink-red flowers and pineapple-scented leaves that add flavour to fritters, cool drinks and fruit salads. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) grows into large clumps with spikes of woolly, magenta-purple bracts and mauve-white flowers.

Wild sage (Salvia africana-caerulea) is densely branched with small aromatic grey leaves and red bracts holding pale blue flowers. Rough blue sage (Salvia chamelaeagnea) grows to 1.5m tall with soft light-green leaves and spikes of pale blue flowers. Beach sage (Salvia africana-lutea) has grey-green foliage and yellow flowers.

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) needs excellent drainage. Grown for its fragrant grey-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers in a meadow-style garden.

Roseleaf sage (S. involucrata) is a large shrub. “Bethelii” has an upright, suckering growth habit with hot-pink heads of flowers and “Boutin” has mulberry-pink blooms. Wagner’s sage (S. wagneriana) has large dark pink flowers.

 

Salvias for show

Salvias take on a new look with cultivars “Wendy’s Wish”, “Sangria” and “GoGo Scarlet”. S. “White Surprise” has red flowers with white bracts on a compact plant. All these salvias are especially valuable in summer and autumn gardens for their bright flowers, heat-resistance and their ability to grow in full sun or partial shade.

Red bedding salvias are useful where impact is needed in container plantings, in broad ribbon plantings along a path, or defining a border. If you prefer salvias of more subtle colouring, they also come in cream, salmon, pink, wine and lavender.

Upright spikes and showy deep blue flowers make S. “Victoria Blue” a popular choice in borders, as does S. “Mystic Spires” with dark grey-green leaves and purple-blue flowers. Anise-scented sage (S. guaranitica Black and Blue) has cobalt-blue flower spikes with dark almost black calyces and stems; S. “Blue Enigma” is shorter in height.

Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus

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