by BRIAN MINTER
June 28, 2006
Summertime in our gardens should be the ultimate outdoor sensory retreat. The wonderful long evenings on the deck or patio should be the antidote to the stress we all feel during our busy days. The big question is can our decks, patios and gardens meet the challenge?
Summer colour and how we blend analogous tones together is very important, but fragrance is perhaps the most important when it comes to creating that sensory refill. Ironically, most of the colour with which we surround ourselves has little perfume. It’s time to add the fragrance!
As easy as it sounds, finding lasting perfume is more of a challenge than most of us think. Finding plants that will accommodate sun or shade, be compatible with other plants and continue to perfume all summer is possible, but we all need to think out of the ‘flower box’ just a little.
The most universal of all the summer blooming plants is, of course, heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens). Not all heliotropes, however, are created equal. Some of the new varieties are far more compact, but have little perfume. The very best is still the ‘nameless’ old fashioned variety that has that lingering scent of baby powder. It’s versatile enough to be used in hanging baskets, containers or in bed plantings. It will, as most heliotrope varieties, do well in shade or sun. If you need it to be more compact and well behaved, simply pinch it back a few times. My second favourite variety is ‘Sachet’. It is a very dark foliaged variety with fragrant deep lavender-purple blooms. Its rich dark foliage provides wonderful contrast with pink, white or silver flowers and with other foliage. It’s also a compact grower and well suited to containers and plantings. ‘Blue Marine’, another compact dark foliaged variety, produces fragrant deep blue flowers about 10cm across and grows only 25cm (10 inches) tall and wide. Like ‘Sachet’, it’s a rich deep contrast plant to other colours.
One of the most overlooked plants for our patios is buddleia. Often called the Butterfly Bush or Summer Lilac, it’s hard to find a more continuous blooming and perfumed plant. Because of its size, up to 3 meters, it is usually only considered as a garden plant. Not so! There are compact forms, like ‘Adonis’, ‘Peacock’ and ‘Purple Emperor’ of the ‘English Butterfly’ series. With some early pruning and pinching, you can keep most buddleias compact, free flowing all summer and producing the most amazing and tantalizing perfumes on their long lilac-like racemes. While in England a few years ago, I spotted a white and green variety called ‘Harlequin’. It produced the most enticingly perfumed dark red-purple flowers and when contrasted with the foliage, it had just a ‘wow’ impact. From the moment the foliage appears in spring through to late autumn, it’s an amazing contributor to any garden container. Last year another great variegated form arrived from Hines Nurseries in California called, B.d. ‘Santana’. Similar to ‘Harlequin’ in many ways, it has stunning rich yellow and green foliage that accents the deep red-purple blooms right through fall. The foliage alone, of both ‘Harlequin’ and ‘Santana’, make them invaluable in any situation, but their fragrance is the added touch of class. Most buddleias, by the way, are hardy to zone 5.
Another too often overlooked fragrant plant is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum). This tender zone 7 plant needs a protected, sunny dry spot, but will bloom with huge, fragrant yellow pea-like flowers from early summer through autumn. It has a wonderful perfume that seems to carry throughout our patios and gardens. Spartium does very well in containers or in the ground at the edge of patios. It has virtually no leaves, but its rush-like stems make interesting focal points. It’s a ‘must have’ plant.
One of the most under used plants for our patios is lavender. You need a hot sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to overwater! The silvery fragrance of lavender is so nice to enjoy all year round, even to brush up against or simply rub your hands over the foliage. When they flower with the blue, lavender, pink or white flowers, they put on quite a show. Today, there are a number of lavender varieties from which to choose. The hardiest, of course, is the ‘angustifolia’, particularly ‘Munstead’ (zone 5) with its very compact habit.
French lavender, L. dentate candicans, has become very popular because of not only its fragrant foliage but also the wide range of its new flower colours that persist well into the summer. The sweetest smelling flowers are the English Spike lavender, L. latifolia. It’s hardy to zone 5 and has very fragrant flowers all summer.
My favourite lavender, however, is Spanish lavender, L. stoechas. Its huge, soft, lavender to rich purple blooms are perfumed and so prolific they just keep coming all summer long and even into the fall with a little pruning. They are the most tender (zone 7), and they need winter protection. Its flowers are huge and tend to bounce around in the wind like huge purple bumblebees.
If you do a little searching, you’ll discover many other plants that have a delightful summer perfume, like fragrant hostas, perfumed roses, clethra (Summersweet) and summer blooming Jasminum officinale and so many more wonderful garden jewels. Fragrance makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and appreciation of our summer garden and to our senses. Please try to include even a little fragrance in each bed or container.