This has to be one of California's most beautiful, fragrant, and hardest-to-find sages. Its flowers are stunning: The violet-blue petals and long stamens are almost overwhelmed by the rosy bracts that surround them. These dense clusters are very soft to the touch; if you do touch them or the rubbery leaves, you'll be rewarded with an aroma that is like a sweet version of the native Salvia apiana (White Sage).
Sometimes known as Mountain Desert Sage, Salvia pachyphylla normally grows at high elevations (5,000–10,000 feet) in decomposed granite. We have found its main requirements to be lots of sun and excellent drainage. Although most native sages are able to withstand no summer water, our Rose Sages don't mind up to weekly water – again, as long as that water drains away quickly. They are rumored to tolerate bitter cold, and to be shorter lived at lower elevations. Indeed, our experience has been that they need replacing every few years.
These plants have become one of the highlights of our garden, where they are slow-growing, floppy, roughly 2' shrubs with smooth grayish foliage that remains interesting year-round. Both the McMinn and the Lenz & Dourley books list the plant as blooming July through September; the earlier onset of summer at our lower elevation causes them to bloom a month or two earlier than that. Note that in some plants, the bracts are more muted in color than the specimen in this photo. This plant is rarely seen in the trade; we purchase ours from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.