Three salvias to salivate over

There are so many salvias to love. I’m going to show you three to salivate over. They will take your garden on a flight beyond the ordinary. Save this page for next spring, run out to your garden center and search/ask for any of these. Better yet, ask now so they can start cuttings for spring. If we don’t ask, they won’t grow them.

S. splendens ‘Van Houttei’ is a favorite. I try to find it and the selection ‘Wendy’s Wish’ each spring. There is also a solid red variety ‘Paul.’  This year, I found the burgundy/red strain at Bustani Plant Farm, but I had to ask for it. Apparently, it isn’t a hot seller in spring because salvias aren’t all that showy then.

Well, duh, of course they aren’t. They need heat to perform. When the mercury rises, watch how they glow in morning light.

Salvia splendens 'Van Houttei' in the side garden.
Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’ in the garage border.

Red and hot pink salvias are extremely popular with hummingbirds. Below is S. ‘Wendy’s Wish.’ I ordered it online from eBay of all places. You can also get plants from Park Seed, but wait until next spring to order. These salvias are only hardy to USDA Zone 9 and will not overwinter here. The plants I ordered were small, but it didn’t take long for them to catch up to the bigger Bustani plants. These are not the diminutive salvias you buy in six packs at the box stores. They grow about two to three feet tall, and are showstoppers in a late summer garden of grasses, asters and amaranths.

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’

One of the best things about salvias is their forgiving nature. You dig a hole and plop them in well-drained, fairly good soil, and they reward you with flush after flush of blooms. For constant bloom, deadhead regularly, even to the point of shearing them back a foot or so. That encourages them to spread out and bloom with abundance.

Salvia 'Mystic Spires'
Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue‘ is taller and brighter than Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ so it has much bigger presence in the garden. This photo is from last year.

I’ve written of S. longispicata x farinacea ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ before when I saw a huge stand of it in Indianapolis and had to have it. That’s the great thing about garden tours. You make notes on your phone or a notebook and make them part of your garden plan for next year. Gardening is such a joy, but it takes work if you want to grow what’s beyond the realm of plants available at Wal-Mart. Believe me, there’s not much at Wal-Mart because they’re only in the plant business to snag your money during the craze of spring buying. They go for the cheapest and brightest plants they can find along with the norm like S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue.’ It’s beautiful, but you can grow so much more.

Salvias make your garden fabulous, and do so without any fuss. I haven’t mentioned all the salvias I’m growing this year, but they include several different S. farinacea ones from pale blue Cathedral™ Sky Blue that Helen Weis brought me from Colorado, to bi-colored ‘Strata.’ There’s tried-and-true S. guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, a gorgeous color combination with the growth habit of the ‘Wendy’s Wish.’ There is also a light blue version, S. guaranitica ‘Argentina Skies.’ The giant salvias live up to the hype and grow larger than almost any other. Mexican sage would be one that might get taller. Next I want to try S. sclarea  (clary sage) and S. semiatrata, not sold here, but can be purchased from Annie’s Annuals. Another sage I plan to buy is S. microphylla x greggii ‘Dancing Dolls’ sold by Plant Delights,  which must be a variation from ‘Hot Lips’ below. Some of these are perennial, and some are not. Be sure to check your nursery tags for more information.

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ is gorgeous en masse.

How many salvias are there? No one is quite sure, but they number between 700 and 1000. That’s a whole lot of sage. Yes, I realize I gave you more than the three promised in my title, but how can I stop? Buy two or three ornamental salvias for your garden, and you won’t be able to stop either. You’ll thank me though.


  1. They are all beautiful but that last little one is just too cute.

  2. Hi, Dee, Thanks for the post expanding my knowledge of salvias. I have hot lips and smile simply because of its name. It’s blessed my garden for many years, without asking much in return other than to be sure it has enough water to survive our very hot summer. I will try more purples next year!

  3. I have a salvia ‘Maraschino’ that is a blooming machine. But my salvia nemorosa stopped blooming in the middle of the summer, despite being deadheaded. Weird.

  4. Dee, One of my favorite plants is my Turtehead (Chelone) called Hot Lips. I would buy the Hot Lips salvia just for the name, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t like the cold conditions of my zone. I enjoyed this posting and, BTW, you have my vote at the GB conference! I can’t go, but hope to attend next year when it is in Pittsburg. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh Pam! Thank you so much. Yes, we grow ‘Hot Lips’ as a tropical here. One shining summer, and it’s gone. I hope you can make it to Pittsburgh. Would love to meet you in person.

  5. Sonia says:

    I just love salvias! Any of them are fine with me…one of my favorites is lady in red because it seeds so easily! Also a variety I got at TLC that they called Black and Blue…but the ones you have photographed are gorgeous! Love the Hot Lips variety …just a show stopper! I just wish more were perennials but they are all definitely some of my very favorites!! Can’t wait till fall….how about you?
    Miss Bloomers

  6. Diana says:

    Love that first salvia – I’m not familiar with it – I wonder if we could grow it here. I’m a salvia fanatic, too. I have 20 different varieties in my garden and last week too a picture of each one to write about. I don’t know the specific varieties of several of them because I bought them labeled : salvia. Ugh. I do have that wonderful book of salvias and one a cold winter’s night I plan to dig and try to name them all. I love the Wendy’s wish and Indigo Spires – I have both of them. I can’t wait to see your others.

  7. They sure are easy care! And the pollinators love them! That last one is unique. I have one similar to ‘Mystic Spires Blue.’ It comes back thick and healthy ever spring. Love it!

  8. I realized last summer during our record breaking heat, that the salvias had no problem surviving. I planted many more this spring, but I’m going to have to remember ‘Hot Lips’. I love that one!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Isn’t it the prettiest?? I love it too. I love them all.

  9. Rose says:

    I forgot to mention that ‘Victoria Blue’ often reseeds for me–after I bought a flat this spring, I realized I had enough seedlings already growing in the garden!

  10. Rose says:

    A great post, Dee, and I especially appreciate some of the tips on where to buy these plants–I’ve already pinned one of these images to my Pinterest board so I won’t forget next spring. ‘Victoria Blue’ has always been one of my standbys for late season color, but I noticed this year our local garden centers are offering a few other farninacea, and I planted a few of these as well. I’ll look for ‘Mystic Spires’ next year. And a little story about ‘Wendy’s Wish’–I happened upon a plant in the nursery a few years ago and loved it! But I could never find it again, though I mentioned it to the nursery owner one year. This year, Cindy of My Corner of Katy knew how much I loved this plant and sent me two from Houston–wasn’t that sweet? It’s such a marvelous plant, grows so fast, and it’s the favorite of the hummingbirds. I’m going to bug the nursery owners once again–if they’re willing to sell ‘Black and Blue’ (which I noticed was more common this spring in the garden centers), then they should take a chance on ‘Wendy’ as well.

    Anyone who enjoys hummingbirds and other wildlife will be glad they added more salvia to their garden!

  11. Jacque says:

    As always you teach me something every time I read your posts and the pics have that “you are there” feel to them. Salvias are definitely on my “to do” list for spring!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jacque, I’m glad to help. I think we should all plant salvias especially those of us who garden middle south and warmer. They are such great plants, and they ask for so little.

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Salvias are one of my faves. I have a black and blue salvia that isn’t supposed to be hardy in my time zone that has been in the garden for 3 years. It keeps spreading. Yipeee….

    1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

      Whoops, I meant growing zone of course. My mind is on the fact It is time to be getting ready for work. 😉

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lisa, my black and blue is definitely hardy here too. At one time, I was told it wasn’t either. You just never know. Lovely to “see” you.~~Dee

  13. Mystic spires was a favorite in my previous (sunny) garden. Always beautiful! Looks especially good with the hot pink in your photo.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh my gosh, isn’t it lovely, and so large?

  14. I am always looking for plant ideas….great suggestions, and I will save the post for when I shop next spring.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Great! Let me know what you plant.

  15. Jill says:

    I loved all the salvia varieties and I really enjoyed your blog.


  16. Martha says:

    I’m with you, Dee, I love salvias.
    The Hot Lips plant I bought 5 years ago is still coming back and showing its stuff year after year. It’s in part-shade and loves the half-day of protection from out blistering August heat.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ooh, cool. I don’t have ‘Hot Lips,’ but very cool.

  17. Lea says:

    Lovely Salvias!
    I rescued a 6-pack of Red Salvia at 50% off long past the time to set them out. It took a while for them to recover, but rewarded me with wonderful growth and beautiful blooms.
    Happy Gardening!
    Lea’s Menagerie

  18. Mona says:

    These are certainly beautiful. I will remember to add more next spring…

  19. I think they must like heat. I tried to grow ‘Black and Blue’ one year and it never got very big. My summer is shorter and cooler than yours, as you know.

  20. Nell Jean says:

    I advocate finding a few that do well for you and spreading them around like mamalade. I have S. farinacea ‘Victoria’ from seed and perennial for me ; Salvia leucantha, the all purple kind and S. elegans, marginally perennial here. The last two bloom next month and until frost. Pineapple sage roots easily and will bloom all winter in a greenhouse.

    Speaking of which, is your greenhouse going to be ready for cold weather?

  21. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I also recommend Salvia ‘Amistad’, as long as there’s plenty of room for it to spread. It makes a big impact and the pollinators are quite taken with it!

  22. Carol says:

    Thank you, Dee. Now I have to buy these in the spring.

  23. Picasso Bull says:

    I’ve never met a Salvia I didn’t like. Those ‘Hot Lips’ are enough to make Sally Kellerman jealous.

  24. Leslie says:

    I do love salvias! I just bought The New Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch and am overwhelmed with ideas. I have Dancing Dolls and like it a lot although it is hard to photograph…the blooms do ‘dance’ in any little breeze. 🙂

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