Salvias are wonderful garden plants. They belong to the mint family, and there are nearly 1000 species, including annuals and perennials and evergreen shrubs. They are drought tolerant, thrive in the heat, grow quickly, and flower profusely for months on end. They often have interesting foliage, which may be smooth and shiny or soft and velvety, and ranges in colour from bright greens to olive, silver, and even purples. On some varieties it is aromatic when crushed or rubbed. The tubular flowers are borne on upright spikes, and are very attractive to bees and other pollinators. There is much variety in flower size and colour, including blues and purples, pinks and reds as well as white and some yellows.
Salvias are distributed worldwide, although over half of the species are native the Americas, especially Mexico. The name Salvia is derived from the Latin salvare, meaning to heal or to save. Many Salvia species have medicinal and culinary uses, including Salvia officinalis, the herb we commonly call ‘sage’. Salvia elegans is commonly known as pineapple sage, thanks to the delightful pineapple-like flavour of the leaves which can be used in herbal teas, cakes, desserts and drinks. Salvia divinorum contains psychoactive substances which cause hallucination and could potentially be harmful to humans. Possession of this particular species is prohibited in Australia.
Now is the best time of year to plant salvias, as there are plenty of varieties available. They have just started flowering, and so you will be able to choose the colours that you like. But because they have only just begun to flower, you will still enjoy many months of colour. In fact, they tend to flower from late spring right through summer and into autumn.
Salvias are a good choice for the gardener on a budget. The annual varieties are available in punnets or as potted colour, and they will keep going for several years if trimmed after flowering. The perennial varieties last for many years and are easy to grow from cutting, so you can get a few varieties and then create new plants for your own garden or to give away to friends and family.
Salvias are ideal for coastal gardens and will tolerate windy situations. You can create marvellous displays by planting them with daylilies, gauras, sedums, agapanthus and osteospermums.
Plant salvias in a sunny to partly shaded situation. They don’t require much watering once established. Trim after flowering to maintain compact growth. You can prune very hard if you like, or just tip prune from time to time. In my garden, I wait until the very end of flowering so as not to upset the masses of bees that are consistently foraging throughout the flowering season. Then I prune very hard, and again lightly once or twice before the flowering starts in early spring.
Fertilise at the start of spring and again at the end of summer with a complete fertiliser suitable for flowering plants.
I love plants like salvia – they will put on a great show for most of the year with very little effort on my part.