Caradonna SageSalvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna'
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Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Caradonna Sage is a striking perennial plant, forming a 3-foot clump of dense aromatic foliage and long spikes of bloom. The many near-black stems rise up, carrying a multitude of small but vivid blooms colored a dark blue with violet-purple overtones. It blooms from mid-summer into fall, bringing vibrant beauty to your summer garden. Plant it among your shrubs, or with other perennial plants. Grow it in open dry places in the full sun it loves.
Grow the Caradonna Sage in full sun, or with just an hour or two of shade each day. It loves sunny, open places and drier soils, growing in all kinds of soil as long as they are well-drained. Even gravels and sands are suitable, and this tough plant thrives in hot and humid summer too. Normally free of pests or diseases, and untouched by rabbits or deer, it takes no more than a once-a-year cutting back in late fall to grow it perfectly. Encourage more blooms by removing spent flower heads as they fade.
Ah, yes, sage. . . essential ingredient in turkey dressing, right? True, but outside of a herb garden there are many sages that are essential ingredients in a colorful summer garden, and the Caradonna Sage is one of the very best. A clump of crinkly dark-green leaves topped with flower spikes that can be 2 feet long, torches of rich purple-blue standing out against the near-black stems. Bold colors like this can really make your garden sing, and they don’t clash with any other nearby plants, so use them with abandon. They don’t fade in the bright summer sunlight either, and this variety has proved its worth in hot, humid areas of the south-east. That doesn’t mean northern gardeners don’t get a chance – if anything it does even better in cool and cold zones, growing vigorously and brightening the brief weeks of summer. You can also cut the flower spikes for vases inside the house.
The Caradonna Sage is a perennial herbaceous plant – that is, it grows new stems each spring from a permanent base, dying back again in late fall. Each year that base enlarges, and soon reaches 18 inches wide, and even more in time. Many stems sprout quickly out in spring, rising to about 12 inches tall and clothed in thick, almost felt-like leaves. These are about 4 inches long, like broad ovals, with a crinkled surface and a dark olive-green coloring. Crush one and it has a strong aroma, not at all like kitchen sage.
By midsummer tall flower spikes will have risen out of that leafy clump, adding another 18 to 24 inches, so that this plant can be 3 feet tall at its best. Each spike is a dark, almost black stem, covered from top to bottom in clusters of tiny purple cups, and from these the actual flowers emerge. These are perfect examples of nature’s art, like irregular flaring trumpets with a broad lower lip. The color is a rich violet-blue, that in some lights approaches a vivid navy-purple. Secondary spikes grow out as the main one fades, and flowering lasts for weeks and weeks, often well into the fall. This plant is a magnet for butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds, who are attracted to it, adding to the delight of having this plant in your garden.
The bold vertical form of the Caradonna Sage makes it perfect for placing between or in front of rounded shrubs and evergreens. It looks especially effective with pinks, or with oranges and yellows, and it is hard to make a color clash with plants like this. Grow one plant in a smaller bed, or clusters in larger ones, spacing them about 18 inches apart. It can be grown in traditional perennial borders, or in modern groupings with ornamental grasses. It looks great in front of large gray boulders, and enjoys living in gravel beds with other sun-loving plants.
Hardy in zone 4, this plant has proven to be especially suitable for hotter zones in the southeast, where the combination of heat and humidity can cause problems with some other varieties. This makes it ideal for planting even in zone 8.
Grow the Caradonna Sage in full sun for the best results, although it will tolerate some partial shade too, with a couple of hours of shade each day. Grow it in warm spots, especially in cold zones, and in any soil that is well-drained. Acid or alkaline, it doesn’t matter, and this plant does well even in poor, sandy or gravel areas. It has good drought resistance once it has had a chance to establish itself, but avoid wet areas, which can affect winter survival.
Pests and diseases are rare and both deer and rabbits leave the Caradonna Sage alone. A simple cutting down in fall is all it takes in the way of care, and despite its height staking is generally not needed unless your beds are very rich and moist. Removing flower spikes in summer as they reach the end of their blooming will help encourage further blooms.
The woodland sage, Salvia nemorosa, is a plant native to central Europe and through into western Asia. Alone or hybridized with other species it has produced many valuable ornamental sages. Germany in particular has been a center for breeding perennials for much of the last century, and for sages in particular it is the place to look. The variety of woodland sage called ‘Caradonna’ was raised at Zillmer Nursery in Germany. They collected and grew seeds from an older variety called ‘Wesuwe’, and the Caradonna Sage was one of those seedlings. They selected it for its outstanding coloring and also for its vigor and toughness.
In 2000 this great ornamental sage was named as ‘Outstanding New Perennial’ by the International Hardy Plant Union, a German association of growers and designers. This badge of approval means it is high on the shopping-list of enthusiasts, and always hard to find. Our limited supply will soon be gone, so order now – it won’t be here at all when you come back.