Tag Archives: Fragrance

Fine Fragrant Foliage

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

the silvery-grey foliage of lavender cotton highlights the white markings on the fluffy Blue Shag pine.

It is usually the intricate shape or fabulous color of a leaf which make us scramble over rocks or slither under bushes to get the perfect shot of fabulous foliage for you.

Yet there is another attribute that we often forget to mention – that of fragrance. The leaves of many trees, shrubs and perennials release a scent when brushed or bruised and while this may be impossible to capture in a juicy photograph these plants have something beyond their good looks to offer the designer and homeowner alike.

Of course not all garden aromas are desirable! One of my lecturers insists that boxwood smells like cat pee (!) and that Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) is little better. I can’t say that I find them offensive but I certainly don’t use boxwood for its fragrance.

I am interested in leaves that have it all – good looks and a pleasant fragrance. As a bonus many of these plants are deer resistant and usually pest free. My design mantra is that gardens should be experienced and not just observed and that means involving all the senses not just sight. Let’s look for leaves that can be explored with the finger tips, taste buds and nose as well as having exceptional good looks! Here are a few of my favorites.

Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

The beautiful foliage of incense cedar. Photo credit; Missouri Botanical Gardens

This is an elegant slim conifer that typically grows 40-60′ tall yet only 8-10′ wide. Native to the western United States it is hardy to zone 5 yet is not found in many home gardens. Although not a true cedar it does have a cedar-like fragrance both from the crushed foliage and the resin. Where privacy is needed this may be a better choice than the ubiquitous arborvitae.  It also keeps a healthy dark green color throughout the year.

Goldcrest Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’)

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

The bright lime green foliage of Monterey cypress is a great contrast to shades or purple and orange

Bright chartreuse foliage makes this slender conifer an easy winner for landscapes and containers but what makes it extra-special is the heady citrus scent that is released when the foliage is touched. Pair this with deep purple spurge (Euphorbia hyb.) for a bold backdrop to orange foliage and flowers. Or keep a crisp contemporary look by adding silver and white.

This dwarf beauty is hardy in zones 7-10 where it will grow 6-8′ tall and 2′ wide.

Lavender sp. (Lavandula)

It's not JUST about the flowers

It’s not JUST about the flowers!

When I worked in a nursery I would find every excuse to  walk by the lavender display and casually brush my fingers through the highly aromatic foliage! Somehow that heady fragrance would make me slow down, breathe in deeply and relax – which is why of course it is so popular as an essential oil in aromatherapy.

There are many species, hybrids and colors of both flowers and foliage as well as variability in the hardiness. They all need full sun and exceptionally well drained soil – ask at your local independent garden center for advice on those best suited to your area. Is any garden really complete without at least one lavender plant?

Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus)

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Grey, aromatic foliage of lavender cotton

Tough, evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant – four reasons to look for this silvery-grey leaved shrub. Yellow button flowers in summer are a bonus. It may need whacking back every couple of years to stop it getting too leggy but if like me you have some areas that need bullet proof plants check this out.

The fragrance is hard to describe – somewhat medicinal but not in a bad way!

At 1-3′ tall and wide it can be used to edge herb gardens and pathways or set as an informal evergreen groundcover. See it paired with Blue Shag pine at the start of this post and read about the beautiful combo (“Easy on the Eyes’) on pages 62-63 of Fine Foliage

Fuzzy fragrant foliage - meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Fuzzy fragrant foliage – meet Lemon Fizz lavender cotton

Last summer I discovered its relative Lemon Fizz lavender cotton (Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’). This was an outstanding tender perennial with bright chartreuse foliage forming tidy cushions and smelling of pine. I’m definitely getting more next year.

Catmint (Nepeta sp.)

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

Walkers Low catmint mingling with Byzantine gladioli

My first introduction to this herbaceous perennial was the variety Six Hills Giant which I allowed to scramble at the base of climbing roses in my English garden. Soft grey leaves were topped with blue summer flowers all of which exuded a wonderful herbal smell.

Today I favor Walker’s Low which despite its name is not a dwarf variety but rather takes its name from of the garden where it was originally found. Although it is less straggly than Six Hills Giant I still shear it back by half in early summer – within two weeks it  bounces back into a tidy cushion.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight catmint behind Chocolate Drop sedum. Design by Terra Nova Nurseries Inc.

Limelight is a newer introduction from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. with attractive lemon and lime foliage – watch out for this one.

Hyssop (Agastache sp.)

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral colored haze of Apricot Sunrise  fills a container in the background

Apricot Sprite peeks out of the hanging basket while a coral haze of Apricot Sunrise fills a container in the background

The foliage of this perennial is somewhat reminiscent of  catmint although the habit is typically more upright. There are many varieties available today with heights ranging from the dwarf Apricot Sprite to the much taller Blue Fortune. Flower colors range from blue to orange and pink and they all attract hummingbirds which get positively giddy with excitement. Even without the flowers this is an easy plant to enjoy in the garden for the drought tolerant, deer resistant foliage alone. I have grown Apricot Sprite as the centerpiece of a succulent hanging basket, as well as in containers and the garden.

Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) – while it does smell like curry it is not recommended for eating and does not in fact taste like curry at all. At first glance you might mistake this for lavender since the foliage is almost identical but the small yellow flowers are quite different.

I love the texture of this perennial (hardy in zones 8-11) and it is fun to include in designs as a talking point for garden visitors.

Other favorites

  • Rosemary, sage, mint, thyme and lemon verbena all assault the senses with their aromatic leaves as do so many other culinary herbs
  • Wormwood (Artemisia sp.) comes in many shapes and sizes some better behaved than others! My personal favorite is Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’) featured in our book (Purple Waves, p52) This is another plant whose fragrance is rather hard to describe – somewhat musky yet medicinal. Not unpleasant yet perhaps not one you would want in great quantities.
  • Scented geraniums and citronella for keeping those pesky mosquitoes away!

What’s your favorite fragrant foliage?

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When the Understudy Becomes the Star

'Copper' bush honeysuckle, is a bullet-proof, deer resistant shrub that earns its place in any garden

‘Copper’ bush honeysuckle, is a bullet-proof, deer resistant shrub that earns its place in any garden

If you’re like me you’ll naturally gravitate towards the biggest, showiest, most colorful leaves in the nursery, oohing and aahing over the latest chartreuse, purple or polka dot darling of the foliage world. All well and good except that a garden filled entirely with such ‘specimens’ can be visual overload.

Don’t forget to check out some of the quieter beauties such as this ‘Copper’ bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera ‘Copper’). This was an impulse buy on my part last year and I’m so glad I succumbed!

Just look at that color!

Just look at that color!

As the name suggests, the new growth is a rich copper color, especially striking with the sun streaming through it. Even the older leaves are a deep olive green with rosy undertones, making a lovely pairing with the burgundy stems. In fall the whole bush turns shades of yellow and orange before the leaves drop.

If only this was 'scratch and sniff'... the beautiful honeysuckle type fragrance fills the summer air

If only this was ‘scratch and sniff’… the beautiful honeysuckle type fragrance fills the summer air

For those who have to have their floral fix you’ll be pleased to know that bush honeysuckle does have lots of small, fragrant yellow flowers in mid summer which contrast beautifully with the copper foliage.

If you live in deer country you can celebrate – the deer really do seem to leave this alone! As well as this cultivar I have the native bush honeysuckle in another area and both have been completely ignored by these four legged pests.

Are you watering-challenged when it comes to the garden? Then this may be just the shrub for you! Mine does not get watered at all yet it is thriving even in full sun.

Still not convinced? It will take considerable shade just as easily as full sun although flowering is better in sun and I would imagine that ‘Copper’ also has better color in more light.

Do you prefer enjoying your garden from the comfort of a hammock? is your idea of a tough day in the garden trying to decide between a glass of Sauvignon blanc or iced tea? Then buy several of these. Abuse-proof, pest free, and just about zero maintenance.

Wondering how to incorporate this beauty? Look in the very center of this photo - that soft copper glow is the bush honeysuckle

Wondering how to incorporate this beauty? Look in the very center of this photo – that soft copper glow is the bush honeysuckle. See how it breaks up the gold and green?

But the best reason to include it is to add a soft ‘neutral’ color to the garden. Use it to break up swathes of green or to add a quiet note to an otherwise overly colorful foliage palette.

Sometimes the real stars are the understudies.

Cultural countdown

Site; sun or shade

Water; average but drought tolerant when established but will also adapt to moist soils

Mature size; 4′ x 4′

Hardiness; USDA zones 3- 8 or 9 (reports vary)

Other good stuff; hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it. Deer don’t.

Uses;

  • as a transitional shrub between the more manicured garden and wilder areas beyond.
  • for naturalizing (it will sucker but not aggressively),
  • as a visual resting place between bolder colored foliage,
  • as an informal hedge,
  • woodland garden

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Peanut Butter, Glass and WOW!

IMG_9190-001

Antonow’s Blue Honey Bush

Melianthus major ‘Antonow’s Blue’

Once you have inadvertently backed into or brushed up against the Honey Bush, you never forget that Peanut Buttery goodness of fragrance. It’s so intense! Plus, that powdery blue, ultra textured foliage is so tropical and lush in the garden, it can be compared to none other.
Later, if we have some great spring warmth, this plant blooms with burgundy, nectar abundant flowers that the birds adore.
I’m so excited about this particular plant because its a brand new Dan Hinkley introduction by Monrovia and it should be a hardier plant than previous ones that I’ve bought as “annuals” here in my zone 7 climate. Typically, I would have to overwinter them in the garage, so this will be a fun experiment. Monrovia advises that this plant best for zones 7-11.

Monrovia also recommends planting this one a bit deeper for better hardiness, so that should help too. With great drainage and partial to full sun, this plant will get the oomph it needs to build a strong base before winter. In warmer climates, they are saying this new one will be evergreen, whoo-hoo!! Dan Hinkley is THE MAN!

This one can get as tall as 8 feet. In the container that I will use it in this season, it will likely get about half that high, but that is just dandy with me. This Honey Bush is going into a teal pot that stands out over these lovely glass rocks of similar tones. I can’t wait to see it get fat and full!

Now THAT is some “Fine Foliage” all right. :-)

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