Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.
This late-blooming salvia provides color and interest up to the very end of fall. Its soft, velvety spikes of purple flowers contrast wonderfully against the yellows and browns seen in the fading foliage of nearby plants. Often, when viewed closely on a misty or wet day, silvery droplets of moisture can be seen trapped on the fuzzy covering of both the stems and blooms.
Like many of the flowering sages used in the garden, Saliva leucantha hails from Mexico and Central America. In its natural climate, it can live and grow for many years but here it is considered a tender perennial, meaning that it succumbs to the first of the killing frosts of winter. Before this, though, our gardeners take cuttings from the old plants in late summer and grow them in the greenhouse through the winter. These become the replacement plants for the garden the following spring.
The cultivar ‘Santa Barbara’ differs from the original species in two ways. It has a lower, bushier habit, and the individual flowers are the same purple as the rest of the flower spike. The species has white flowers—hence leucantha (Latin for “white flower”). Both are grown at Wave Hill and can be seen in the Flower Garden and the Wild Garden.