Salvia is a very well-known genus of plants. Its most famous member, sage, or Salvia officinalis, is grown as a spice and medical herb. However, we are often forgetting another salvia, Salvia nemorosa, which is as useful to your garden as sage is for your body … or maybe even more… Here are some reasons why we should be growing salvia in our gardens!
- Salvia flowers for a very long time and once it’s done flowering, you cut the old flowers down and it will flower again!
- There are dozens of different salvia colors and shades. From white through pink to very dark blue. Even when the plant loses its petals, the spikes of blue salvia stay very decorative, as they keep a blue tinge which adds color to the flower bed.
- A salvia plant has a compact, stiff structure that does not require support to resist even strong winds. Salvia flowers look great also after strong rains and in cold weather.
- Salvia is one of the best bee friendly perennials.
- There are plenty of hardy salvias to choose from. Even if you live in the North you can make very decorative flower beds with the help of this plant.
- Salvia is one of the best companion plants for roses, peonies, large daisies and basically all other plants in your garden.
- It is very easy growing salvia. You need to simply deadhead salvia twice a year and that’s basically it!
Are you convinced that salvia is a great flower for your garden? Now let’s dig deeper into the beautiful world of salvias.
Here come the salvia varieties that we are growing (or tried growing) in our garden. All the observations and advice reported below are based on our experience with these salvias.
East Friesland Salvia
This is a great blue salvia variety. Salvia East Friesland (or to be correct Salvia nemorosa “Ostfriesland”) is a very decorative and hardy plant that survives even on our North facing slope.
Blue Queen Salvia
Salvia Blue Queen (also known as Salvia nemorosa “Blauköningin”) is very similar to the East Friesland variety. It is as hardy and as decorative as the former, and to be fully honest I cannot really distinguish these two varieties. They are equally great and recommended!
Snow Hill Salvia
This is a white flowering salvia variety. Salvia Snow Hill, or Salvia x sylvestris “Schneehügel”, is a great addition to any garden. It flowers prolifically, it grows well and it is one of the best hardy salvias on the market. In our garden it was growing so well that it was taking all the space that was reserved for ground covering plants. For this reason, we decided to move the plant to another spot where it would have more space, and dug it out. Snow Hill was so strong that it started growing back from a piece of root that we had accidentally left in the ground. A truly tough plant!
I see only a minor disadvantage in this plant, compared to the blue salvias. Snow Hill salvia is not as decorative as Blue Queen and East Friesland after their petals have fallen. This is because the colour of the blue salvia’s spikes is purple, while the spikes of Snow Hill are green. This makes the latter blend with the surrounding green foliage. However, the white salvia flowers for a very prolonged time period, especially if pruned, so the time when it is decorative will outlast the times when it is not.
Sensation Rose Salvia
This pink salvia was not hardy enough for our Nordic garden. Salvia nemorosa “Sensation Rose” became weaker and weaker each new season, and one spring, it just did not wakeup. It was planted at the same time as the Snow Hill salvia, and in the picture below you can see how much smaller Sensation Rose looked compared to its white neighbour already one year after planting. I definitely do not recommend this pink salvia variety for gardens with cold winters.
Where to plant salvia
Salvia thrives the most in full sun. However, over the years we have planted salvia in most environments. We have tried in full sun, half day sun, on slopes facing north (the blue salvias do great there) and in shady spots. We had some blue salvias planted in dry half shade and some in moist shade. Although both perennials survived, the ones in moist shade are doing much better.
The bottom line is that salvias are very tough and hardy plants and will survive in most spots. Just remember to give them a good feed and soak, if they are planted in a dry shady region.
Caring for salvia
Salvia is a perennial, which means each autumn the part above the ground will die, and in spring the plant will start growing again from the root. Caring for this plant reduces itself to one main activity: pruning salvias when their spikes have lost most of their petals. You will need to do this activity at least once, in summer, after the first rush of flowers, to prolong the flowering time of salvia. It does not have to be accurate, cut the whole plant just below the end of most flowering spikes. However, if you take your time and go trim each spike separately, you might save some new spikes that are arising. This means your salvia will start flowering again faster. However, this meticulousness is not really necessary.
Pruning salvias is quite a tragic procedure for me. Firstly, you deadhead the plant while there are still few flowers on it, which are constantly visited by pollinators. It is very sad having to deprive bees of their food. Secondly, the spent spikes of blue salvia look very pretty, therefore it is sad to deprive the garden of this decoration. Thirdly, when pruning salvias, the plants starts smelling like cat urine. This is not very pleasant, but due to its beauty, I can forgive salvia this minor drawback : )
If you do not like how the spent spikes look, you can deadhead salvia once more after its second flowering. We like how the spikes of our blue salvias look like after flowering, as they add beauty to the autumn garden. However, we trim our Snow Hill Salvia after it has finished flowering to keep this perennial compact.
The last time you will need to use your shears on salvia is in late autumn, this time by pruning salvias to the ground.
Attract pollinators with salvia
Salvia is one of the best bee friendly perennials you can get. Not only does it attract lots of different bee species, but the various salvia colors attract different species of pollinators. Our research shows that blue salvia attracts Bombus lucorum (white-tailed bumblebee) and Bombus pascuorum (common carder bee), while the white Salvia is visited exclusively by Bombus lapidarius (red-tailed bumblebee). Not many pollinators were interested in the pink Salvia.
Garden design with salvia
Salvia looks best when planted between other plans or shrubs.
It is one of the best companion plants for roses and there are so many salvia colors to match all the rose tonalities! White salvia goes well with red and pink roses. Blue salvia looks great with apricot coloured, pink, white, red and many other roses.
Besides roses, salvia is the best companion plant for many perennials. Plant salvia next to nepeta, dianthus, alchemilla, aquilegia and many more to get a beautiful flowerbed that will be decorative for the whole summer.
My favourite composition is planting blue salvia together with Nepeta racemosa and Alchemilla mollis (see the pictures below). These three plants can be planted in a flowerbed, or even better next to a pathway, repeating several times the sequence (Salvia, Nepeta, Alchemilla, Salvia, Nepeta, Alchemilla, …). This is an easy, but stunning arrangement that will immediately increase the beauty of your garden.
East Friesland, Blue Queen and Snow Hill Salvia are the best perennial salvias we grow. I strongly recommend growing salvia to everybody, newbies and experts alike. I gladly give the Amberway Approval to the blue and white salvias!
Flowering time: Summer and Autumn
Flower yield: High
Sun exposure: ¼ to ¾ day sun
Pollinator attraction: High
Lowest temperature survived: -24°C