Ann Wright: Beautiful Wise Men Among Us

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Traditionally known as a culinary herb, sage is the most common name for sage, and with nearly 1,000 varieties worldwide, it is the largest genus in the mint family. Plants in the mint family share common characteristics: opposing leaves, square stems, and bilaterally symmetrical flowers. Salvias have a huge range of colors and sizes of plants and flowers; their diversity covers a number of climates and habitats. Salvias are found on almost every continent. Some varieties, with the brightest color palette, are found in the southwestern United States, extending as far as Mexico and Central America. Many salvias are quite tolerant of cold.

The adaptation of sage to an often harsh climate, with hot and dry summers, is interesting for our region, particularly during this current drought. Drought tolerance, in addition to the beautiful fragrant gray-green leaves and striking flowers, are hallmarks of many sage found in Mediterranean regions. In warmer areas, some sage is home to muted silvery-green hairy leaves that reflect the heat of the sun.

In a previous article on the characteristics of drought tolerant plants, the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS IV) project was described, which assessed the water requirements of more than 3,500 plants used in Californian landscapes, on the basis of the plant transpiration process – or the release of water from the plant. Using WUCOLS IV as a guide, there are several varieties of salvia that fall under the category of “low” water use plants (https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Plant_Search/). Some that may be familiar are Sonoma sage (Salvia sonomensis and related cultivars), Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathecea), and Russian sage formerly known as Perovskia atriplicifolia. This charming native of western China, Pakistan and Afghanistan has a new name – Salvia yangii, and it’s not, and I guess it never was, from Russia. Regardless of its origin, Russian sage is a perennial that stands two to three feet tall with gray-green leaves and lavender-colored flowers. Blooming from mid to late summer, Russian sage is a paradise for bees and other pollinators. Hummingbird sage and Sonoma sage are both native to California and can be thought of as ground covers – and, like many salvias, pollinator magnets.



Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) is a highly aromatic evergreen shrub that can grow to three to five feet tall and has large spikes of blue-purple flowers. There are a number of compact and shorter hybrids that also have striking purple flowers. Fall sage (Salvia greggii) is another evergreen shrub, native to southwestern Texas and Mexico. With narrow, light green leaves, this sage can grow to two to four feet tall and extend to around four feet. Flower colors are varied, depending on the cultivar, and include white, salmon, magenta, and orange. This salvia grows best in partial sun or afternoon shade in warmer areas.

Salvias can be considered for a number of growing conditions – from dry beds and rock gardens to containers. Salvias and related hybrids are especially important when planning a garden overhaul. As many areas of the county begin mandatory water cuts due to persistent drought and our summer temperatures reach record highs, it is more essential than ever to be careful in our gardens. To help home gardeners plan for a water-efficient landscape, join UC Master Gardeners of Nevada County for a workshop today: “Garden Makeover: Now More Important Than Ever”, via Zoom from 9 am to 10 am To access the Zoom link, visit our website at http://ncmg.ucanr.org/ . In this timely workshop, master gardeners will explain how home gardeners can adapt gardening practices so that plants can thrive with less water. Emphasis will be placed on plant selection, irrigation, water saving techniques such as mulching and converting the lawn into a water landscape. The workshop will be recorded and linked to our website for later viewing.



The Nevada County UC Master Gardeners hope to return to the in-person workshops at our demonstration garden in August and the Nevada County Fair (August 11-15). We will have our tent at the Fair again this year, so come see us at our booth and bring your home gardening questions.

Ann Wright is a master gardener from Nevada County

Hummingbird sage. Traditionally known as a culinary herb, sage is the most common name for sage, and with nearly 1,000 varieties worldwide, it is the largest genus in the mint family.
Nevada County UC Master Gardeners
Russian sage.
Photo provided


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