Plant Highlight: Salvia pachyphylla
There are many species and cultivars of Salvia in horticulture, and they vary tremendously in their drought tolerance. Those native to California have some of the lowest water requirements, and one such plant is Salvia pachyphylla. S. pachyphylla is an evergreen aromatic shrub to 2 or 3 feet tall, with gray spoon-shaped leaves, often with somewhat wavy margins, and attractive clusters of flowers during the summer months. The timing of its flowering depends on the climate where it is grown, as well as the variation in conditions from one year to the next, but our plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden have started as early as late May and ended as late as October.
The flower stalks hold several tiers of flowers, with clusters of large papery oval bracts from which the tubular flowers emerge. The felted bracts are pink, rose or red-violet in color, while the flowers are blue or blue-violet, and the resulting 2-toned flower heads are stunning. The flowers have slender tubes with showy flaring lobes at their tips, and long stamens and styles extending outward.
The gray leaves give the plants year-round appeal, with the outer stems sprawling to the side so that older plants may be 5 or 6 feet across. This species is native to the foothills and mountains of southern California and southward into northern Baja California. It is very drought-tolerant and can get by on no summer water at all. It likes good drainage and full sun to light shade.