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Gardening: Salvias attract attention – and hummingbirds

Nancy Szerlag

A question I am often asked is, what is my favorite flower? My stock answer is the one that just bloomed in the garden. However, every year I develop a crush on one family of plants, and this season it’s salvias.

When I started gardening, the ubiquitous red Salvia Splendens was common as dust in summer plantings. I referred to it as “the red gas station plants” and they were often paired with marigolds — an awful combination. However, if the plants were not deadheaded, and they rarely were, they’d cease to bloom, so the by midsummer the clashing colors were gone. Today’s salvias are more forgiving when it comes to deadheading and the colors — blues, purples, pinks, white, oranges and, of course red — make stunning additions to the garden

Salvias have a reputation for drought tolerance, which is true of some varieties, but they grow best in moist, well-drained soil in six hours or more of sun a day.

The dark blue flowered annual “Salvia Victoria” (S. farinacea), also called mealy cup sage, has been a staple in my gardens for years. It’s tough as nails, looks good with perennials, is still available in cell packs, blooms all season and is deer resistant. What’s not to love?

Salvia “Mystic Spires” is an almost shrub-like tender perennial. “Mystic Spires Improved” stays more vibrant right to the end of the growing season. New this year is “Salvia Mysty,” a shorter, compact variety that makes a great container partner.

The most famous perennial salvia, the perennial plant of the year in 1997, is “May Night,” (S. x sylvestris), also called meadow sage. With its deep violet-blue flowers with purple calyces, these 30-inch-tall plants bloom from late spring to midsummer and, with a hair cut, repeat again in fall

Salvia nemorosa “Caradonna” rises to just 24 inches, but the dark purple-blue flower stalk is 10 inches and fuller than “May Night.”

A newer series of tender perennial salvias from Australia, the “Wish” collection, is incredibly popular with the hummingbird-loving crowd. These plants, as are all salvias, are magnets for the mercurial hummers.

The 2- to 3-foot-tall “Wendy’s Wish” produces spikes of vivid magenta -pink blossoms with fluted tips on maroon stems. Deep purple flowers covers ‘Love and Wishes’ straight through frost. The 3- to 4-foot “Embers Wish” is covered with glowing coral blooms. Any or all of the Wish series make gorgeous accents with no pruning or deadheading. As I said, “What’s not to love?”

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Friday’s in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy.