Fragrance makes summer gardens

Heliotrope is one of the most universal of all summer blooming plants.

Heliotrope is one of the most universal of all summer blooming plants.

Summertime in our gardens, whenever it comes, 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 a 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.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is one of the most universal of all summer blooming plants. However, not all heliotropes 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 10 centimetres across and grows only 25 cm (10 inches) tall and wide. Like ‘Sachet’, it’s a rich deep contrast plant to other colours.

White heliotrope provides slightly less perfume, but its white flowers add a very different look to planters and ground beds.  The blues will always be my favourite, but in the right situation, the old fashioned white varieties can provide quite a classy look.

When folks ask for a flowering shrub that blooms all summer with a nice perfume, one plant leaps to mind  – the Butterfly Bush, or buddleia. Some species can be invasive, but there are now many new varieties that are sterile and do not pose this very important environmental concern.

A Proven Winner introduction, Buddleia x ‘Blue Chip’ from the ‘Lo & Behold’ series is the first miniature (61-76 cm) sterile variety. Hardy to Zone 5, it requires little pruning or deadheading and blooms and reblooms all summer until frost. Its fragrant lavender-blue flowers will add a nice perfume to our gardens and patios all summer and of course, attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. I love the fact it grows well in containers and is a wonderful complement to so many trailing and upright annuals, perennials and vines.

‘Lo & Behold’ was the top buddleia at the RHS Wisley Gardens and won the gold medal at Plantarium in 2009.

An 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.

Another under used plant for our patios is lavender. You need a hot sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to overwater. The 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 its wide range of 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. Most are tender (Zone 7), but the new introduction, called ‘Anouk’, will survive most winters with ease. Its flowers are huge and tend to bounce around in the wind like huge purple bumblebees.

Rosemary is another summer patio and garden plant that is not used nearly enough in summer planters and garden beds. Like lavender, it needs a very sunny, well drained soil to keep looking great and growing well.

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ is a rigid upright with very aromatic foliage and clear blue flowers that persist into the summer. R.o. ‘Huntington Carpet’ is one of the best trailing varieties that looks great spilling over walls, baskets and containers. It doesn’t flower long, but its habit is very attractive. Rosemary is a Zone 8 plant.  R.o. ‘Arp’ is reputed to be the hardiest (Zone 6), but I’ve had all these varieties summering outside our patio for eight years now in a protected, sunny, well drained location. It would be hard to inspire a summer garden without it.

If you do a little searching, you’ll discover many other plants that have a delightful summer perfume, like fragrant hostas, dwarf ‘Honey Baby’ honeysuckle, 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.

Brian Minter owns and operates Minter Gardens just outside of Chilliwack.