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Ask Mr. Sage: Why Don't You Grow this New Salvia?

First posted on May 26, 2020

Ask Mr. Sage: Why Don't You Grow this New Salvia?

Dear Mr. Sage,

I saw a lovely new plant, Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’ online and am wondering why you don’t sell it. The red and white blossoms of Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ make it one of the favorites in my garden. I think a purple and white variety like Amethyst Lips would be a fun addition to my yard. Flowers by the Sea is my favorite source for sages. Sometimes I get frustrated when you don’t have a new variety I would like to try.


Perplexed Gardener

Dear Perplexed,

I understand your frustration. However, plant developers introduce dozens of new Salvia varieties yearly. At FBTS Farm, we trial most of them, which means we grow them and evaluate characteristics such as:

  • Growth habit — appearance, shape, speed of growth, and method of spread
  • Ease of growth — how much work a plant requires
  • Resilience — ability to survive challenges
  • Flowering — season and amount, and
  • Uniqueness — whether and how it differs from other sages.

Trialing is an expensive and time-consuming process we engage in to make sure that we offer superb Salvias and companion plants to our customers. So, aside from not having the greenhouse space to carry all the new varieties each year, we only want to add the best to our catalog.

As I noted earlier in an article titled Ask Mr. Sage: How FBTS Chooses New Salvias, “We refuse to remove excellent sages from production to make space for new yet lower quality plants.”

To understand our selection process, it helps to consider one of the top series in our catalog — the Australian Wish Sages, which partially benefit the Make a Wish Foundation. They are: Wendy's Wish Sage (Salvia x ‘Wendy’s Wish’), Ember's Wish Sage (Salvia x 'Ember's Wish'), Love and Wishes Sage (Salvia x 'Love and Wishes'), and Kisses and Wishes Sage (Salvia x 'Kisses and Wishes'). They are so popular that many plant developers are creating spinoffs we call "Wish-type" sages. We trial lots of Wish types and are highly selective about the ones we add to our catalog.

Unfortunately, Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’ isn’t up to our quality standards. Despite pretty photos online, it is a rangy plant with small blossoms and a low ratio of flowers to foliage. Sometimes we get excited by a plant’s picture only to be disappointed by its actual appearance and performance. But that’s life in the trial gardens.

Thanks for your question,

Mr. Sage

Edited Apr 20, 2022 05:00 PM


Tina Cremer 3 years ago
Thank you for saving us from ourselves. As a landscape designer, it is incredabley important to know how a plant will look when established.
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Musette 3 years ago
Thank you for this respectful and informative post.  I don't think a lot of people (myself included) realize just how many varieties of ANYTHING show up each year - and I didn't even consider the costs (and space used) for a nursery to do their own trials!  
Sometimes newer is better.  And sometimes... it's just newer.

Thanks again!
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Jere Noerager 3 years ago
Excellent article. I hadn’t fully realized the extent of your in-house trialing of new Salvia varieties that come on the market. Your description of one plant (that didn’t meet your exacting standards) as “rangy,” as well as several of the comments to this article, indicate that photos of the flowers ONLY tell a part of “the story.” Could you start to add photos of the entire plant to your catalog listings? Maybe as you introduce new varieties (so it isn’t an overwhelming task all at once)? I realize it’d be more work for your already overworked crew, but it sure would be helpful to me in trying to envision adding new plantS to an existing (and maybe overflowing) garden.
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Kermit Carter 3 years ago
We are trying for full plant pictures.  It is indeed a large project.
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Al Robinson 3 years ago
Enjoyed your article about new types of salvias, etc.
I am still looking for an orange-blooming variety that would also be cold-hard down to Zone 6.
(I have tried all the other varieties that were hardy to Zone 7a and Zone 7b... but they did not come back.
I live about 15 miles north of Atlanta, GA  (Zone 7a)... and I guess it just gets too cold)
Let me know if something comes your way.
Al Robinson
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