The salvia flowers we find so often in the landscape are part of the large Salvia genus of plants in the mint family, including the herb used in cooking known as sage. In fact, a common name for the red kind (S. splendens) that we know so well as a bedding plant is scarlet sage.
Here are some common types of salvia flowers used in landscaping.
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Annual Salvia Flowers
There are several types of salvia flowers which, although perennials in their warm, native lands, are treated as annual plants by a large number of gardeners (that is, people living in more northerly regions):
- Red salvia (S. splendens): Salvia splendens is best known as a plant with scarlet blooms, but these flowers do come in other colors, too, including white, salmon, pink, purple, lavender, burgundy, and orange. American author Alfred Hottes said of the scarlet type in "The Book of Annuals" that there "is no question regarding its growth or its blooming qualities, but in some cities, its hot color is seen on so many streets that it becomes monotonous." Not surprisingly, since red salvia flowers are still widely used in North America many years later, the plants' critics continue to scoff at the abundant use of red salvia flowers. Like many popular bedding plants, including impatiens, salvia plants are victims of their own success. But, if your intent is to inject a splash of red into the landscape for the summer in an area with full sun, few plants outperform red salvia.
- Victoria Blue salvia (S. farinacea "Victoria Blue"): There are, however, more options for red landscape plants than there are for blue ones. Deep, true blue (as opposed to a purplish blue) is a highly sought after color in annual flowers. Victoria Blue salvia flowers give us this prized color. Treated as annuals north of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 7 (native to Texas and Mexico), Victoria Blue salvia flowers are a real find for gardeners who adore blue. They are a good substitute in red-white-and-blue American patriotic plantings in lieu of the commonly used blue ageratum.
- Summer Jewel Pink (Salvia coccinea "Summer Jewel Pink"): One of the prettiest salvias that is off-limits to those who live where winters are cold is Summer Jewel Pink, which is only hardy in zones 7 to 10.
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Hardier, Perennial Salvia Flowers
Commonly grown salvia perennials in the north include:
- May Night (S. nemorosa "May Night"): These plants were honored as the top perennials for 1997. These vigorous plants bear lance-shaped leaves and many spikes of purplish-blue blooms. Many gardeners deadhead May Night salvia flowers (or trim them with pruning shears), but they sometimes bloom throughout the summer even without deadheading. Removing the spent flowers keeps the plant looking tidier.
- Caradonna (S. nemorosa "Caradonna"): If you like May Night, then you might even consider Caradonna more striking. Dark purple stems and delicate spikes of deep purplish-blue blooms thrust skyward out of the mass of leaves at the base, like so many colorful rockets. For best effect, try to give them a brightly-colored backdrop; shrubs with golden foliage will do the trick nicely.
- Blue Hill (S. nemorosa "Blue Hill"): Blue Hill salvia flowers were advertised as an answer to the call for more "true blue" floral options. And, indeed, their flowers' color is lighter than that of May Night or Caradonna (less purplish). But the color is nowhere near as much of a true blue as with Victoria Blue. Blue Hill has the advantage of being a perennial for most of the temperate zone; so, in a sense, it is not entirely fair to compare the two. Moreover, Blue Hill is certainly a serviceable plant that does a great job of drawing bees to the landscape. Growing Blue Hill and the other blue-flowered salvia plants that have been mentioned could set your planting bed abuzz with the drone of the honey bees. These plants attract butterflies, as well.
- Wild Thing (Salvia greggii "Wild Thing") This pink-hued salvia grows best in zones 6 to 9 and grows 2 to 3 feet in height with a similar spread.
- Pink Dawn (Salvia x sylvestris "Pink Dawn"): This is a pink compact variety that is sometimes sold under the name "Color Spires." It grows best in zones 4 to 8 and grows to a size of 18 inches by 18 inches.
- Raspberry Delight (Salvia greggii "Raspberry Delight"): Thriving in zones 6 to 10, this is a bigger perennial that can reach 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Its flowers are also a deeper pink color (raspberry, as the name suggests).