In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2003
Regional Report

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The pendulous, spring blooms of Texas mountain laurel fill the air with a heavy aroma of grape bubble gum!

Outdoor Aromatherapy

Gardening is such a multisensory blessing -- delectable flavors, beautiful sights, and wonderful scents! No wonder we enjoy it so much. When it comes to the ornamentals in my landscape, I must confess a strong preference for those that offer the added bonus of perfumed delights.

I do grow flowers for their beauty, but it is those that offer fragrance that really get the majority of my time and attention. I have a few roses that are just drop dead gorgeous, but most are chosen for the many great fragrances they offer. In case you are unfamiliar with roses, their aromas range from baby powder to spice to various perfumes. It is always a pleasant surprise to approach a blossom nose first to see what unique blend of light, subtle scents it offers.

Then there are those plants with absolutely overwhelming blooms that knock you over with their heavy fragrance. They hit the olfactory system with the subtlety of an 18-wheeler, kinda like a Jr. High teacher I once had who apparently thought perfume should be applied with a turkey baster!

Fragrant Flowers
Among these wonderfully overpowering flowers are gardenia, white butterfly ginger (Hedychium), and several types of citrus. But the hands-down winner of the "lack of subtlety award" is Texas mountain laurel, a native of the Texas hill country. The spring blooms will literally bowl you over with a syrupy-strong, grape bubble gum aroma.

There are dozens of delightfully fragrant, blooming plants, including annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees, most of which are more mannered in their approach to our noses. Sweet osmanthus, night-blooming jessamine, four-o-clock, datura, butterfly bush, Confederate jasmine, and sweet viburnum are but a few familiar examples.

Fragrant Foliage
Enough said about the fragrance of blooms. What about foliage? Many plants contain volatile substances in and on their leaves that offer a pleasing added dimension to our olfactory experiences in the landscape.

This is one of my favorite benefits of growing herbs in the garden. I guess you could call it aromatherapy, but I can't pass by a rosemary, basil, or lemon verbena without pulling a half-closed hand over the shoots for a fresh scent to carry with me through my gardening activities. Yesterday while reworking a patch of oregano, Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida)and lemon balm with my son, we had to stop to sample the varied scents they each offered.

There are many new basil varieties that are available to gardeners. This year why not try some new types of basil to spice up your garden. In addition to the basic Genovese type of basil, of which there are several types, gardeners can now grow lemon, clove, cinnamon, licorice, Thai, and holy basil. Last season I grew a number of different types primarily for the fragrance they leave in your hand as you brush over them when working in the garden.

The citrusy, tangy aroma of copper canyon daisy, a.k.a. Mount Lemmon marigold (Tagetes lemmonii); the strong spicy, pine scent of rosemary; the licorice scent of Mexican mint marigold; and the fresh bay scent of crushed red bay (Persea borbonia) are among my favorite plants with fragrant foliage. There are many types of mint and thyme, which when planted around the stones of a pathway yield their fragrance with passing foot traffic.

This spring, include a few fragrant plants along your garden pathways, or perhaps in a container next to the porch swing. They make a walk through the garden even more enjoyable.

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