Russian Sage (Perovskia) is not a sage and it’s not native to Mother Russia—but it has become a landscaping staple in Western xeriscapes. First introduced into US horticulture in the early to mid-1990’s, it has been more familiar in Europe for many years, as it was recommended by nineteenth century English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. The plant provides a months-long display of showy smoky-blue flowers held above aromatic foliage and is an indispensible source of nectar and pollen for honey and bumble bees.
In addition to its beauty, Russian sage’s enormous popularity is no doubt due to its ability to thrive in dry, tough conditions. It blooms all summer and grows successfully in any soil, from clay to sand, as well as salty and highly alkaline ones. And if that weren’t reason enough to plant it, Perovskia is extremely resistant to browsing deer, rabbits and even elk. Native to central Asia, it ranges from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tibet, it is incredibly well adapted to life in the U.S.
Russian sage is a low care plant that looks its best when cut back hard (leaving 6 to 12” of stem above ground) in mid-spring. This keeps the plant more compact and encourages more vigorous blooming. This shrub has a tendency to spread by suckering, so it’s advisable to dig up the suckers in early spring to keep the plant within bounds. When used to cover large areas, don’t bother. An application of Yum Yum Mix fertilizer in the fall is all that’s needed to keep the soil healthy and the plant happy.
In my observation, Perovskia has long been a plant in search of companions as it seems to be commonly planted only with itself. Which is a shame, because its blue blossoms are the perfect color foil for just about any other color of flowers. The key is to pair it with other equally rugged perennials and shrubs that also thrive in challenging growing conditions. My favorites include Texas Red Yucca (Hesperaloe), ‘Coronation Gold’ Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe), ‘Golden Fleece’ Golden Rod (Sollidago sphacelata) and ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed grass (Calamagrostis).
The two best selections of Russian sage are;
- ‘Blue Spires’ (thought to be a hybrid of P. atriplicifolia and Perovskia abrotanoidesP. abrotanoides with stunning deep blue flowers. A winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, ‘Blue Spires’ is sterile so there is no concern about re-seeding. A robust grower to 4 ft. in height, it is hardy to USDA zone 4.
-‘Lacey Blue’ is a true dwarf variety that will stay under 18” in height and provides nice compact spikes of smoky blue flowers. ‘Lacey Blue’ is ideal for smaller gardens.
Text and photos by David Salman