Sage is the common name for the uncommonly beautiful Salvia genus, which contains nearly 900 species with foliage in a wide array of greens. But when designers of fashions, interiors and consumer goods describe a product as being sage-colored, they mean a shade of grey-green that they say is soothing. We can’t argue that last point although we think many colors of Salvia foliage are restful.
Seeking Peace in the Garden
The gray-green that designers call sage harmonizes with a multitude of colors, including soft pastels, hot oranges and deep purples. A version of sage called “Grayed Jade 14-6011” is one of the Pantone color-matching system’s top shades for the design industry this year. It is a good choice for reconciling and pulling together diverse colors whether in your wardrobe, living room or garden.
We've identified a few favorite plants with Grayed Jade foliage that we grow regularly at Flowers by the Sea. They are fine peacemakers amid mixed foliage colors in a Salvia garden based on Pantone’s top greens for 2013, which include the rich blue-green Emerald 17-5641 and the bright yellow-green Tender Shoots 14-0446. You can read about them in previous articles from our Pantone Pageant series of designer colors in the landscape.
However, before getting into mixed greens in your garden, it’s necessary to note that we’ve also tossed in one silvery-white Salvia here. This is because many interior and fashion designers are suggesting white as an excellent neutral accent for all three Pantone greens.
Finding Grayed Jade Amid the Salvias
Now, back to our Grayed Jade matches from super-short ground covers to a mid-sized culinary choice with spectacular rusty, dusty rose flowers. All require well-drained soil and a minimum of six hours of sunlight daily.
Dandelion Leaf Sage. The second part of Dandelion Leaf Sage’s scientific name, Salvia taraxacifolia, is a nod to the Dandelion genus (Taraxacum spp.) Both have tight, low-growing rosettes of deeply notched leaves. However, Dandelion Leaf Sage isn’t an invasive plant; it is a welcome ground cover that resists drought and retains soil moisture. In addition to foliage rising up from 3 to 12 inches and spreading about 12 inches wide, Dandelion Leaf Sage has 12-inch tall spikes of large, pale pink flowers that bloom from Summer through Fall. It grows well in USDA cold hardiness Zones 7 to 11.
If by chance you need lots of ground covers, two other fine Grayed Jade choices in our collection include Snowflake Sage (Salvia chionophylla) and Silver Germander Sage (Salvia chamaedryoides var.isochroma).
Scordy Sage. This easy-to-grow Ecuadorian native is a shrubby choice for the middle of borders. When in bloom from Summer to Fall, its abundant deep bluish-purple flowers cause it to sell out rapidly. Its dainty gray-green leaves are slightly hairy, which helps to conserve moisture. Although Scordy Sage (Salvia scordifolia) tolerates dry conditions, it does well with average watering for local conditions. It’s a good fit for Zones 7 to 9 and grows 36 inches tall and wide.
Rusty Sage. The lance-shaped foliage of Rusty Sage (Salvia lanceolata) is a lovely, velvety, Grayed Jade with a fragrance of peppery lemon. In its homeland along the coast of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Rusty Sage leaves are a popular seasoning for fish. In the U.S. this compact subshrub is adaptable to Zones 8 to 11 where it prefers weekly deep watering, but can make do on less. It grows 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide with large dusty rose flowers that bloom nearly year round in warm climates.
Pantone Mixed Greens
Figuring out which plants to mix based on water, sunlight and soil quality requirements, as well as color, height and width, is an exercise akin to fumbling with distant memories of middle school math lessons about combinations and permutations. But we can help you find your way through the matrix of choices.
Start by selecting a Salvia from one of the three Pantone 2013 greens. For example, if you are drawn to the Grayed Jade leaves and deep blue flowers of Scordy Sage, you might choose to mix it with the equally drought-tolerant Tender Shoots yellow-green of Mauritania Tingitana Sage (Salvia tingitana).
Tingitana Sage can grow from 24 to 36 inches tall and usually is 24 inches wide, so it is somewhat smaller than Scordy Sage. Keep height and width in mind as you consider additional plants.
Among the FBTS Emerald Salvias, Potent Culinary Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Extrakta’) would be a good choice, because its cultural needs are similar to those of the other two plants. Plus it is similar in size at 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
Due to similarities in size among these plants, the best choice might be to grow them in a row-like arrangement along a sunny walkway or foundation wall. But first, you need to decide which color will dominate. Perhaps you like Scordy Sage enough to let Grayed Jade play a quiet lead role.
Gotta Have Rhythm
So perhaps you decide to alternate plantings in this manner: Scordy, Scordy,Tingitana, Scordy, Potent Culinary, Scordy, Tingitana, Scordy, Scordy. In this arrangement, Emerald would be at the center and buffered from the golden foliage of Tingitana by Scordy’s Grayed Sage.
But a straight line of any group of plants doesn’t really sing and dance. You have to set a rhythm to the layout and add some accents as well. Perhaps a zig-zagging arrangement would work with the Scordy Sage stepping slightly backward and the other plants -- which are either shorter or narrower -- moving forward.
For the accents in this planting, we suggest the silvery white of the equally drought-resistant Sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana). Although it can reach heights of 60 inches, its average size is 36 inches tall and wide.
You may want to use Sacred White Sage as a taller backdrop for the other plants. Or perhaps you could trim it at appropriate times (a topic for another day and another post) and replace a few of the Scordy Sage plants with Sacred Whites. The chorus line might look like this: Scordy back, Sacred White back, Tingitana forward, Scordy back, Potent Culinary forward, Scordy back, Tingitana forward, Sacred White back, Scordy back.
At their feet you could plant a touch more Grayed Jade in the form of Dandelion Leaf Sage. It would be like throwing pale pink roses on the stage of your award-winning perennial bed. Then you can stand back and applaud your work.