Tactile foliage on plant needing little water

Salvia leucantha. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Salvia leucantha. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Many plants in the woodland garden can struggle as summer extends into autumn with little rain, but one plant that is better without too much water is Salvia leucantha.

Planted just 18 months ago at Dunedin Botanic Garden, in a dry corner below the large Pinus radiata on the west side of the Rhododendron Dell, they have already filled out and are flowering freely. The stems and undersides of the long narrow leaves are covered in white hairs, giving the impression of a fine-leaved buddleia. Instead, it is related to common sage, and coming from Mexico and Central America, is known as the Mexican bush sage.

Hairs are not confined to the leaves and stems. Arching flower spikes of purple and white flowers extend up to 30cm or more from the top of the stems, with each flower densely covered in hairs.

Flowers begin to appear from late summer and will continue until the first hard frosts halt the procession. Such striking colour combined with soft texture makes them irresistibly alluring and tactile. Happily, they can also be enjoyed indoors as enduring cut flower stems: although the inner petals of the flower do fall away, the fluffier outer calyces remain.

In the Rhododendron Dell, the purple Salvia flowers are accentuated by the bright yellow blooms of Calceolaria integrifolia growing beside them. For an even deeper purple form, in the lower botanic garden herbaceous borders, Salvia leucantha `Midnight' enriches the display and shows its versatility.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Doug Thomson.


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