The delight of salvias

This vast family of plants includes most of the culinary herbs (rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, savory, and garden sage), the mints (peppermint, apple mint, spearmint, orange mint, and double mint), and a vast grouping of flowering annuals and perennials known as the salvias.

All of the members of the Labiatae family have square stems, opposite undivided leaves and fragrant foliage.  Because of this fragrance, deer won’t touch them.

Their flowers are generally small and come in a multitude of colors, which makes them very popular with honeybees, butterflies, birds, bumblebees, and hummingbirds.

The salvias make up over 500 species and are distributed throughout the tropical and temperate world. Some are annuals, some are herbaceous perennials, and some are even evergreens.

Here is a selection of some of my favorites:

Annual salvias: Salvia coccinea is also known as tropical sage. This red flowering sage does well in a shade to part-sun landscape and is known to spread well from seed. In the nurseries, it is commonly called ‘lady in red’ and new colors are showing up most every spring in the local nurseries. Look for salmon, pink, and white.

Herbaceous perennial salvias (they freeze back in the fall and return each spring): Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea) is a native that blooms along side of the road from spring until the fall. Mealy Blue can grow to a height of 3 to 4 feet and is a trouble-free plant in the garden or tubs. Look for some new color varieties next spring. One of the newest is called ‘blue and white (with both colors on the same plant).

Indigo Spires is another blue flowering salvia if you have lots of room. This salvia will grow four feet tall and wide and will bloom the entire spring through fall season. If this color is what you want but in a smaller plant, look for ‘mystic spires.’ It stays under 2 feet while blooming the entire season.

Salvia guaranitica is another blue flowering perennial that is extraordinary in the landscape. The latest addition to this group is Salvia ‘black and blue.’ This plant has deep blue flowers which are carried on black sepals. This plant can reach a height of four feet and is totally outstanding.

Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) is another great sage that blooms a bit in the early spring and saves its greatest display for late summer and fall. This sage reaches a height of four feet and its individual flowers are white with a purple calyx. The stems and flowers have a velvety look and feel. Look for a dark violet variety also.

Evergreen Salvias: Autumn Sage (Salvia gregii) is one of our native salvias that remains evergreen in our winters. They come in an array of colors from white to red to pink to salmon to purple to blue to raspberry and yellow. These plants are easy to grow, require some good drainage, and at least a half a day of sun.

The mints are an important member of this family of plants. The most popular one with customers at my nursery used to be spearmint, followed closely by peppermint and chocolate mint. There are over 600 varieties of mint in the world and most are grown for their essential oils and for ornament.

In Mexico, it is traditional for a pot of mint to be placed by the front door for good luck and to welcome guests. Essential oils are either carvols or menthols. Only double mint has both. The popularity of the Cuban mojito drink has made spearmint really popular lately.  Happy gardening everyone!

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