Sage: Unique Multipurpose Herb – Over 500 different sages (salvias) grow wild around the world. Most of us are familiar with more than one of them, although we may not realize they are from the same family. There are aromatic culinary sages, colorful sages for flower beds, perennial ones and annual ones. All require sun and ordinary but well drained soil.
Culinary sage has been an herb garden staple since the 1500’s. It is the traditional seasoning used for stuffing in our holiday turkeys. Growing as a small bush, culinary sages have narrow leaves, softly gray beneath and either green, purple or variegated with yellow or white, depending on the variant. All of these make attractive container plants as well as garden plants. They are hardy to zone 5.
Rose Queen salvia
The bushes will get leggy and lanky after four or 5 years, but can be pruned back in either fall or early spring to refresh the plant. Sage can easily be propagated by layering. Simply anchor a low branch to the ground, covered with some soil, and within a month or two roots will form. Simply clip the new plant from the original bush and plant it somewhere else.
Blue Queen sage
Clary sage is another historic garden plant. This biennial is a tall plant with broad heart shaped leaves and tall pyramidal flower spikes with parchment like bracts. It is easily grown from seed, and in the second year blooms in July. Even after the flowers fade, the pearly bracts retain an attractive appearance in the flower garden. Once used as a flavor ingredient in home made wines and beers, clary sage still is used in some German wines.
Other ornamental sages can be either perennial or annual. Red top or painted sage (S. viridis) is one of the most interesting annuals. It makes a striking visual statement with colorful bracts of rich red striped with green veins. The actual flowers are small and insignificant, but the pinky red, purple or violet bracts make up for them.
Azure sage is a lovely 4 foot perennial with aromatic grayish leaves and pure gentian-blue flowers. It is native to the Southeastern US, and should do well in a warm, sunny and protected spot in most gardens. Other hybrid ornamental sages have been developed as showy border plants. Blue Queen has rich violet blue flowers, while Rose Queen has rosy-violet spikes. Silver sage is a specimen ornamental that has intensely silver fuzzy leaves that form a low rosette, and is grown mainly for this striking foliage.
With their long summer displays of flowers or their striking foliage, sages are becoming valued and popular additions to the ornamental perennial border.