Creating a flower garden in partial shade is not as challenging as planting in full shade, yet it requires selecting the right plants. Herbaceous Chinese Salvias and one standout Himalayan species, Salvia nubicola, can form a harmoniously composed partial-shade garden that will attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees as well as your pleased eye.
Plant Chinese Salvias now for cooling, colorful clouds of blue, lavender, purple and white blossoms from summer through fall as well as attractive rosettes of basal foliage in varying shapes, textures and shades of green. Back them up with the tall, sunny yellow spikes of S. nubicola, or Himalayan Cloud Sage, a native of countries such as Nepal and Tibet.
Dwellers in the Clouds and Lower Lands. Chinese Salvias thrive in the mountains of central and southern China. Himalayan Cloud Sage can grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, which is why it received the name “nubicola,” meaning “dweller among the clouds.” One of the best places in the world to see it is lower in elevation, Nepal’s Muktinath Valley that is 3,710 feet above sea level.
Himalayan Cloud Sage — Salvia nubicola
Tibetan Cloud Sage, which grows up to 48 inches tall and 36 inches wide. Of all the Salvias in this article, it does well in the broadest range of U.S. Department of Agriculture cold-hardiness areas, thriving in Zones 5 to 10. In chilly locations, plant it in full sun. Tibetan Cloud Sage produces spikes of butter yellow flowers 12 to 18 inches long, which are a particularly lovely surprise when emerging from snow.
If you are growing this sage in warmer Zones, such as 8 to 10, place S. nubicola in partial shade. Similar to all the Salvias detailed here, it prefers rich soil that is moist yet well drained.
Arrangement by Height. Himalayan Cloud Sage is the tallest of this group of Salvias, so place it as a focal point in the center of a circular grouping or toward the back of rectangular flowerbed. The following Chinese Salvias are arranged by height starting with the shortest. A shady spot near a water feature or a thicket of trees and shrubs may be just right for all these heavenly herbaceous Salvias.
Red Sage or Dan-Shen — Salvia miltiorrhiza
Chinese Salvias are well known for their medicinal properties, yet can be valued simply for their ornamental value. Red Sage, which has fragrant, lavender flowers, gains its name from bright red, finger-like roots. The roots are dried, ground and used for treating illnesses, such as stroke and heart disease, as well as problems including insomnia.
Red sage grows 12 to 24 inches tall and spreads about 24 inches, so it makes an ideal front row plant in this group. Not quite as cold tolerant as S. nubicola, it grows in Zones 6 to 9. A woodland plant, it is a good companion for hostas.
Himalayan or Kashmir Sage — Salvia hians
Another Zone 6 to 9 choice is Kashmir Sage, known botanically as S. hians, which has dramatic, dusky purple blossoms and dark stems. It reaches up to 24 inches high and 36 inches wide, so plant it second row back interspersed with the lighter blue-to-lavender flowered S. yunnanensis, which is similar in height.
Although it also grows at lower altitudes, S. hians is accustomed to elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet in its native countries of Pakistan and Bhutan.
Yunnan Sage — Salvia yunnanensis
Yunnan Sage is also sometimes referred to as Dan-Shen due to its red roots containing compounds similar to those of Red Sage. Native to China’s Yunnan and Szechuan provinces, it usually lives on grassy hill lands and near the edge of forests at an elevation of 5,900 to 9,500 feet.
Depending on whether it tops out at 24 or 32 inches, S. yunnanensis may be a bit wider or narrower than it is high. It generally spreads to 28 inches.
Purple Szechuan Sage — Salvia dolichantha
One row back from S. hians and S. yunnanensis in your shade garden design, good planting choices include S. dolichantha and S. x ‘Out of the Mist’. Also called Purple Szechuan Sage for the Chinese province where it grows on high mountains, S. dolichantha grows to 36 inches tall but has flower spikes that may reach lengths of 60 inches. They are covered with velvety
Whereas Purple Szechuan Sage can grow in Zones 5 to 9, Out of the Mist Chinese Sage does best in Zones 6 to 9. They also differ in tolerance toward shade. While Out of the Mist is meant for partial shade, Purple Szechuan does well in either partial or full shade.
Out of the Mist Chinese Sage — Salvia x ‘Out of the Mist’
This hybrid is one of the rarest species that Flowers by the Sea carries. The blossoms of S. x ‘Out of the Mist’ are a luminous white with subtle traces of yellow and blue. White isn't a frequent color among Salvias. Although its exact parantage is unknown, Out of the Mist Chinese Sage traces its roots to the mountains of Central China.
Planting a Shade Garden Now. It may seem counter-intuitive to be planting with shade in mind just as the cool weather of autumn is beginning to set in. But as with so many items on life’s to-do list, there is no time like the present for investing in shady beauty for the seemingly far-off heat of next summer.