Sometimes, when defining a plant, it is helpful not only to say what it is but also what it is not. Herbaceous perennials are not woody. They have soft stems and die to the ground annually, sending up shoots again in the new growing season.
Although perennial generally refers to any plant that returns for more than two growing seasons, it is a term that the horticulture industry -- and our catalog -- primarily applies to herbaceous species even though the deciduous, woody Salvias also refresh annually.
In contrast to herbaceous perennial Salvias, the woody kinds of sage are referred to as shrubs and subshrubs. Shrubs are plants with stems that are woody overall. Sub-shrub Salvias combine woody and tender herbaceous stems.
Some Salvia species, such as Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), are evergreen shrubs -- the kind that are in a constant state of foliage loss and renewal -- in warmer USDA zones and subshrubs in cooler parts of their range. But true herbaceous perennial Salvias almost always die to ground at the end of their growing season. End of season depends on whether an herbaceous perennial is dormant in winter or dormant in summer as with winter-growing species originating in Mediterranean climates.
Flowers by the Sea grows many herbaceous Salvias in a rainbow of flower colors and a wide variety of bloom times, including cold-hardy species from America, Asia and Europe. Others come from warmer climates, such as Africa, the American South, Central and South America, Mexico, the Mediterranean and South Africa.
One major way in which care of herbaceous species differs from that of woody sages concerns clean up. Whereas woody sages are hard pruned at the beginning of their growing season, the spent foliage of herbaceous species is removed at the end of their season. Also, many herbaceous species can be encouraged to bloom twice if pruned mid-season.
(Kyushu Woodland Sage) We are in love with this short forest sage from Kyushu, Japan. Its clusters of large creamy flowers pale as fresh-churned butter begin blooming in September. Even when not blooming, its foliage is showy in a shady garden.
(Formosan Woodland Sage or Tai wan qin zhu cao) A native of Taiwan, this Salvia nipponica grows well in hot, humid climates as well as milder locales.
(Himalayan Cloud Sage) Nepal's Muktinath Valley -- a sacred site for Hindus and Buddhists -- is the place to go to see this majestically tall shade perennial in the wild. It grows at altitudes up to 14,000 feet and often emerges while the ground is still snowy.
(Nodding Sage) "Dancing in the air" is how garden writer Joseph Tychonievich describes the tall, graceful flower spikes of Nodding Sage, which can tower up to 5 feet tall over the plant's 18-inch-tall foliage during the summer flowering season.
(Cambridge Blue Gentian Sage) Cambridge Blue is one of the most famous varieties of Salvia patens, which was discovered in Central Mexico in 1838. Its powder blue flowers are delightful and cooling in the landscape.
(Dorset Lavender Gentian Sage) Large, deep lavender flowers shaped like parrot beaks make Salvia patens 'Chilcombe' distinctive in the Gentian Sage group, which is dominated by true blues.
(Dot's Delight Bicolor Gentian Sage) This sage turns heads, because its large, white and blue bicolored flowers make it a unique variety of Gentian Sage. Developed in the UK, Dot's Delight is less vigorous and less sun tolerant than other varieties of the species.
(Guanajuato Giant Gentian Sage) At 3 inches long, the flowers of this Gentian Sage are the largest of any we grow. Guanjuato Giant is also unique for its tall, upright growth and heavily textured foliage.
(Giant Gentian Sage) "Wow!" is what most people say when they see this large Gentian Sage from Central Mexico. Growing to 4 feet tall, it has long, graceful spikes of 3-inch deep, royal blue flowers that are highly visible and easily accessible to hummingbirds.
(Oxford Blue Gentian Sage) Only Salvia patens 'Blue Angel' comes close to the hard-to-believe, rich gentian blue of this sage from Mexico. Oxford Blue also grows taller and spreads wider than Blue Angel.
(Big Red Sage) Hummingbirds and butterflies adore the large, deep red blossoms of Salvia penstemonoides, a once rare herbaceous perennial. Its long blooming, super tall flower spikes rise from a basal rosette of lemon-lime fragrant leaves the color of green apples.
(Big Pitcher Sage) As its scientific name indicates, this sage has very large flowers. They are almost two-tone, changing from deep violet to a light blue or white at their base where they are cupped by dusky purple calyxes.
(Rosebud Pink Hybrid Sage) Protective, magenta pink, leaf-like bracts surround the buds of Salvia pulchella x involucrata like a hug, bursting open and eventually falling away as the fuzzy flowers blossom.
(Turkish Cliff Sage) Spring into early summer, Turkish Cliff Sage produces erect, branching flower spikes 24 to 36 inches long that rise from basal foliage. They’re covered with whorls of pale pink blossoms with delicate white markings.
(The Queen's Sage) Regal spikes of lavender-to-purple flowers give weight to this sage's common name. It provides a stately show of bloom during summer in USDA Zones 6 to 10. Cold hardy and heat tolerant, this impressive perennial comes from the mountains of Turkey.
(Autumn Sapphire West Texas Grass Sage) Butterflies and honeybees particularly favor this West Texas mountain native. In contrast to the true blue flowers of regular Salvia reptans, this cultivar has deep blue blossoms and is remarkably compact.
(Summer Skies West Texas Grass Sage) Butterflies and honeybees particularly favor this West Texas mountain native. In contrast to the true blue flowers of regular Salvia reptans, this cultivar has purple blossoms with cloud-like, lavender-to-white throats.
(Confused Argentine Sage) Similar in many ways to the indispensable garden favorites of the Anise Scented Sage (Salvia guaranitica spp.) group, this plant is a perfect companion for its better known cousin.
(Mount Olympus Sage) The deep violet and white flowers of Salvia ringens are eyecatching. Their wiry, branched spikes rise up to 5 feet tall from a dark green basal rosette.