Of­fer­ing up some sage ad­vice

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

DE­SPITE win­ter cold and even pe­ri­ods of drench­ing rain there is one tra­di­tional herb that seems to tol­er­ate all th­ese con­di­tions – and even thrive on ne­glect.

If grown in slightly im­pov­er­ished but well-limed soil, it tastes even bet­ter. The leaves are used to flavour stews, soups, casseroles and with lots of onions make mag­nifi cent, mouth­wa­ter­ing gravy. Of course, I’m talk­ing about sage ( Salvia

of­fic­i­nalis) – the herb with a unique aroma, guar­an­teed to bring back child­hood mem­o­ries.

Sage has been used by the hu­man race for thou­sands of years for culi­nary and medic­i­nal pur­poses. It is an herb which has cer­tainly been the sal­va­tion of many a meal.

I’ve been grow­ing two va­ri­eties of sage, the com­mon, grey- leaf form and, in the or­na­men­tal gar­den, a lovely pur­ple- leaf va­ri­ety with the same in­tense flavour and aroma.

For­tu­nately, th­ese use­ful culi­nary herbs are only part of the great sage tribe. The vast ma­jor­ity are out­stand­ing flow­er­ing an­nu­als, peren­ni­als and small shrubs. Th­ese su­perb or­na­men­tals have been used as a sig­nifi cant part of well- fur­nished flower bor­ders for gen­er­a­tions.

There are all sorts of or­na­men­tal salvias, in­clud­ing those grown pri­mar­ily for their pur­ple or var­ie­gated leaf forms. Oth­ers are grown for flower dis­plays, with some grow­ing to more than 2m. Al­most all salvias thrive in sweet, per­fectly drained soil, and are as­ton­ish­ingly tol­er­ant of long, dry pe­ri­ods in sum­mer.

An ex­cep­tion is the highly- at­trac­tive bog sage ( S. ulig­i­nosa), a tough peren­nial from Brazil. It not only does well in wet places, it even thrives in both clay and well- drained soils, pro­duc­ing en­chant­ing dis­plays of small, sky- blue flow­ers for weeks dur­ing sum­mer.

The or­na­men­tal sages pro­duce flow­ers in a range of colours, in­clud­ing pur­ple, vi­o­let, ma­genta or red.

Nearly all have leaves which pro­duce a de­li­cious, aro­matic smell when crushed.

There are so many dif­fer­ent types of sage that botanists still strug­gle to iden­tify some of the 2000 species and hy­brids.

This is made more diffi cult be­cause species and hy­brids freely in­ter­breed.

All are re­lated to the mint tribe and have typ­i­cal square stems. Salvias have op­po­site leaves and dis­tinctly shaped, eas­ily recog­nis­able flow­ers of var­i­ous sizes.

At least half the world’s salvias come from North and South Amer­ica. The rest come from Europe and Asia.

Th­ese ver­sa­tile plants can be found grow­ing happily in sub- trop­i­cal gar­dens, as well as in many parts of Tas­ma­nia, with most salvias loving coastal gar­dens while a cou­ple are able to sur­vive the in­tense cold of in­land gar­dens.

At least one out­stand­ing flow­er­ing sage ( Salvia hi­ans) pro­duces con­spic­u­ous vi­o­let­blue flow­ers from au­tumn deep into late win­ter.

This plant thrives if heav­ily pruned im­me­di­ately af­ter flow­er­ing.

Most or­na­men­tal salvias are spring and sum­mer- bloomers and can form highly at­trac­tive ground cov­ers or tall, el­e­gant spires fes­tooned with rosy- pink, vi­o­let or pale pur­ple flow­ers.

Mex­i­can Bush Sage ( S. leu­can­tha, or Midnight) pro­duces fan­tas­tic dis­plays of rich pur­ple- vi­o­let flow­ers from March un­til the first heavy frosts, and longer in frost- free dis­tricts.

There are many forms of S. mi­cro­phylla – and some grow up to 2m to pro­duce out­stand­ing splashes of cool, li­lac- pink in a sum­mer gar­den. Ev­ery win­ter we cut ours back to the ground and it rev­els in this treat­ment.

In spring, vig­or­ous new shoots sprout forth, each pro­duc­ing weeks of won­der­ful dis­plays.

Sum­mer prun­ing as the first flush of flow­ers fade stim­u­lates an­other dis­play within weeks.

It is worth a trip to any well- equipped gar­den cen­tre or spe­cial­ist nurs­ery to start a col­lec­tion.

Among the best I’ve even seen is the dis­play at the Royal Tas­ma­nian Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

Salvias can be planted out at any time of the year but spring is re­ally the per­fect time be­cause the plants get a fly­ing start as day­light hours in­crease and tem­per­a­tures rise.

And once the plants grow large enough, prop­a­ga­tion is easy by ei­ther di­vid­ing ex­ist­ing plants or tak­ing cut­tings, vir­tu­ally at any time of the year.

RICH COLOUR: Salvia leu­can­tha blooms in au­tumn.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.