The Q&A Archives: Fragrant Garden

Question: I wanted to plant a fragrant garden in my backyard but have some constraints to deal with. A small ground area of 2 ft. by 12 ft., a 4 1/2 ft. wood fence behind it, faces south and receives partial shade. Please suggest plant or plants that grow upright, compact, short (6 ft. tall max.), are disease resistant and easy to maintain. My first choices were calamondin and/or gardenia but a gardener said my area is too small for calamondins and that gardenias are hard to take care. Your advice is much needed. Thank you and more power.

Answer: Here are a few suggestions for inclusion in your fragrant garden:
Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena)
This beloved, highly aromatic, deciduous shrub hails from Chile and Peru. Growing up to ten feet tall, it produces whorls of lance-shaped leaves and slender panicles of white to pale lilac late-summer flowers. When crushed, the foliage releases a refreshingly strong, lemony scent. In fact, the volatile oils are so concentrated that dried leaves remain fragrant for years, making them a perfect ingredient for home-crafted potpourris. Cultivate lemon verbena in full sun and moderately fertile, well-drained soil.

Pogostemon cablin (patchouli)
Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, patchouli has one of the most permeating and heady aromas of any herb. Though rarely seen in cultivation in the U.S., this three-foot-tall tender perennial is eminently garden-worthy. Patchouli's slightly lobed, serrated leaves are pleasingly maplelike in appearance. Spikes of small, tubular, purple-tinged white flowers appear late in the season. The leaves are distilled for their pungent, dark amber essential oil, which is used as a perfume fixative and insect repellent, and for aromatherapy. In the garden, patchouli relishes high heat and humidity. Give the plant full sun or partial shade and a very rich, moisture-retentive but not soggy soil.

Tanacetum balsamita (costmary)
Costmary is a wonderful old-fashioned perennial herb cherished for its balsam-scented foliage. Native to Asia and Eurasia, this aster-family member and close relative of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) gets its name from the Latin word costus, meaning "oriental plant," as well as its traditional association with the Virgin Mary. Other common names include alecost, which derives from its historical use as a flavoring for beer. A nice-looking, insect-resistant herb, costmary grows three feet tall and produces long, delicately serrated foliage. Small, daisylike yellow and white flowers appear from mid- to late summer. Costmary prefers full sun and average soil and moisture.

Lilium auratum (golden-rayed lily)
A native of Japan, Lilium auratum is a tall lily?as lofty as six feet. When I grew it in my first garden in Columbus, Ohio, I kept an antique stepstool close at hand so my "height-challenged" friends and I could reach the swoon-inducing flowers. This lily produces long, lance-shaped, deep-green leaves and stalks with around a dozen sweetly fragrant, golden-striped white flowers. The large, bowl-shaped blossoms appear from August through September and are often speckled with crimson. The golden-rayed lily makes a fabulous cut flower. It prefers full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. In locales with scorching summers, light dappled afternoon shade is beneficial.

Matthiola longipetala (night-scented stock)
There is nothing like relaxing in the garden on a warm summer's evening with floral scents perfuming the air. Many plants have nocturnal pollinators and so release their fragrance only at night. These include such familiar flora as honeysuckles (Lonicera species) and garden mignonette (Reseda odorata). A less familiar evening-scented herbaceous plant is night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala), native from Greece to Southwest Asia, and a cousin of the better-known florist's stock (Matthiola incana). This cold-hardy annual grows about 1 1/2-feet tall and produces narrow, linear, three-inch-long gray-green leaves. The 3 1/4-inch wide, cross-shaped, highly fragrant pink, white, or lavender flowers are borne on racemes throughout the summer. Give it full sun and regular moisture.

Osmanthus heterophyllus (false holly)
An easy-to-grow evergreen cousin of the lilac, forsythia, and fringe tree, the false holly is native to Japan and Taiwan. The delectable, fruity scent of its flowers pervades the air in late summer and early autumn. It forms a dense, rounded shrub with highly ornamental, hollylike dark green leaves, which are often spineless on mature plants. Small clusters of tubular white flowers, about 1/4-inch wide, hide within the foliage. These are followed in the fall by a handsome crop of 1/2-inch-long, oval-shaped blue-black fruits. False holly can grow up to 15 feet high and wide. It prefers a neutral to slightly acid soil and full sun to partial shade, with shelter from winter sun and winds. Some spectacular cultivars are available, including 'Goshiki', a compact 3 1/2-foot-tall shrub with creamy-yellow variegation.

Zenobia pulverulenta (dusty zenobia, honeycup)
This lovely, little-known native should be grown in every fragrant shade garden. A cousin of the blueberry and azalea, dusty zenobia is the only species in the Zenobia genus, which gets its name from a third-century warrior queen of ancient Syria. A spreading, semievergreen or deciduous shrub with arching branches, it grows wild in moist sandy areas and bogs from Virginia to South Carolina and grows up to six feet in height. Its oval-shaped and toothed blue-green leaves exhibit a silvery cast, hence the "dusty" in the common name. Fall colors are an exciting mix of orange, red, and purple. Small, nodding, bell-shaped white flowers are borne on dainty eight-inch-high racemes from early to middle summer. These have an exotic, spicy, almost cinnamon-like scent. Grow dusty zenobia in acidic, humus-rich, moist soil in sun or partial shade.

Hope these suggestions help with your landscape planning.

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