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Select Outstanding Salvias For 1999 Home Gardens
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
To promote 1999 as the year of the salvia, the National Garden Bureau sent me pages and pages of information, but failed to mention my favorites. In defense of the National Garden Bureau, Mother Nature provided us with more than 900 species of salvia.
Annuals like the salvia splendens are great in the summer garden. They come in a wide range of colors that are sure to work in any color scheme you have started. The spiky texture of the salvia bloom is welcome in the garden where round flowers often dominate.
In the salvia splendens group, one of my favorites is the Red Vista. It is a compact 12-inch plant with summerlong displays. For an outstanding display, try Top Burgundy and combine with burgundy petunias and the Queen mix cleome.
Salvia coccinea is a trooper in the hot summer sun. The Lady In Red variety is very popular and is this year's Louisiana Select winner. It has also garnered the plant of the year award in Arkansas.
Lady In Red flowers are produced in loose spikes concentrated in whorls around the main spike. It grows to a height of 12 to 15 inches. It re-seeds prolifically, which may or not be a good thing, depending on how you look at it. Salvia coccinea also comes in pink shades that look good with Purple Heart.
The salvia farinacea is among our best perennials. This variety, also known as mealy cup sage, gives welcome blue colors. Victoria Blue, last year's Mississippi Medallion award winner, is one of the best salvias. The violet blue spikes are borne on compact 18-inch plants that spread to 14 inches across.
The salvia that excites me most is Indigo Spires. It is a cross with salvia farinacea, but the plant is much larger and the blooms showier. The bluish-purple blooms take on a curving or spiraling effect, and look great in the vase or the flower border. Indigo Spires has done well for me as a perennial in central Mississippi but may need an extra layer of mulch in the northern regions. All salvia need good drainage.
The Mexican bush sage is another spectacular salvia. Plants become large 5- to 6-foot mounds with gray-green foliage that are welcome in the landscape. Blooms start in August and are spectacular through fall right up until the first hard freeze. In cut-flower trials by the University of Georgia, it has been normal to get 150 to 200 cut flowers per plant. These cut flowers are great tied into bundles with rosemary and cinnamon sticks.
The Mexican bush sage needs mulching to protect from extreme cold in the southern part of the state and should probably be treated as an annual in northern regions. It can handle cold, but the combination of cold and wet can take it out, so please give it good drainage.
Salvia elegans, or pineapple sage, is mandatory for your herb or flower garden, or on your patio. When touched, the leaves of the pineapple sage give the aroma of fresh crushed pineapple. The leaves can be used for drinks, poultry dishes, cheeses, fruit salad, and jams and jellies. The young leaves can also be battered and fried and then dipped in a cream cheese dressing.
The pineapple sage also produces spikes of scarlet red flowers that attract hummingbirds, as well as other gardeners.
There are many other salvias available and all deserve a place in the landscape, so I guess I am like the National Garden Bureau. I ran out of space before I could mention them all.