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Everything You Need to Know About Salvia

Published on May 3rd 2021
A close up of a flower
Why every gardener should reserve a spot in the sun for Salvia officinalis.


Salvia spp.

These days we treat the sick with antibiotics or ibuprofen, but in ancient times, the medicine of choice was Salvia officinalis. So much so that it was regarded as a healer and preserver of the human race (or “Salvia, Salvatvix, naturæ conciliatrix" in Latin). But while we can't attest to Salvia's life-saving abilities, we certainly do think they are joyously life-affirming blooms to keep in the garden.
A vase of flowers on a plant
Commonly known as Sage, this culinary herb has more to offer than those fragrant leaves (delicious though they are fried in butter and stirred into a risotto). This genus of delicate, tubular, two-lipped flowers packs a punch in intense royal purples, rich scarlet reds and Fuschia pinks. And who could resist the delicately rouged petalloids of Salvia 'Hot Lips'? Salvias make other blooms look wishy-washy with their HD hues.
Accompany these floriferous beauties with silver-foliage plants such as Artemisia and Eryngium for a dazzling focal point.
Gardeners aren't the only ones attracted to Salvia. Those nectar-rich flowers are a magnet for pollinators too. Butterflies, hoverflies, honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees feast from these blooms from early summer.
With nearly 1,000 varieties to choose from, why not experiment with the one-hit-wonder bedding annuals before committing to the biennials and perennials? You can also buy Salvias as evergreen subs and subshrubs. Just remember that not all varieties are hardy. This is particularly important if you're growing Salvia by seed, which brings us nicely to Salvia's preferred growing conditions.

How to care for Salvia

Salvias are the beach bums of the plant world. They love to bask in full sun and feel quite at home in a coastal or dry garden. Like most of us, they would prefer to park themselves in a sunny but sheltered spot out of the wind.
Plant Salvia in moist, well-drained, sandy or loamy soil. We suggest growing them in containers if you have clay soil.
Growing Salvia from seed? Sow half-hardy species undercover in spring and fully hardy varieties outdoors in mid-spring.
Depending on where you live, well-established Salvias will survive winter. But it's worth giving them a mulch blanket to protect them from the frost. You can always take cuttings in spring if you're worried they won't make it through the colder months. More on that here:
Plants this pretty were made to be shared (even if it's just among your own back garden borders). Divide and replant Salvia from September to March.

Problems with Salvia

If you notice your plant leaning, or perhaps your Salvia isn't flowering as prolifically as you'd like, it might be because it's getting too much shade.
Generally, Salvia is pest-free but look out for Spider Mite.

How to prune Salvia

Give Salvia a haircut in spring to clear away any dead matter from last season and deadhead Salvia in July to encourage more blooms.

Watch Rosy Hardy speak about some of the cultivars included in the Hardy's Festival Garden:

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Did you know?

  • Salvia hails from central and south America, Asia and the Mediterranean.
  • Salvia produces its very own pest control. Some varieties have hairy, aromatic stems that secrete volatile oils. These are adept at keeping pests at bay.
  • Wondering how Salvia can cope in hot, sunny conditions? Salvia's hairy leaves help the plant to reduce water loss.
  • Salvia's petals are known as petalloids. This is because Salvias have brightly coloured sepals (sepals are modified leaves that are traditionally green), which resemble petals. In Salvia's case, the sepals are colourful to attract pollinators.
  • Sage is rich in antioxidants found to combat the ageing of cells, improving memory and brain function. Hence 'sage advice'.
  • Fresh sage leaves were commonly used to clean the teeth and freshen the breath before we had toothbrushes.
  • Salvia divinorum, also known as Sage of the Diviners and Seer's Sage, is well known for their hallucinogenic properties.
  • The ancient tradition of burning sage smudge sticks in purification rituals continues to this day. However, the trend for energy cleansing vibes has sparked concerns around cultural appropriation and over harvesting.

Where to buy Salvia

This multi-talented herb is a must-have—nab yours from an independent nursery on Candide today.

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