Gardeners searching for all-purpose plants need look no further than sages. Also known as salvias, sages belong to the mint family. Their aromatic leaves are culinary staples. Sages also make highly ornamental garden plants, with long blooming seasons. Their flower spikes range from white to very cool or warm shade. Warm-colored plants attract hummingbirds. There's a sage for nearly every growing condition, including dry shade and alkaline clay.
Autumn sage (Salvia greggi) has small, mint-scented leaves that make tasty seasoning or tea. Evergreen in the warmer parts of its range, autumn sage grows wild on dry, rocky hillsides from west and south central Texas into Mexico. This 2- to 3-foot sage is a popular ornamental, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Between March and October, it produces spikes of 1-inch white, pink, orange, red or purple flowers. They're heaviest in the spring and fall, and intermittent in summer. Edible, they contain nectar irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies. Insect and disease resistant, autumn stage is a low-maintenance plant. Once established, it needs no fertilizer. It likes full sun and dry, well-drained, limestone-rich soil but also grows in sand or loam. Plant where passing traffic won't damage its brittle branches.
Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), a 1- to 2-foot perennial, grows wild in open woods and meadows from Florida, west to Texas and north to New York. Its square, straight stem rises from a clump of aromatic, three-lobed basal leaves. It's deep-green foliage is tinged with purple in the winter. Lyreleaf sage has stem-ascending spirals of white, blue or lavender blooms from March to June. The 1-inch flowers' upper lips create a hooded appearance, and their fragrance draws butterflies and hummingbirds. This evergreen makes an attractive ground cover, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Self-seeding, it spreads rapidly in moist, sandy soil and tolerates mowing. Plant in sun to shade and acidic (pH below 7.0) sand, loam or clay. Lyreleaf sage handles drought and intermittent flooding.
Shade-loving, perennial cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana) thrives when planted near cedars in particular. The cedar sage has aromatic, scalloped green leaves and grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Its 2- to 3-inch spikes of vivid scarlet blooms appear from March to August. Fragrant and edible, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This sage is a wonderful choice for well-drained shady spots, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It also works well in containers. Plant the cedar sage in part shade and limestone-based, alkaline (pH above 7.0) soil near cedars or junipers or with juniper mulch. It needs good drainage but can handle soils from sand to clay. Cedar sage also will grow under deciduous trees, but only if their leaf litter is cleared so its seedlings can get light.