SALVIA X JAMENSIS / Microphylla ( ‘Hot Lips’ )


This shrubby salvia from Mexico has thin wiry stems that can reach one metre in height. Its dense cloud of small oval leaves is covered, from May to October, in tiny RED & WHITE flowers that perch  in pairs at the tips of the stems.

Individual flowers may be white, a vivid crimson red, or half red/half white, depending on the weather. The plant is a perennial, tolerant of frost, heat & drought.

“The leaves have a pleasant blackcurrant smell when bruised: Salvia x Jamensis is sometimes known as Blackcurrant Sage. The flowers taste pleasantly sweet and small numbers can be used to decorate salads and the leaves can be used fresh or dried as a flavouring. A herbal tea can be made from the leaves, called ‘mirto de montes’ (after the name commonly used for the plant in Mexico, meaning ‘myrtle of the mountains’). Medicinally, the leaves can be used to reduce fever.”

jeremy bartlett’s LET IT GROW blog


Bees’ Favourite

For months this was a mystery shrub in a nearby front garden, its quirky flowers drawing in many bees & other pollinators. Then I found it on a gardening website, PAGHAT’S GARDEN.  Paghat lives in Seattle, USA, where the climate seems to match ours in Highbury. She says the leaves of this salvia turn wine red in winter in Seattle, & recommends cutting it back in February or Marchtime.

“Only time would tell if it was going to be a permanent resident for us. It made it through its first winter without any trouble at all, despite that we had a record-breaking coldsnap, so I knew it was here to stay. It didn’t mind temperatures into the high ‘teens, & it didn’t mind our rainy autumns. The perfect shrub-sage for our area!”             


Neighbour’s Salvia x Jamensis (Microphylla) Hot Lips

Other websites looking at this plant were Dave’s Garden
(with 33 positive responses from reader/gardeners and only 2 negatives)
The Gardener’s World Forum
(with 37 responses).

Red & White Colour Scheme

Many front gardens in our neighbourhood feature flowers & shrubs that are red or white.

One never knows if the gardeners are football fans who back the local club, Arsenal FC, in its home colours, or have always preferred this colour combination.

2017 – Salvia x jamensis ‘Hot Lips’ Comes to our Wildlife Garden

Our own Salvia Hot Lips was a gift from Anne, memento of a visit to the garden centre at The National Trust’s Merton Park. It seemed aromatic, yes, but I would not have described it as ‘pleasantly sweet’ & ‘yummy’. It smelled more like something one would use to scrub a floor. Surely this plant would be unpalatable to planteaters in our garden… slugs, snails, mice… (the deer mentioned by correspondents in gardening websites such as Dave’s Garden do not frequent Highbury, & have inflicted no damage to our garden.) Hot Lips was planted between Walker’s Low, a catmint, and Nasturtium ‘Alaska.’

August 9th – Many flowers and buds, photographed a few days ago. are gone. It appeared that mice had enjoyed eating the individual flowers; no snail slime trails showing that THEY might have been responsible. The pong of the plant was no deterrent to the mice.

August 20th – After finding ALL the flowers gone, & two tall stems bitten off close to the ground, I dug the plant out of its site on the earthwork. It now waits on the kitchen sink for its new home. Yesterday got a wall basket from Homebase – a cast iron half circle with a flat back. Hopefully in another position the plant will be free of the attentions of mice & snails.

October 30th – Hot Lips’ new basket seems to suit it, on the side wall of the house by the boiler outlet. It has the heat of the house behind it; wafting currents of warm air play over the upper stems. It gets morning sun, & new flowers have formed since its repotting. Although mice are capable of climbing brick walls, removing the plant from their favoured route across the Path of Doom seems to have worked & no climbing parties have been launched up the brickwork to reach Hot Lips.

November – Neighbours with the most flourishing Hot Lips have cut theirs back to about 2 ft. The next door neighbour has left their smaller plant alone.

November 23rd – Our Hot Lips on the wall still has long-lasting blooms at its stemtips. The plant is unbothered by wind. Neighbours with the most rampant Hot Lips have given theirs another chop, down to about a foot now.

6th March 2018 – After a week of bitter cold wind and snow (The Beast from the East), Hot Lips is still alive in the basket by the boiler outlet.


21st July 2018 – Hot Lips endured the long drought & desert heatwave that swept over all of Europe. But, even with daily watering, the weather finally took its toll. The plant shed many leaves & flowers, looking unhealthy & desperate. It was moved from the wall basket to an old Ryman’s office wastepaper bin. Given a a deep mix of fresh soil, mycorrhizal fungi & fertilizer nodules, it seems to be recovering. New flowers now twinkle round the plant. It has become quite a woody shrub at its base.

7th Sept 2018. Hot Lips now doing well, with September sunshine bringing out its flowers. The Ryman paper bin is perhaps in too exposed a position by the path. Gardeners are advised to plant aromatic plants such as lavender near paths so those brushing against them will enjoy a sudden rush of scent. Salvia x jamensis ‘Hotlips’ also releases fragrance when brushed against, but we find that its stems are finer & more brittle than lavender & break easily when bent.


Salvia Hot Lips, now in a square terracotta container, did well this season. Rodents intent upon eating the blooms did not choose to climb the plant’s longer, woody stems.

Neighbour’s plants growing in the ground also flourished.