Fresh Clips: Striking and Savory 'Silver Sabre'

'Silver Sabre'—a new variety of sage—will make an unusual addition to your garden.

| June/July 2012

  • This multipurpose sage (Salvia officinalis 'Silver Sabre') has the striking good looks of an ornamental, plus the delicious flavor of a culinary herb.
    Photo by Terra Nova Nurseries

• Variegated sage
Salvia officianalis ‘Silver Sabre’
• This multipurpose sage has the striking good looks of an ornamental, plus the delicious flavor of a culinary herb.

Among herb favorites, the various cultivars of common garden sage (Salvia officinalis) stand out for foliage that looks as good as it tastes. Many gardeners choose sages with gold, plum, cream and mauve leaves to enliven their herb beds with long-lasting foliage color. ‘Silver Sabre’ is a new variety from Terra Nova Nurseries of Portland, Oregon, and promises to be a worthy addition to the brightly colored lineup of sages. Each of its dainty leaves has a broad white rim around a deep gray-green center splotch. Its stems and new growth are suffused with rosy purple. In many ways, it is an improvement on the older variety ‘Tricolor’, which has a similar pattern of gray-green and cream with purple new growth. ‘Silver Sabre’ has a bolder variegation pattern, with much more color in the foliage than ‘Tricolor’. It may produce dusty lilac-rose flowers in late spring, but these tend to detract from the colorful leaves. The effort of producing seed may stunt its growth, as well. Removing the flowers will stimulate a fresh growth of foliage and ensure that the plant’s coloring remains clear through the summer.

Growing Sage

‘Silver Sabre’ naturally forms a small mounding shrub, 18 to 24 inches wide and 8 to 12 inches high. Its compact growth and dense habit make it a great choice for the front of the border. It also does well in a container garden. As with all common sage varieties, ‘Silver Sabre’ needs at least six hours of direct sun and well-drained soil for best growth. It requires good air circulation and resents competition, so prevent neighboring plantings from overwhelming it. Frequent harvesting of new leaves will ensure that the plant remains vigorous and produces abundant new growth. Cutting the plant back by one-third after flowering will maintain a full, rounded shape. ‘Silver Sabre’ is winter hardy through Zone 6, and possibly through Zone 5. Good drainage and air circulation will improve success in areas of borderline winter hardiness.

Harvesting and Cooking with Sage

Despite its fancy foliage, ‘Silver Sabre’ retains the strong smell of resin and earth typical of common sage. Its robust aroma and taste make it an asset on the plate as well as in the garden. To showcase its beautiful colors, use the leaves whole. Avoid cooking them in order to retain color. Use the younger leaves, because they have more concentrated color and flavor. They also tend to be more tender than older leaves.

Strew them through salads, float a few on top of cream soup or lay freshly cut sprigs around roast meats. For beautiful color and taste, add a handful of young leaves to a salad of baby spinach and young ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet greens. The earthiness of the sage will enhance the nutty flavors of the spinach and beets. Few herbs offer as powerful a combination of striking color, aroma and flavor as does this sage. With its good looks and deep resinous aroma, ‘Silver Sabre’ is sure to become one of your favorite new plant varieties in both the kitchen and garden.

Caleb Melchior grows unusual herbs and perennials. He also studies for a Master of Landscape Architecture degree. 

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