Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Azure Blue Sage

Alongside my driveway is my 'blue and gold' garden, which is one of my favorite flower color combinations.  While there is a plethora of different types of yellow flowers, blue flowers are more rare, especially in perennial plants, and can be a little hard to find sometimes.  A couple of years ago I saw a plant at a nursery that had flowers the prettiest shade of blue I'd ever seen, and it just had to go home with me for my blue and gold garden.

Azure Blue Sage
Salvia azurea, known as Azure Blue Sage or Prairie Sage, is a perennial native to central and southeastern United States.  It flowers over quite a long period, blooming for me from the end of August through the beginning of October.  In warmer climates it can start blooming in June or July.  It is one of the taller sages, growing 2 to 5 feet or taller, and making a clump about 2 to 3 feet wide.  It has a very airy and delicate appearance, with the spikes of clear blue flowers hovering above other plants.

Azure Blue Sage mingling with my other plants on the right
Even the leaves are fairly delicate and thin.  This is one plant that is pretty easy to squeeze into the garden among other plants.  Indeed Azure Blue Sage is actually better with neighboring plants to support it, as it tends to flop unless it is pinched back in late spring or early summer (which of course I never get to.)

leaves of Azure Blue Sage
Azure Blue Sage is a true prairie plant; it likes full sun and is extremely hardy and drought tolerant.  Its branching roots can reach eight feet deep during times of drought in search of water.   It is hardy in zones 5 to 9 and is tolerant of heat and humidity.  It does like well-draining soil, however, or else the roots can be subject to root rot.  Like other sages, Azure Blue Sage is deer and bunny resistant.  Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love it, however, and my plants are usually buzzing with bumblebees.

There are some slightly different varieties of Azure Blue Sage.  Salvia azurea var. azurea grows mainly in the southeast, while the better-known Salvia azurea var. grandiflora has a larger native range, also growing in central US.  They look very similar, but grandiflora has larger flowers and is usually the one grown in the home garden (and the one I probably have).  Var. grandiflora is often also called Pitcher Sage in honor of Dr. Zina Pitcher, a 19th century army field surgeon and amateur botanist.  (This plant used to be known as Salvia pitcheri and is sometimes still sold as such or as Salvia azurea ssp. pitcheri, just to make things more confusing.)  There are also a couple of named strains of Azure Blue Sage: 'Nekan' is a seed strain of grandiflora found in Nebraska that is supposed to be more upright and robust with even larger flowers, and 'September Snow' is a rare white flowering form.

Though in the mint family, Azure Blue Sage is not very aggressive, though it will politely reseed itself somewhat in the garden.  The new plants bloom the first year, so it can even be grown as an annual in places where it is not hardy.   Other than its flopping habit, it's been a great plant for me.   I never take care of it, but it slowly spreads, the critters don't bother it, pollinators love it, and every fall I am treated to those amazing blue flowers.

What more could you ask for?

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