Unlike the culinary sages (Salvia officinalis) with their grey or purple evergreen foliage, the hardy perennial sages (Salvia nemorosa and Salvia x sylvestris) are herbaceous perennials primarily grown for their vivid flowers which have an exceptionally long season from May to October.
These hardy Salvias die down in winter but as long as they are not waterlogged they come back reliably year after year. The Balkan Clary or Wood Sage — as their wild counterparts are known — have been bred and hybridised by nurserymen to produce a huge range of garden-worthy cultivars. They mostly come in shades of purples and violet-blues, but white and pink varieties are available too. Their visual interest is enhanced by the colour of the long-lasting bracts which surround each of the small labiate flowers, significantly adding to the colour variation found among different cultivars.
Perennial Salvias prefer a free-draining soil in full sun or light shade and once established are drought tolerant and reliable. These salvias make great border plants for your garden, working especially well with Mediterranean, gravel and prairie-style designs. Hopefully there is something in this article to inspire you.
Graphic/Web Design: In this post I am experimenting with a magazine-style layout which should look especially good on a desktop or tablet. I hope you enjoy browsing this format as much as I enjoyed creating it!
— Keir Watson
Perennial Salvia characteristics
Flowers May – October
Trouble-free, reliable perennials
Need full sun & well drained soil
Attract bees & butterflies
#1 Salvia nemorosa May Night
#2 Salvia nemorosa Caradonna
Flowering stems of Salvia Caradonna, backlit by the evening sun, take on a magisterial dark-purple glow
Salvia Caradonna is a very distinct and garden-worthy sage which can flower from May to October given a bit of deadheading along the way.
The whole plant is robust and elegant, emerging early in spring and quickly developing a mass of scented grey-green foliage. By May flower spikes begin to form and flowers soon follow.
What makes Caradonna stand out from other cultivars of S. nemorosa are its tall narrow flowering stems which appear almost black. The violet-blue flowers are arranged in whorls spaced well apart along these stems creating an elegant baroque spire which continues to lengthen and flower all summer.
The flowering stems have a lot of space between them allowing adjacent tall plants to intermingle, while allowing plants behind them to be viewed through their purple veil.
#3 Salvia Snow Hill
#4 Salvia Rose Marvel
A dwarf pink perennial sage
just 1ft x 1ft (30cm x 30cm)
Rose Marvel is a beautiful dwarf variety of S. nemorosa with large, showy flowers in a deep rich pink. It forms a dense clump just one foot (30cm) high and wide, making it a great choice for the front of the border, or to add interest at the base of taller plants. Like all salvias it is a first-rate nectar plant attracting bees all summer long. The papery calyxes, which are a deep burgandy tone, contribute much to the look of the plant, setting off the candy-pink flowers so well, and providing colour and form before and after the flowers (below)
As you can see in this picture, I have planted two clumps of Rose Marvel in front of Aster x frikartii Monch which has lavender-blue flowers from June. In the foreground is the grey-leaved, pink and white Rhodanthemum hosmariense Marrakech, in the background violet-blue bells of Campanula portenschlagiana (aka C. murals) form a carpet, above which lime green heads of Euphorbia Baby Charm rise to complete the picture. [view full size image]