Salvia leucantha

Salvia leucantha growing in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

This salvia is the old-fashioned Mexican sage bush, growing about 1.3m tall and it has been around for a long time. It is a quite drought-tolerant plant so likes a sunny position with well-drained soil. Too much water can make it lanky. It flowers from late summer or autumn into winter. It will tolerate mild frosts. The plant should be cut to the ground in August: the new growth will be able to be seen at the base. The species has white flowers held in purple calyces. A vibrant cultivar called 'Midnight' has rich purple spires of velvet flowers on silvery stems above woolly leaves, which are quite white underneath. Salvia leucantha looks good with blue, pink or cerise flowers, or with orange flowers like velvety lion's ear (Leonotis leonurus) for a different effect. It is also pretty with silver foliage (especially Plectranthus argentatus) or the cerise leaves of Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima'.

Salvia leucantha and Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

This Salvia can be part of an almost Mediterranean look if grown with rosemary and lavender. It also combines well with ornamental grasses. It does creep about a bit, so it needs to be dug up every so often if it spreads too far but it is not an invasive salvia. Two cultivars released in autumn 2008 are marketed under the names of 'Velour White' and 'Velour Pink'. Both have white calyces, and the white form has pure white inflorescences and the other has pastel pink ones. Both arose as chance seedlings from a purple Mexican sage bush in a garden in South Africa.

Hedge of Salvia leucantha Santa Barbara in the garden of Kerrie and Steve Babian in Sydney

Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara' is a newly available compact form of Mexican sage bush, suited to smaller areas but with the same rich flower colour, being all purple. It grows only to 60-90cm, doesn't seem to spread as much, and can make a wonderful low hedge. Note that 'Santa Barbara' is subject to Plant Breeders Rights in Australia so cannot be propagated for sale without the appropriate licensing arrangement.

Flowers in February, March, April, May, June, July, December.

 

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