Few plant genera offer the amazing diversity and ornamental potential found in the genus Salvia. These members of the Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family are first cousins to Nepeta (Catmint), Mentha (true mint), and monarda (bee balm), to mention but a few. Salvias range from woody subshrubs to annuals, and are native to virtually every continent. Salvias are known for their fragrant foliage and subsequent deer-resistance. Most salvias are full sun plants although a small handful are shade tolerant.Salvias fall into three groups; those with woody stems, those which are both herbaceous (non-woody stems) and deciduous (die to the ground) in the winter, and finally those which are herbaceous and form basal rosettes. Today, we are discussing three evergreen salvias,S. lyrata, S. penstemonoides, and S. verticillata.
The primary garden evergreen salvia species are Salvia lyrata, Salvia nemorosa, Salvia haematodes, Salvia pratensis, and their hybrids. Other similar species include Salvia verticillata and the unique Salvia penstemonoides. Many of the salvias sold as these species are actually interspecific hybrids known as Salvia x sylvestris (formerly called Salvia x superba).
Salvia lyrata 'Purple Knockout' (Purple Knockout Lyre-leaf Sage)
This East coast native is an easy-to-grow plant, but not all natives belong in the garden and Salvia lyrata is a great example. Despite the lovely purple foliage of this selection, Salvia lyrata is a weed that seeds everywhere in the garden (especially gravelly soils) and if that wasn't bad enough, it produces only tiny light lavender flowers on 2' tall stalks. Because it's easy and cheap to produce, nurseries unfortunately still sell it. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Salvia penstemonoides (Giant Red Sage)
This Federally Endangered native from the Edwards Plateau in central Texas was presumed extinct until five small populations were rediscovered. We are pleased to offer seed grown plants of this rare but easy to grow gem. In appearance, the shiny green basal leaves of Salvia penstemonoides resemble a penstemon, as do the cherry red flowers atop 3' stalks (occasionally reaching 5') that top the clump from June through September. In the wild, it occurs in sunny, well drained moist seeps. In the garden, we have found that a full sun, well drained but occasionally moist site is the perfect home to this long lived sage. (Hardiness Zone 6-9)
Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' (Purple Rain Sage)
A Piet Oudolf introduction, Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' makes an 18″ wide clump of large hairy basal leaves, topped with 2' tall spikes of smoky purple flowers from June through September. This has not been a good performer in our hot, humid climate. (Hardiness Zone 5-7a).
We hope that you try out various members of the genus Salvia as they are all garden worthy.