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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Salvias into summer


I spent last weekend in Vermont where it snowed within the last two weeks, the tulips and daffodils were dancing the last hurrahs with a backdrop of iris budding and carpets of phlox subulata (mountain pink) and apple trees in bloom, just a week or two behind us here in the Delaware Valley.

It is early June but not yet summer, days are still getting longer and one cannot miss the splendor of early salvia in bloom (pictured). This is a perfect plant for the deer-plagued gardener, it comes in many colors, growth patterns and seasons and is relatively deer-resistant except in communities where almost everyone has deer-fencing because the animals are fenced away from their natural food.

There are many varieties of perennial salvia with silver-green leaves and stems of purple or blue flowers and like the culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) are pungent and not particularly attractive to herbivores. Many of these perennial salvias will rebloom if deadheaded after the first flush of flower and the annual varieties all benefit from regular removal of spent stems of blooms.

There are some perennial red salvias that are more airy, weaving through the 2- to 3-foot height zone of your garden more delicately than her blue cousins and they bring in hummingbirds.

Salvias are members of the Lamiaceae family, which includes over 1000 species of shrubs, perennial and annual salvias, this is a picture of a perennial variety. Planted in masses or swells with orange geum nearby the color becomes almost tangible, deep colors washing over you.

Annual salvias attract hummingbirds with their deep flowers while bringing many different colors to the summer garden. These typically self-seed year to year if they like the conditions and may stand as tall as three feet. I find that the annual varieties look best if dead-headed regularly, the fuzzy texture of the leaves tends to discourage munching.

Garden centers offer a wide variety of annual salvia officinalis, an appellation that actually means an officially accepted (sold in stores) healing herb [SAL-via o-fiss-in-AY-lis]. Sages have been used medicinally since the 1500s and known as an herb in the English garden.

According to Mrs. M. Grieve in “A Modern Herbal,” the red sage and the broad-leaved varieties with greyish leaves are the best used medicinally while the narrower leaves are good for culinary use.

She relates that the name of the genus, salvia, comes from the old Latin “to be saved” and is a tribute to the healing properties of the plant. Grieve also gives the reader a bit of the lore associated with sage and the cultivation. She says it was a belief that the sage in the garden would flourish or wither with the state of the owner’s business. It was also a saying that the wife rules in the house where sage thrives in the garden.

My mother has always said Rosemary flourishes at a house where the woman wears the pants; weirdly I myself do not like the pungent scent of Rosemary, hence I have no idea how it would do at my house. My mother has always been a magical gardener, buying perennials as collections of roots that spring into vibrant existence as full grown plants time after time and I have never gotten the impression that she has labored to garden.

Deer eschew most pungent plants but they are heading for the daylilies, especially the day before the first blossom opens and also the hosta. Keep a strong repellent, usually made of rotten eggs and garlic. Commercially Liquid fence works for me though it really stinks for a day.

Spring is moving quickly towards summertime when I have heard that the living is supposed to be easy.

Enjoy the moment.