Fragrance In the Garden – How and Where

Nemesia with carnations

As you walk around your garden enjoying the fragrance of the different flowers you may be thinking back to your mother’s garden and the clove-scented carnations she grew or the sweet peas that remind you of that neighbor who grew them next-door and loved to share. Our sense of smell is a powerful trigger to past memories.

Fragrance in flowers is nature’s ways of encouraging pollination. Just as it draws you to take a deeper whiff, it lures insects to blossoms hidden by leaves. Some flowers are fragrant only at night and attract night-flying pollinators like moths, while others are more fragrant during the day and attract insects like bees and butterflies.

The fragrance itself comes from essential oils called attars that vaporize easily and infuse the air with their scents.

Aroma chemistry is complex and the smell of any flower comes from more than a single chemical compound. These molecules are present in different combinations in different plants, but often they are markedly similar which is why there are irises that smell like grapes and roses that smell like licorice.

Our noses can detect those chemical compounds that have a major impact on the aroma. Often a particular molecule will make a large contribution.

Some roses, for instance, derive their scent from rose oxide and others from beta-damascenome or rose ketones. These molecules are detectable by our noses at very, very low concentrations. Carnations, violets, lilies, chrysanthemums, hyacinth- all have their own set of compounds that contribute to their scent.

Lonicera heckrottii

It’s interesting also that as we become accustomed to the same smells our brain phases them out. A compound called ionones, found in violets and rose oil, can essentially short-circuit our sense of smell, binding to the receptors. This shut down is only temporary and the ionones can soon be detected again and registered as a new smell.

Place sweet-smelling plants where you can enjoy them throughout the season. The potency of flower scents varies greatly, so consider the strength of a fragrance when deciding where to put a plant. Subtle fragrances such as sweet peas. lemon verbenas, scented geraniums and chocolate cosmos smell wonderful right outside the back door. Add stronger scents where people naturally congregate- decks, pools and spa areas, dining alcoves, gazebos. Stargazer lilies, jasmine, lilacs, daphne, citrus and peonies will make your guests linger.

Your front entry should have fragrant plants to greet you when you come home. Train a fragrant climbing rose over a pergola at the gate. Fill some of the containers in your entry with scented bedding plants like dianthus, nemesia, freesias, stock or aromatic evergreens like rosemary and lavender. Plant sweet smelling shrubs like Mexican orange, buddleja, or philadelphus beside a path. Or plant carnations or lavender next to a garden bench or near your hammock.

Be sure to include fragrant plants that release their scent in the evening, especially in the areas of the garden you most frequent after dark. Since the majority of night-scented blossoms have white flowers, these plants also light up the landscape at night. Angel trumpet or brugmansia is one such plant as is flowering tobacco and night blooming jessamine.

Several easy-to-grow shrubs have fragrant flowers as an added bonus. Choisya blooms smell like oranges as does pittosporum eugenoides, tenuifolium and tobira. The tiny flower cluster of osmanthus have a delicate apricot fragrance.

Philadelpus lewisii growing near Felton Covered Bridge

Other fragrant plants include California native Philadelphus lewisii. Calycanthus occidentals is native to our Central and Northern California mountains. Their fragrant burgundy flowers smell like red wine. Ribes viburnifolium, carpenteria californica, vine maple and rosa californica are mildly scented, too.

Ideally, when you’ve finished, your garden will smell as intriguing as an expensive perfume. The top note will be floral- jasmine, honeysuckle, rose. The middle register will be spicy, such as the vanilla of heliotrope or purple petunias or the clove of dianthus. Finally, underneath the tones that give perfumes their vigor, like artemisia, sage and santolina.

Not every inch of the garden needs to be fragrant but a waft or two of fragrance from the right plants can turn a garden from ordinary to enchanting.

Enchanting Gardens in the Valley

The LoFranco garden

It’s not everyday one gets the opportunity to visit an estate here in our neck of the woods. So if this sounds interesting to you get yourself a ticket for the upcoming Valley Churches United Garden Tour on Saturday June 22nd from 10am to 5pm . Enchanting Gardens in the Valley will showcase 7 beautiful gardens in Ben Lomond and Felton and directly benefit their year-round food pantry. You’ll come away in awe of the gorgeous landscapes some of our local gardeners have created.

You can visit the gardens in any order but I started at the largest garden near Quail Hollow. This 4 acre garden features a koi pond and waterfall in the front which is pretty spectacular in itself. But the back garden features a lake. Yes, I said a lake with a dock and an island and a huge waterfall. The owner, Vince LoFranco, told me that the only plant on the property 25 years ago was one redwood. The back acreage was then a spring fed marsh. They first had an engineer draw up plans to drain the boggy area but on second thought decided to go with nature and create the pond. When you visit look for Shadow, the black cat, the huge tadpoles in the lake and the blooming perennials, Japanese maples and grasses among all the other horticultural delights.

The Sikes garden

The Sikes garden was next on my list. Jeanne allows visitors to walk through the main living and kitchen areas as they are extensions of her garden. Using red as her primary color along with touches of vivid yellow, orange and blue with lots of white this garden features something to admire at every turn. There are many sitting areas to enjoy under the massive oaks. Jeanne adds new decorations all the time so if you visited this garden on the VCU tour a couple years ago there is a ton of newly created vintage garden art. Don’t miss it.

The Connolly garden

Sit a while in the retro metal glider bench at the Connolly garden next. Lisa told me that the property was “just dirt” when it was purchased 20 years ago in the Ben Lomond sand hills. When the front lawn was removed it created an opportunity to add low water use plants. The back garden features a beautiful river rock pool and spa. Under the shade of the oak trees flourish perennials and a DIY manzanita branch fence that “keeps the chickens on the other side” according to Lisa. There are many take-away ideas to glean from this garden that would be do-able for you, too.

The Swan garden

The Swan residence will keep your head spinning. Anatola has created multiple garden rooms that flow from one area to the other. Her modern garden design features hundreds of perennial shrubs and flowers mostly in shades of white with variegated silver and blue accents. Dozens of Japanese maples grow lush under the oaks and giant birch. Of the many tips she shared I liked the one about instant “weathering” of a lattice to screen the neighbor using vinegar, baking soda and steel wool. The screen turned out great.

The Moran garden

The Brook Lomond Iris Farm is home to Chris and Rick Moran who pack much more than the stately tall bearded iris on their property. A few iris might still be blooming and the compost bins working hard. Take in the front succulent and cactus garden featuring Chris’ renowned pottery to start your tour. The back garden features an organic vegetable garden, redwood fairy circle retreat, artist studio and a lush lawn that survives without sprinklers.

The Ross garden

Not to be missed is the garden of Adra Ross. Her huge spring fed koi pond is so big it has it’s own beach. Having a silting area at one keeps the water clean. On the day of the tour a local koi and pond expert will be on hand to answer questions. This is a huge 5 acre garden featuring many gardens rooms around the entire property. It’s a National Wildlife Certified Wildlife Habitat so you’ll come away with ideas and inspiration of your own.

And be sure to visit Hallcrest Vineyard in Felton to enjoy the perennial planters, vegetable beds and enjoy the view of the meadow from the tasting room. The Schumachers bought the property in1987 and have gardened here ever since. Take a lunch and purchase a glass of their renowned premium wine.

Get your $25 tickets for the tour at many local nurseries or Valley Churches United in Ben Lomond.

Growing Flowers for Cutting

Wild Blue Yonder and Golden Celebration roses with alstroemeria

Go ahead and bask in the beauty of your spring garden this year after so much rain. Then start planning and planting to add more cut flowers so you can bring the outside in. Even if you have a lot of flowers already for bouquets there is always that nook or cranny that can fit one more.

A friend of mine has a garden that has so many roses and other flowers that she can cut huge bouquets for her own tables and still have enough to share with friends. Admiring a colorful mixed bouquet of roses and alstroemeria on her table the other day I was envious that my meager shady garden produces only enough flowers for the hummingbirds. If you yearn for more flowers in your garden I have some ideas for you.

Comapassion rose

“If I only had one rose in my garden”, my friend said to me, “I’d plant ‘Compassion.” I can tell you after receiving a bouquet of this beautiful double apricot, copper and gold rose from her that she’s on to something. Exceptionally fragrant, this profuse continual bloomer is also disease resistant even in part shade. It can be grown as a large shrub but is more effective when trained as a climber where its fragrance can be enjoyed along a path near your doorway or alongside a patio or deck. The fragrance is a combination of honey and peaches. A small bouquet scented my entire house.

If you are looking to increase your cut flower potential like I am, here are some suggestions. For starters it’s always good to grow perennial plants that come back every year but self sowing annuals are also great so don’t forget to plant some of those also. Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula. Zinnia, snapdragon, statice and marigolds also make good cut flowers.

For sunny spots grow perennial penstemon and kangaroo paw. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets. Coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow also make good cut flowers. Penstemon are good for cutting and the tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.

Native flowers that last for a week or more in a bouquet include clarkia and sticky monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days in a vase. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun.

Mixed bouquet of Oakleaf hydrangea with Marjorie Channon pittosporum

The secret to a fabulous bouquet is not just the flowers but the interesting foliage and that is something we all have in our gardens. Great foliage plants come in all shapes and sizes. In shady gardens, fragrant variegated daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub for both flowers and foliage. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans is a large evergreen shrub with apricot scented blooms. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets during the summer and the leaves turn red in fall as an added bonus.

Foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, California bay, ornamental grasses, grapes and other vines, herbs, woody tree branches like smoke tree and Japanese maple also look handsome in a bouquet.

Compassion rose in a bouquet

To make cut flowers last, pick them early in the morning before they are stressed by heat. Pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. Fill a clean vase with 3 parts lukewarm water mixed with 1 part lemon-lime soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar and a crushed aspirin. Another recipe for floral food is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water. The sugar helps buds open and last longer, the acid improves water flow in the stems and the bleach reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus. Change the water and re-cut the stems every few days to enjoy your bouquet for a week or even longer.

Tree Varieties You’ll Love

We have Joyce Kilmer to thank for her poem ‘Trees’ that starts with the famous line:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

In nature and in the garden it’s the trees that get most of the attention. Cambridge Dictionary defines the Wow Factor as a quality or feature…that makes people feel great excitement or admiration. Majestic and dramatic, no matter the size, a tree makes a garden or landscape speak that it’s here to stay.

Brahea armata – Mexican Blue Palm

Recently I had the pleasure to spend some time in a historic garden that dates back to the 1800’s. Last year this garden was featured on the Garden Conservancy Santa Cruz Open Days. The Conservancy’s mission is saving and sharing outstanding American gardens so I was thrilled to tour this garden, be introduced to several new tree varieties plus see some old favorites that might just work in your garden also.

Many of the hundreds of tall bearded iris were still blooming in the garden as well as early flowering perennials and shrubs. I didn’t see any dragonflies flitting about on this particular day but the stunning ornamental gate and mosaic created on one of the garden paths both feature dragonflies and I’m pretty sure they are regular visitors. The garden is called Odonata which is the order of carnivorous insects encompassing dragonflies and damselflies.

An unusual flowering dogwood from Mexico. Cornus florida ‘Pringle’

One of the most unusual flowering trees in Odonata was the Mexican flowering dogwood. This small ornamental tree, a cornus florida subspecies called ‘Pringle’ had the most unusual flowers. Their white bracts don’t fully open giving them a Chinese lantern look. This tree holds its foliage later than the more familiar Eastern dogwood and has reddish fall color. Glossy red fruit that forms later in the season is readily eaten by birds. This tree is showy and best used where the flowers can be appreciated.

Wedding Cake Tree or Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’

Another dogwood variety growing nearby was also new to me. Cornus controversa ‘Veriegata’ (Wedding Cake Tree) is graceful and spectacular with beautifully layered horizontal branches. Winner of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society the tree was covered with showy creamy white flowers in flattened clusters. Later the blossoms will give way to black berries in late summer that is, if the birds don’t get them first. Fall color is a lovely yellow color.

Golden Chain Tree aka Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’

Also in bloom, a laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ (Golden Chain Tree) looked spectacular with long, drooping clusters of lightly fragrant, bright yellow flowers. This handsome tree has a beautiful spreading canopy of bluish-green foliage and is a great choice as a single specimen or even in a group planting.

Honorable mention awards would have to be shared between the red form of Henry Lauder Walking Stick ‘Red Dragon’ and the white Flat Rock leptospermum. Well maybe the cryptomeria japonica ‘Dacrydioides’ (Whip Cord Japanese Cedar) or the pinus wallichiana “Zebrina’ (Striped Himalayan Pine) would also place.

Pittosporum ‘Silver Magic’

There were so many other note-worthy specimens in this garden. From showy shrubs like pittosporum ‘Silver Magic’ to large palm specimens such as Mexican Blue Palm and a giant bromeliad variety called a puya this garden is a landscape designer’s candy store. I even enjoyed the more common plants like lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’, variegated fortnight lily, a huge heuchera ‘a la Rochette’ blooming alongside a brilliant blue native pentstemon as well as gold flowering Moonshine yarrow.

It was an afternoon to remember between rain storms.

Wisteria – Growing Tips & Maintenance

A pink Chinese wisteria covering a pergola in Bonny Doon

Wisteria season is winding down unless you have a repeat bloomer like a ‘ Cooke”s Purple’ or ‘Amethyst Falls’. I’ve heard it all: “Why doesn’t my wisteria bloom?” or “I planted a wisteria in the wrong place, how do I get rid of it?’ or “I love my wisteria but it’s taking over the porch ?” (insert garage, house, shed or other structure) Seems we either love ‘em or hate ‘em on our own property. Growing somewhere else they are always the stars of the spring garden. If any of this sounds familiar to you here are some tips on how to handle yours.

Wisteria are one of nature’s most resilient survivors. They are able to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions. To some they are a little too tough for their own good with a growth rate rivaling bamboo during the summer. If you dream of a wisteria-covered pergola shading your patio here are some maintenance tips that are sure to keep both gardener and vine happy.

A pink wisteria growing under a fragrant purple variety covers a gazebo.

Wisteria are so vigorous they can be pruned at any time, keeping them in bounds and clearing out unwanted or dead growth. Prune out any stems you see extending into eaves, windows or shingles. If yours has gotten away from you, you can even prune it down to the ground and start over with training although you’ll have to wait a few years for your vine to bloom again.

To their control size major pruning is done during the dormant season. Start by trimming the long tendrils that grew over the summer back to about 6 inches from the main trunk. Cutting the tendrils back in this way will initiate flower bud development, neaten the plant up, and show off the attractive trusty, gnarly character of the vines.

Whatever time you do renovation pruning remember the response of the wisteria to aggressive pruning is to literally explode with new runners. They put energy into new vegetative growth at the expense of flowering. Make sure you keep up on ongoing maintenance pruning by removing all unwanted runners right to their point of origin. Then prune back the others to 3 buds or sets of leaves. Repeated pruning of these runners is what will eventually give you spurs of wood, short laterals that in turn will provide you with flower clusters. You need to prune these runners all season long which ends up being every 3-4 weeks.

Do not fertilize your wisteria. They do not flower well if there is an over abundance of luxuriant growth. Over feeding also ends up giving them the means to become unmanageable monster. If you have trouble getting your vine to flower an application of a high phosphorus fertilizer may promote blooming.

A diligently pruned wisteria at Filoli Garden

Maintaining a wisteria requires some diligence but the reward is worth the effort. Remember this especially during winter pruning season to make summer maintenance easier. If you find that the wisteria vine has invaded a nearby bed, cut roots with a shovel below the soil line to control any that have wandered.

Which variety of wisteria should you get to cover your arbor, pergola, tree or other structure?

A Cooke’s Purple wisteria growing on a pergola in Boulder Creek.

Chinese varieties such at ‘Cooke’s Special’ have clusters of fragrant blue-purple flowers 20 inches long. This variety can re-bloom which makes it a favorite. Chinese wisteria can take up to 20 years to mature enough to produce flowers, but once it has matured, the plant is very long lived and can live up to 100 years.

Japanese wisteria like ‘Caroline’ bloom early with mauve flowers. ‘Royal Purple’. known also as ‘Black Dragon’ , has sweetly scented dark purple flowers. Japanese wisteria are most effective when grown on pergolas so their long flower cluster can hang freely.

American wisteria, native to more eastern areas of the U.S. is a smaller, less invasive species that grows ar about a third the rate of Asian wisteria. ‘Amethyst Falls’ blooms at an early age with lightly fragrant purple racemes. Use in containers for porch or patio, train up an arbor or trellis or as a small free-standing tree.

Silky varieties produce a profusion of short, 6 inch, fat clusters of strongly scented flowers that open all at once. They have velvety seed pods and bloom best in full sun.

All parts of the wisteria vine contain a toxin known as wisterin which can cause stomach upset. Growers should also be wary of pets and children eating the flowers or seed pods.

Plant Problems- What’s a Gardener to do?

Just one of many banana slugs in my garden

Everything was growing nicely in the garden until the banana slugs and squirrels started eating me out of house and home, fungal leaf spots and aphids appeared and the gophers and deer decided they really liked my plants. What’s a gardener to do?

Troubleshooting is a form of problem solving. And whether it’s your car, your smart phone, an irrigation system or yellowing leaves on a plant the goal is to find the solution and make everything work again. When you eliminate the potential causes of the problem hopefully the solution restores everything to its working order. Sometimes this is easier said than done as we all know.

A few weeks ago I received a text with pictures of some plants with leaf spots and was asked for a solution. Over the winter we received a lot of rain so I wasn’t surprised. But if this were mid-summer I’d suspect that the plant leaves were burned by the sun and not getting deep enough irrigation. At this time of year, however, black or brown spots on leaves are fungal or bacterial problems and should be treated with an organic fungicide like Serenade which is non-toxic to bees and beneficial insects, Neem, copper or sulfur spray to prevent and control spreading. Affected leaves should be discarded.

The subject of how much fertilizer and what kind came up in another troubleshooting email. The issue was whether to use an organic high phosphate fertilizer in order to encourage bud development on a notoriously short-season tree dahlia. A single spring application of rock phosphate should be sufficient. Sometimes adding too much phosphorus can actually hurt a plant, preventing the uptake of other nutrients necessary to prevent other deficiencies. A balanced fertilizer containing all three nutrients- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-was recommended for the remainder of the season.

Winter yellow leaves on Meyer Improved lemon

Then there are the problems in my own garden. Well, it seems I am always trying to solve something with plants, pests or critters but now it’s the lemon tree. The older leaves of this tree are yellow. The new growth looks fine so it isn’t an iron deficiency where young leaves display green veins along with a yellowish color.

It isn’t a nitrogen deficiency either where the mature leaves slowly bleach to a mottled irregular green and yellow pattern, become entirely yellow and then are shed while the discoloration spreads to the younger leaves. I fertilized in March with an all-purpose balanced fertilizer. Citrus are heavy feeders and require a steady source of nitrogen, the ideal citrus fertilizer having a ration of 3:1:1 (N:P:K)

After eliminating other mineral deficiencies or overwatering as the problem I decided that my lemon was simply dropping interior leaves which is normal after winter but I wanted to trouble shoot all potential causes to be sure citrus greening wasn’t the culprit. If it had been this deadly disease the leaves would have exhibited an asymmetrical pattern.

To quote Sherlock Holmes “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” I’ll try to remember that when I’m troubleshooting my next problem in the garden. Oh and by the way my banana slug relocation program is going well.

The Mountain Gardener's Weblog

%d bloggers like this: