Exploring the Vibrant Diversity of Salvia Species in California

There are many California native Salvias – and most of them have very fragrant foliage and flowers which can perfume a whole garden and also make the plants deer-proof! Salvias are hardy and very drought-tolerant, but they all need excellent drainage and full sun. All species are pretty much ‘evergreen’ and attract hummingbirds and bees; seeds are relished by small songbirds; and lower-growing species provide cover and nesting places for ground-dwelling birds.

Home Ground Habitats - Brandegee Sage Salvia Brandegeii by Mieko Watkins
Home Ground Habitats - S - Leucophylla Pt SalSpreader
The different California native species of salvias start blooming as early as February and one species after another will continue the display through May. Brandegee Sage (Salvia brandegeii) is usually the first to bloom; starting in late January, and (in my Novato garden) still blooming at the end of March! Next is Purple Sage (S. leucophylla) which is full of flowers in April. The flowers are actually more pinkish than purple and the leaves are an attractive white. Both of these Salvias can grow very large with a spread of up to seven feet!

Home Ground Habitats - S Clevelandii
Home Ground Habitats - S Clevelandi Winifred Gillman
Then comes Cleveland Sage (S. clevelandii); a more compact shrub with flowers that are a beautiful purplish-blue. The straight species can be difficult if drainage is not great: But two named cultivars ‘Winnifred Gilman’ with deep purple flowers, and ‘Pozo Blue’ with lighter blue flowers are easier in average garden situations.

Home Ground Habitats - Salvia Apiana
Home Ground Habitats - Salvia Mellifera
By May, White Sage (S. Apiana) and Black Sage (S. mellifera) are in bloom. Both are ‘loved by the bees’ as the specific name indicates, and both are medium-sized shrubs. Flowers are held in whorls around the flowering stalks; in White Sage, these flowering stalks can be up to nine feet tall – quite spectacular!

Home Ground Habitats - S Brandegeii Flowers
White Sage is a plant revered by the Native Peoples; leaves and stems are harvested to make smudge ‘bundles’ to be used in their sweat lodges and many of their ceremonies’.

In Habitat Gardens we also incorporate non-native salvias (most from other Mediterranean regions) which create a year-round cycle of flowers for the hummingbirds: Much better than an artificial supply of sugar water!