by High Country Gardens

Salvia sylvestris Balyricose 'Lyrical Rose'
Salvia sylvestris Balyricose 'Lyrical Rose'

The genus Salvia (Sage) contains some of our most beautiful ornamental flowers. And Salvia species are found on every continent, save Australia and Antarctica. Naturally, with such a huge range worldwide, their variability is immense and they provide us gardeners with a wealth of choices for our gardens.

Gardening in a USDA zone 6 climate, I like to divide the cold hardy Salvia into two primary groups; the US natives and the Old World varieties found in Europe and western Asia. From these two groups, we have an outstanding range of plant types and flower colors.

Salvia May Night
An Old World Salvia, Salvia May Night

The Old World Salvia include some of the very best, most durable, longest-lived perennials. The hybrid nemerosa-types flower in numerous shades of blue and pink. They include ‘May Night’, ‘Caradonna’, dwarf ‘Marcus’, Lyrical Rose European Sage and the gorgeous ‘Blue Hill’. The syslvestris hybrids do especially well in heavy clay soils, yet grow with ease in all but the most sandy of soils.

Salvia Cold Hardy Pink

Then there are all the Salvia species native to North America. It is from the Western US that we find our most beautiful native species. But the challenging aspect for some of these native Salvia has been to find cold hardy ones that can be grown north of their native desert haunts. This has been an area of keen interest for me and I have been working for many years breeding and selecting for beauty and cold hardiness. Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’ and Salvia greggii ‘Cold Hardy Pink’ are top picks. Salvia hybrids between S. greggii and other Salvia species from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have resulted in some outstanding selections such as ‘Maraschino’, ‘Raspberry Delight’, ‘Ultra Violet’ and ‘Burgundy Seduction’.

I heartily recommend planting Salvia pachyphylla and Salvia dorrii in arid western gardens. These two evergreen species are native to California and the Great Basin of UT, OR and NV. Not widely known outside of the native plant gardening community, these two species are especially nice with their silver leaves and showy blue/purple flowers. But they are not for planting in areas that get more than 12 to 16 inches of annual precipitation. They are true Westerners.

Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire
Western native Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire, photo courtesy of Plant Select.

Two other species of Salvia that have proven themselves to be outstanding early fall bloomers with excellent cold hardiness are Salvia azurea and Salvia reptans Autumn Sapphire . These two blue-flowered species stand out in the fall garden with their finely textured foliage. I’ve found that the hummingbirds eagerly seek out these two, in spite of not having brightly colored pink, red or orange flowers that hummers generally prefer.

  1. Marcus Dwarf Blue Salvia

    Salvia nemorosa ‘Marcus’ PP# 13,322 (Dwarf Blue Sage) is a tidy, dwarf selection that blooms all summer with deeply colored violet-purple flowers. It is extremely cold ha...

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    Marcus Dwarf Blue Salvia Marcus Dwarf Blue Salvia Salvia nemorosa 'Marcus'
    As low as $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Salvia nemorosa ‘Marcus’ PP# 13,322 (Dwarf Blue Sage) is a tidy, dwarf selection that blooms all summer with deeply colored violet-purple flowers. It is extremely cold hardy, browse resistant to deer and a lover of clay soils.
  2. Red Salvia greggii Furman's Red, Salvia greggii Furman's Red, Furman's Red Texas Sage

    2005 Plant Select Winner. 24-36„ tall x 18„ wide. Salvia greggii ‚Furman‚s Red‚ (Texas Sage) is one of the most cold hardy of the native Salvia greggii...

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    Furman's Red Texas Salvia Furman's Red Texas Sage Salvia greggii Furman's Red
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    2005 Plant Select Winner. 24-36" tall x 18" wide. Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' (Texas Sage) is one of the most cold hardy of the native Salvia greggii family. Blooming in late spring and again in the fall, the plant covers itself with bright red flowers that attract the hummingbirds from miles around. Sweetly aromatic foliage too. A 2005 Plant Select winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  3. May Night Meadow Sage, Salvia sylvestris May Night

    Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ (Meadow Sage) blooms prolifically with deep purple-blue flowers. It is an outstanding perennial with excellent cold hardiness, vigor, and to...

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    May Night Salvia May Night Meadow Sage Salvia sylvestris May Night
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ (Meadow Sage) blooms prolifically with deep purple-blue flowers. It is an outstanding perennial with excellent cold hardiness, vigor, and tolerance of heavy clay soils. Blooming in late spring with a profusion of flower spikes, it reblooms later in the summer when deadheaded.
  4. Salvia Collection (Sage)

    Our Salvia Collection is a showcase of four bestselling Salvia varieties. These perennials have it all – beautiful flower spikes that attract pollinators, fragrant foliage that det...

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    Salvia Collection Salvia Collection
    $46.99
    Per Collection of 4
    Our Salvia Collection is a showcase of four bestselling Salvia varieties. These perennials have it all – beautiful flower spikes that attract pollinators, fragrant foliage that deters deer and rabbits, and exceptional tolerance to hot, dry conditions. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are drawn to the nectar-rich blooms. These four sun-loving Salvias are easy to grow and pair beautifully with other perennials, making them a must-have for waterwise gardens. Collection of 4 plants.

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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