Friday, September 18, 2015

Following One's Nose

When I am asked by shoppers in our Grand Lake nursery 'Can you show me some fragrant plants?' I never know quite how to address that question. They may be looking for the usual suspects -- roses, lavender, buddlejas, philadelphus -- or they may want to expand their horizons. Even the question itself is too general. Are they after plants with a sweet fragrance, those with a citrus scent, those with a pungent fragrance or those with a woodland aroma. And a plant like Lantana may have a pleasing fragrance to one person's nose but be unpleasant to another's. To use a mixed metaphor, fragrance is in the eye of the beholder. We might further complicate the question by determining whether the scent is from the flower or the foliage. The bottom line is that there a great many plants with a pleasing fragrance. They just need a better PR agent.
Some are making progress. Agastache varieties are finally getting their due as possessing one of the most pleasing scents in the world of flowers. They come to mind today as two of the photos here are of Agastache varieties. Known broadly as Hummingbird mints, their scents can range from citrusy (Grapefruit Nectar) to culinary (A. foeniculum, better known as Anise hyssop) to a pleasing woodland (A, rupestris varieties). We might also categorize this interesting genus under 'Human mint,' as they attract humans as much as they do hummers!
Sometimes well known fragrant plants have lesser known cousins. Such is the case with Satureja mimuloides whose more famous cousin is Yerba Buena (S. douglasii). Both are members of the savory family, with Yerba Buena being sweet smelling and S. mimuloides possessing an earthier but equally pleasing scent.
Sometimes there's a battle for a popular common name. 'Mock orange' is a well known common name, rightly bringing to mind a plant with a pleasing citrus fragrance. But does that name refer to Philadelphus (Mock orange), Choisya (Mexican mock orange) or Pittosporum tobira (Japanese mock orange)? Whatever the choice, your olfactory sense will be the winner.
Sometimes one is after a very specific scent. Take chocolate (yes please!) as an example. Most gardeners know about Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) but did you know there are (at least) four other plants with a chocolate fragrance? Berlandiera lyrata is simply known as Chocolate Flower due to its unmistakable fragrance. Akebia quinata is known as Chocolate vine for that plant's small but delicious smelling flowers and Cosmidium's gold-rimmed brown flowers also smell delightfully of cocoa. The most intense chocolate-scented plant is the least known. Scorzonera hispanica (Black Salsify) has flowers that will make a chocolate lover swoon. 

And now the photos. 

Speaking of fragrance, here's a shot of my Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious.' Better known as Pineapple sage for its pleasing fruity fragrance, this is one tough vigorous salvia. I have to keep hacking mine back as it wants to overrun its neighbors!

Got orange? I do, in this corner that starts the walkway to the back apartments. Those are tiger lilies in the foreground; behind them is a thatch of Helenium 'Mardi Gras' and to the right are the delightfully charming Bessera elegans 'parasols.' 

Agastache rupestris 'Orange Nectar.' Hidden in the obvious appeal of Agastache varieties -- that fragrance and the hummers -- is the simple visual evidence that the flowers are very colorful and pretty.

I thought the combination of shade and sun looked inviting for this shot of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago). It's in more sun than what it seems like here and it's off to a good start. It makes a great spreading ground cover and the gentian blue flowers add that wow factor.

One plant not often in the conversation of fragrant plants is the aptly named Snail vine (Vigna caracalla). Its snail-shaped flowers are indeed fragrant, though I'd be hard pressed to describe the smell. No matter and the flowers are exceptionally lovely.

What does the above plant have in common with Winona Ryder? Why they're both 'Heathers' of course. This is Calluna 'Firefly' and it's one of those plants that changes color throughout the year. What begins as golden new growth in spring ages to dark green in summer then in fall changes again to oranges and reds.

Choisya 'Sundance.' Sometimes the photographic effect you're after does pan out. I wanted this shot to evoke a painting as much as a photo and the gray stucco wall helps towards this end. 

Bonus points to those who correctly identify this plant as an Abutilon. With its gray felty leaves and sun loving temperament, one would not guess it to be a member of the flowering maple genus. Add to its differences that it's a California native and you have a very unique species (A. palmeri). It's sometimes called Desert Mallow, giving a clue to it really preferring the heat.

Bouvardia ternifolia. This evergreen and profuse bloomer has two interesting Family mates. It's part of the Rubiaceae family, which also includes the Coffee plant and Gardenias. Ain't horticulture grand?

Here's another shot of my Bessera elegans. This little known bulb from SW Mexico is slowly finding a home here in California. Easy to grow and a prolific bloomer, it produces charming coral-orange flowers that resemble tiny parasols. Not fussy (it does not require a dry summer) and very reliable (mine is in year five and is only getting more voluminous), it only needs sun and little water to do its thing.

If that looks like an oxalis flower and a shamrock leaf, that's because this Oxalis latifolia is one of the 'Shamrock' oxalis (so named for its leaves). Hard to beat this combo of lime foliage and bright pink flowers. It's one of the 'winter' oxalis, that is from the group that reappears in the fall and sticks around till the spring (as opposed to the 'summer' species that do the reverse).

'Fire, fire!' Well, not really but this so-called Fire Ginger (Hedychium greenii) does offer some flaming color to a part sun garden. At once delicate and bold, it's a great choice for a tropical garden.

Satureja mimuloides. Couldn't mention this member of the Savory family (above) without including a photo of its colorful flower. Unlike Yerba Buena, which needs shade, this Satureja really likes the sun. 

And suitably, we end this post about fragrant flowers with the aforementioned Agastache 'Grapefruit Nectar.' It doesn't smell like grapefruit to me, though it has a fruity aroma, but that aside it has a neat trick, combining pink and yellow flowers on the same plant.

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