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Salvias come in all shapes and sizes. There are salvias for the mountains, plains, deserts and piney woods; salvias for attracting butterflies and salvias for hummingbirds; culinary salvias and medicinal salvias; English cottage garden salvias and salvias for native xeriscapes; serviceable-workhorse salvias for urban landscaping and endless rarer varieties for the “salvia collector.” These square-stemmed, bilabiate (referring to the shape of the flower which looks like a mouth with an upper and lower Iip) members of the mint family are commonly known as sages. The gray-leafed herb, sage, that you add to your sausage mix and turkey stuffing is Salvia officinalis; autumn sage is Salvia greggii; and the old-time medicinal, clary sage is Salvia sclarea, but as with common names, all that is called a sage (as in Texas sage or sage brush) is not always a salvia.

Most of us are familiar with some of the standard landscaping salvias almost to a point of frustration. I use the word “frustration” because when you have been graced with evergreen, long-flowering, humming-bird attracting, tough-as-nails Salvia greggii and if, in addition, it is back-dropped by the stately blue spires of Salvia farinacea, the question arises, “Can there be anything else?” This useful/beautiful category of salvias contains several other unbeatables. Indigo spires, a much larger version of S. farinacea, has deeper blue flowers and makes a mass of color all through the hard months of June, July, August, September and right up until frost. Red (also pink, salmon, or white) Salvia coccinea rivals impatiens and begonias for color Texas shade. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees; it is mowable, self-sows freely, can withstand automatic sprinkling systems or being left to fend for itself when you head for the mountains in July. Mexican bush sage or Salvia leucantha is another often-used salvia. This hardy perennial is best known for its unusual velvet-textured, purple fall blooms and slender, gray-green leaves.

more to come…