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Sensational Salvias

How do you enjoy summer in your garden? There is still plenty of work to be done—weeding and watering alone can take a huge chunk of your time. What time I have left after all my gardening chores I like to spend with friends and family enjoying my garden.

Of course I also love touring gardens, but I don’t often get that chance because most formal garden tours are held early in April and May, at the peak of my busy season.

The heat and humidity of July and August transform my garden, as I am sure it does yours, into a lush and colorful space to relax and enjoy. Late summer and early fall is when most gardens look their absolute best. Wouldn’t it be fun to tour gardens not just in the spring but also in the summer, fall, and winter?

There is hardly a color lacking in my garden at this time—white, pink, red, blue, yellow, and orange can be found everywhere. I achieve this with lots of perennial flowers and a small mix of annual and tropical plants. Most trees and shrubs bloomed in the spring and now stand as lush, green backdrops for summer’s show.

Salvia picks
The salvias are a very large group of plants that includes both annual and perennial varieties that perform exceptionally well in our Kentucky gardens. They are available in a wide range of sizes from the tall 4- to 5-foot Salvia guaranitica, or blue anise sage, to the more common white and shorter 12″ tall Salvia nemerosa ‘Snow Hill.’ The majority of salvia flowers are all shades of blue, with the occasional violet, red, and white flowered forms.

Most salvias bloom all summer long and are not phased by the heat and humidity of summer. This year I have six different salvia varieties growing in my garden. Four are perennial: Salvia guaranitica—blue anise sage, Salvia officinalis—common sage, and Salvia nemerosa ‘Cardonna’ and ‘Snow Hill’—hybrid sages. Two are annual forms: Salvia coccinea—hummingbird salvia, and Salvia farinacea—blue salvia or mealycup sage.

Hummingbird sage
Salvia guaranitica is one of my favorites, and is also called hummingbird sage because they love this anise-scented salvia. No need for a hummingbird feeder in my garden: I put one out a few years ago in my garden, but they never touched it, preferring to feed on the nectar from the stunning deep-blue flowers of this beautiful perennial. I can sit in one of my Adirondack chairs by my fountain and watch the hummingbirds fly in and out of my garden. Sometimes they even fight over the flowers. This goes on all summer long.

Said to be hardy only in USDA zones 7–10, this particular salvia has proven itself to be a perennial in my garden and has been growing in the same location for more than five years. It grows an impressive 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden, and makes a beautiful backdrop for other brightly colored perennials.

I also enjoy growing it as an annual in containers. It performs as a true annual in Kentucky and will not survive the winter in the container. It makes a beautiful tall centerpiece in a container, and its calm yet vibrant blue flower makes it very easy to combine lots of colorful annuals with it for a beautiful display.

Salvia care
This full-sun perennial group is actually very tolerant of part shade, but you do get the best flowering and performance in the direct sun. They are also quite drought-tolerant; my garden is very dry as a general rule and they all perform beautifully. I have rarely seen them wilt in need of water.

Although there are slight variations by variety, the flower style is basically the same except for color and size. Flower spikes begin to emerge in the middle to the end of May and continue to flower all summer until frost. Deadheading helps some varieties but is not necessary on most, so it is best to know which ones you have and treat them accordingly.

With the dozens upon dozens of commonly available salvias today, I am confident that you will find several of them perfect additions to your garden. You can choose annual or perennial forms, or pick several of both as I have, and you will be rewarded with summer-long flowers to enjoy.

Have a gardening question?
Go online to, click on Home & Garden on the left, and then on “Ask The Gardener” link.

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