With its herb garden and comfort food associations, culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is a pleasant plant but not a very exciting one. That role is left to some of its cousins, which would, if plants had personalities, belong in a Mexican fiesta, with hot sunshine, rum, tequila and probably the sound of revolvers being fired in the air.

These are volcanically colourful beauties, among the brightest late season perennials,  and they are also easy to grow. Some of the species and cultivars we have in the Walled Garden here at the National Botanic Garden are Salvia leucantha, with strong purple flowers set off by furry calyces, Salvia guaranitica, like a blue flame, again with contrasting colour at the base, the scarlet Salvia elegans “Tangerine”, with pineapple-scented foliage, and the shocking pink S. involucrata “Bethelii”.

These are easy, accommodating plants provided you remember that many of them really are from Mexico and Central America, and are not fully hardy. Here, we lift the plants at the end of October, put them in pots and overwinter them in a polytunnel, but anywhere light and reasonably frost-free would work. They are planted out again in May. Cuttings are simple. Find non-flowering shoots and root them in good compost, with plenty of extra sand mixed in.

The salvias are a varied bunch, with some fine border plants, as well as collectable and interesting species for real aficionados. There is even Salvia divinorum, the Diviner’s sage, which has a decidedly alternative, hallucinogenic reputation. That is true diversity. Viva the salvias!

Rupert Jensen


National Botanic Garden of Wales