The Sunday Mail
Andrew Mangwarara —
IF there is anything called fame in the plant kingdom then it belongs to sage, botanically known as the salvia family. Just as fame is associated with beauty in the human species, beauty is what distinguishes this group of plants from its peers. The flowers stand out, the variety of colours – from whites to reds, pinks, blues and purples – is brimming with garden and home beautification possibilities.
Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family (Lamiaceae), with more than 800 species of annuals, shrubs and perennials. In our beloved Zimbabwe we are blessed with good climate that allows this genus to grow throughout the year. Think of the marvellous red blooms of salvia splendens, an annual that does so well throughout the year in full sun or shade.
Red salvia is long flowering, growing up to 50cm in height, and can be pruned to encourage new blooms. Other cultivars exhibit colours such as white, purple or bi-colour of white and red. Its seed readily germinates in rich moist soil.
Though not so popular with many perhaps due to its susceptibility to powdery mildew, salvia farinacea is equally a force to reckon with. It displays its many small blue flowers on erect spikes. Commonly called mealy or mealy cup sage it grows in full sun or in partial shade, attracting butterflies and humming birds.
Use farinacea in borders or entrance beds and its best to treat it as an annual. As you browse through the long list of salvias you can only wonder at the beauty and variety, and wish that many more of its species could be available in our gardens. We move on to look at another popular often overlooked sage, salvia leucantha, which reaches 50cm in height.
It is by no means a plant for the backyard. Leucantha is an attractive plant with white and purple bracts with a hairy appearance. Its leaves are characteristically hairy underneath.
Salvia leucantha is widely adaptable over a wide range of soils and conditions being drought resistant. A useful beautiful plant for the water wise garden. One of my favourite among this collection is none other than salvia elegans, pineapple sage with its pineapple flavour exuding from its foliage. Its attractive red flowers are also visited by butterflies and hummingbirds.
The plant can grow to about a metre being useful as a shrub in the garden. It is also a common herb being used for the treatment of anxiety and lowering blood pressure. Make a cold or hot tea with the leaves or chop some of the edible foliage into fruit or vegetable salads.
Its flowers particularly have a sweet taste. Other useful salvias to try in our climate are grahamii, gregii and involucrata. Grahamii attaining a height of one metre is showy in spring and blossoms in a full sun position. Gregii is half that height preferring a half sun location and being an all year rounder.
A background border plant for winter displays is salvia involucrata reaching a metre in height in a full sun position. What kind of a garden would it be without the likes of this group of plants, which are sure to attract a fair share of visitors and admirers. Grow your own selection of sages throughout the year.
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