• December 21, 2014

Sage choice: Stunning blue flower lures birds and bees

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Posted: Saturday, August 2, 2014 4:30 am

A great purple hairstreak, one of the most beautiful butterflies in the United States, created quite a stir as it feasted on the nectar-rich sky-blue flowers of the bog sage. This sage, the tallest plant in our new pollinator gardens at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, is doing its part in bringing in visitors, those that fly and those who drive.

Every day I watch visitors with cameras, many with tripods, setting up near these two gardens.

It truly seems the hosts of bees, wasps, butterflies and hummingbirds are providing buzzing safari-like moments.

You never really know what will be flying in, and it seems to change by the minute. It’s not just the bees, wasps, butterflies and hummingbirds flying around, but also their predators, the dragonfly.

So many dragonflies are in these gardens it helps to have a pocket guide for ID. But their predators are there, too.

The ones most talked about are the Mississippi Kites that come swooping down at warp speed only to leave dragonfly wings fluttering in the air.

A couple of times I have hysterically done a duck and cover as the kites swooshed by me.

The garden becomes pure enjoyment when you choose to grow a great pollinator plant like the bog sage. More would experience this no doubt if it had a different name. You see, you don’t have to have a bog, just fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of sun. Unfortunately the bog sage has a botanical name that isn’t any better: Salvia uliginosa. At first look you might think Salvia ugly-a-nosa, but it is really Salvia u-lig-a-nosa.

The bog sage is native to the South American countries of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina and will look at home in your garden. It is a cold hardy perennial in zones 6-10 and a worthy annual in colder areas.

One of the taller salvias for the garden, the bog sage can reach 6 to 7 feet and produces rare, sky-blue flowers. Though it is in full bloom now, it will keep up this flower production until frost. Despite the name that makes it sound like it will grow in water, you should plant in well-drained, fertile soil.

While preparing the soil, incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. You’ll want to space these plants 20 to 42 inches apart and place them to the back of the border. Our pollinator beds are actually islands, so we have them in the middle and then layered shorter plants outward.

The bog sage is as much at home in an old-fashioned cottage garden in front of a white picket fence draped with David Austin English roses, as it is the backyard wildlife habitat. We have ours partnered with Blue Fortune agastache, Silky Gold asclepias, fall-blooming senna and splashes of chartreuse from Wasabi coleus and Gold Mound duranta.

Don’t let the name throw you — this is an outstanding perennial. Because finding the bog sage likely will take some searching on your part, make the hunting really pay off by looking for other great plants with troubling names like Joe Pye weed, Swamp Milkweed and Rattlesnake Master.

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