Plant sage in your garden now for a splash of color until late fall

Plant sage in your garden now for a splash of color until late fall

The most important aspect of sage plants is their hardiness, especially at this time of year when more plant shows and late flower displays are purchased to enhance the garden's fall color.

Salvias bloom profusely until frost. They are also excellent for pollinating insects, bringing life and color into the late season. Once established, salvia plants have good drought resistance – but new plants will need careful watering in dry summer weather. Many have aromatic foliage, releasing a scent as you brush over it or as you cut the thorns of spent flowers, making them a pleasure to work with.

The other aspect of hardiness is how to preserve existing sage until next year. Sage supplies in many gardens will have been depleted by last winter's frosts. Salvias are not particularly expensive but this may exacerbate the loss of stock twice.

Hardy only in temperate regions or unheated greenhouses, Salvia bedding plants are perennials but are typically grown from seed every year. Easily raised from seed in the spring or purchased as plug plants, it's not worth trying to keep them. Particularly rewarding salvia varieties and cultivars can sometimes form a tuber that is lifted and stored as you would a dahlia.

Other sagebrush species can handle temperatures down to -20°C which is rare in Britain. Valuable examples are Salvia Nemorosa Ostfriesland with blue-violet flowers and Nemorosa caradonna with purple flowers and attractive gray leaves. These are bushy perennials that are particularly rewarding for potting and a sound choice for replacing summer containers that have expired.

The very popular Hot Lips bear flowers in both white and red, the proportions varying with the season, most red early, but mostly white as the days shorten, turning two-coloured in between. Heavy duty hot flanges down to -10°C or even lower. She was joined by strong cherry lips and amethyst lips in varying shades of pink and purple respectively. They are all somewhat shrubs (sub-shrubs) up to 1 m high.

Slightly smaller (75 cm), Salvia Nachtflinder has long spikes of bright flowers and releases a blackcurrant-like scent when the leaves are cleaned. Iced sugar, 65 cm tall, bears pink and purple flowers.

Slightly less hardy, and occasionally tolerating -5°C or lower, the Salvia microphylla Cerro Potosí shrub reaches 90 cm in height and bears tubular purple flowers. This is as powerful as rosemary, which is now classified as a salvia, Salvia rosmarinus. Another new recruit to the Salvia family is Hakim Al-Afghan, formerly called Perovskia.

For stunning blue flowers, Salvia oliginosa, sometimes called African Sky, bears masses of blue flowers on tall plants up to 1.5 metres. Unlike most salvias, it prefers moist soil, and grows in swampy areas in its native South Africa. It is hardy down to -5°C.

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Salvia caradonna lights up the garden (Image: RHS)

Since -5°C is not uncommon in many areas, these plants will need winter protection in a greenhouse or very sheltered location.

A sound backup plan is to take cuttings in late summer with 8cm long non-flowering shoots from which the lower leaves have been removed. Insert them into pots of sandy compost covered with a plastic bag until they take root. Keep the rooted cuttings in a bright, frost-free place to pot them next spring.

Cuttings are usually necessary for the almost irresistible perennial Salvia Amistad with its masses of purple flowers on black stems and Salvia involucrata Bethellii with its red and pink tubular flowers. They will put on a delicious fall display, but care will be needed to get them through next year.

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