Commonly known as sage, salvias are mint family perennials and annuals. Valued as ornamental and culinary plants, they combine striking flowers with attractive--and frequently aromatic--foliage. Mainstays of the hummingbird or butterfly garden, salvias work as well in containers as they do at the back of perennial borders, say Clemson Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist Karen Russ and consumer horticulturist Bob Polemski. Gardeners have more than 900 salvia species from which to choose.
Anise-Scented Sage '"Black and Blue"
Aptly named anise-scented sage (Salvia guarantica) "Black and Blue" is a perennial sage in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 8 and higher. Elsewhere it grows as an annual. Standing 2- to 5-feet high and wide--annual plants are in the shorter end of the range--"Black and Blue" has a bushy form with erect, branching stems. Bruising its wrinkled, deep green foliage releases a faint anise scent. Between July and frost, the plant’s black calyces (protective outer petals) open to reveal cobalt blooms. Flower spikes can be 15 inches long, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Salvia "Rose Wine"
A small but cold-tolerant clump-forming sage, salvia (Salvia) "Rose Wine" handles sub-zero temperatures to USDA zone 4. Growing up to 18 inches high with a 1-foot spread, "Rose Wine" has upright stems with green, lance-like leaves. Its spikes of rosy pink or rosy red blooms draw butterflies and bees to the garden. With adequate watering, this salvia will flower from June until September, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden. Cutting back dead flowers also extends the bloom.
Meadow Sage "Swan Lake"
Meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) "Swan Lake" is also hardy to USDA zone 4. A medium-sized plant, it stands up to 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide. With removal of it spent flowers, Swan Lake will bloom from May to September. Its erect stems have spikes of immaculate, white flowers above pale green, oval leaves. Like Rose Wine, this salvia is a magnet for butterflies and bees, notes the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Easily recognizable from its scented foliage, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) grows up to 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. A relatively late-blooming sage, it's only hardy to USDA zone 8. Between August and October plants have 8-inch spikes of brilliant red flowers irresistible to hummingbirds. They appear even more vivid against the plant's pale green leaves and stems. The edible flowers make colorful garnishes, while the fragrant leaves add a punch to salad and tea. Unlike other sages that thrive in dry, sandy or gravelly soil, this plant refers humus-rich, consistently moist growing conditions, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.