CONTEXT

May 15, 2016

Let a thousand salvias bloom…

…because, depending on who you talk to, there are as many as 2,000 species and so you can.

Some botanists insist there are only about 700, but there is a perfectly acceptable list of 986, so I’m sticking with that. Wikipedia has a list of them and just under the letter A you will find almost 80 salvia species.

rhea

Salvia farinacea ‘rhea’ – a beautiful blue, but a tiny bit water-needy

What’s good about salvias is that most of them are not only drought-tolerant, but are uncomplaining when it comes to mediocre soil, which makes them an excellent landscape plant here in Southern California. And all the places that will soon be just like Southern California.

Most of them are also extremely popular with pollinators, which, as we all now know, is a very important aspect of home gardens.

Salvias are the largest genus of the Lamiaceae or mint family – hilariously also known as the deadnettle family -and include shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals. And compare their variety, for instance, to their cousins the lavenders, which number only 39.

The name comes from Latin salvere, which means to heal, to feel well – clearly it’s been a medicinal herb for a very long time. Generations have used it for tea, though these days it is used primarily I suspect for its flavor, especially at Thanksgiving, when everyone touts their sage dressing.

Salvia_officinalis0

Garden sage. Photo by Kurt Stuber

Thus, Number One on the very long list of salvia species is Salvia officinalis, garden or common sage.

Salvia divinorum is also pretty well known, since it has psychotropic properties. And another member of the family – chia – is familiar to most people, though I was surprised to find it in the salvia family.

A lot of what makes salvias salvias has to do with the flower, which has a kind of orchidish look, but for all the gory details about the calyx and corolla, you’ll have to find your own way to Wikipedia. I still can’t keep my racemes and panicles straight.

Because they are low-maintenance and good for pollinators, I have recently become a huge salvia fan and I would like to share a great resource with you – http://www.fbts.com.

That is the link to Flowers by the Sea, a nursery in Mendocino CA that specializes in salvias and ships from now until mid-June. They literally have hundreds of salvias to choose from and the website is loaded with info. Go right to ‘Getting Started with Salvias’ and they will even tell you what’s best for your planting zone.

In any event, you can heal your garden and your water bill and make the world a better place for bees and butterflies this year, one salvia at a time.

IMG_4697

A lovely pink salvia I saw at the nursery – sorry, I don’t know its name, but there are many pinks to choose from.

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