Marilyn Young is the Horticulture Assistant at Wave Hill.
Elegant, dependable and fairly easy to grow, salvias can be found at Wave Hill lighting up the gardens well into autumn. Salvia is the common name for the entire Salvia genus, while its Latin name derives from the word salvare, to heal or save, and refers to the medicinal and healing properties of some species. There are hardy perennial salvias in our gardens, but it is the tender sages we replant each year that reward many times over the extra effort they require. These frost-intolerant salvias hail from warmer regions of the new world. Their native haunts range from California to Texas and south through Mexico and Central and South America. Here at Wave Hill they offer a rewarding and diverse array of flowers, foliage and habits. With lessons learned from the variety of salvias grown at Wave Hill, I count on these tender perennials to save my own garden from late summer doldrums.
The delicate blossoms attract butterflies, bees and often hummingbirds, adding not only color but also movement and vitality to the gardens. The two-lipped tubular flowers emerge from colorful calyces or whorls of sepals borne on stems that sway in the late summer breezes. The flower colors range from striking sapphire blues to deep reds, pale purples, magenta pinks and coral oranges. Rare in salvias is the bright yellow of the forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis), dramatically paired with the staghorn sumac in Wave Hill’s Wild Garden for autumn splendor. Some salvias have highly ornamental bracts that persist long after the flowers are finished, extending the display for weeks on end. Tender salvias can be subtle or daring companions. Fine examples can be found in the Flower Garden, where Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’, with its rich purple flowers and calyces cavorts with the hostas at the entrance. Across the path, Salvia uliginosa’s sky-blue flowers wave in the breezes, and muted lavender shades of S. Waverly’ complement the pink flowers of the Anemone hupehensis. Several smaller salvias also make great container plants.
At Wave Hill, tender salvia are either grown from cuttings taken in the fall before very cool weather slows their vigor, or ordered from specialty nurseries each spring. They are now more readily available as their assets have become widely recognized. Full sun and well-drained soil encourage happy, undemanding and quickly growing plants. Now that summer has finally turned hot and sunny, they are thriving. For a full roster of this varied genus, see The New Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch. Take a tip from the Wave Hill gardeners next year and be sure to tuck a salvia −or many!− into your garden to assure that it dances and sings with color until frost.