The salvia flowers we encounter so frequently in the landscape are part of a large genus (Salvia) of plants in the mint family, including the culinary herb, sage. In fact, a common name for the red salvias (S. splendens) we know so well as bedding plants is "scarlet sage." In this introduction, my goal is necessarily a modest one: namely, to present a few of the types of salvia flowers commonly encountered by landscaping enthusiasts.
"Annual" Salvia Flowers
I begin with a couple of types of salvia flowers which, although perennials in their warm, native lands, are treated as annual plants by a large number of gardeners (folks living in somewhat more northerly regions).
Salvia splendens is best known in its scarlet garb, but these salvia flowers do come in other colors, including white, salmon, pink, purple, lavender, burgundy and orange. As early as 1952, Hottes said of the scarlet type:
There is no question regarding its growth or its blooming qualities, but in some cities its hot color is seen on so many streets that it becomes monotonous. (The Book of Annuals, Alfred C. Hottes, p.141.)
Not surprisingly, since red salvia flowers are still widely used in North America some 50 years later, the plants' detractors continue to scoff at the "overuse" of red salvia flowers. Like many popular bedding plants, they are victims of their own success: familiarity breeds contempt. Yet the function they serve is undeniable: when trying to inject a splash of red into the landscape for the summer in an area with full sun, few plants outperform red salvia flowers. Read more:
There are, however, more options for red landscape plants than there are for blue. Deep, true blue (as opposed to a purplish blue) is a highly sought after color in annual flowers. "Victoria Blue" salvia flowers furnish us with just this prized color. Treated as annuals north of their native Texas and Mexico, Victoria Blue salvia flowers can be used to create a "sea of blue" in your landscape. To learn more, read:
Some Hardier Salvia Flowers
Not for nothing were "May Night" salvia flowers honored as the top perennials for 1997. These vigorous plants bear lance-shaped leaves and numerous spikes of purplish-blue blooms. I deadheaded my own May Night salvia flowers last year (2006), but they are reputed to bloom throughout the summer even without deadheading. Read more:
As pleased as I was with May Night, I found "Caradonna" salvia flowers even more striking. Dark purple stems and delicate spikes of deep purplish-blue blooms thrust skyward out of the foliar mass, like so many colorful rockets. Find out more:
Does their name tell the whole story? Well, not quite. "Blue Hill" salvia flowers were advertised as an answer to the call for more "true blue" floral options. And, indeed, their flowers' color is lighter than that of May Night salvia flowers or Caradonna salvia flowers (less purplish). But as I say above, the true "true blue" salvia choice for me is Victoria Blue salvia flowers. Victoria Blue offers a richer blue.
Of course, Blue Hill has the advantage of being a perennial for most of the temperate zone; so, in a sense, I suppose it isn't entirely fair to compare the two. Moreover, Blue Hill is certainly a serviceable plant that does a great job of drawing bees and butterflies to the landscape. Thanks to Blue Hill and the other blue salvia flowers I've mentioned, my planting bed was abuzz last year with the drone of the honey bees -- nor was a butterfly ever too far away. Learn more: