You never know what days will make the gardener’s favorite list, or what will put them on it. As I walked out in the garden this morning I was immersed in warm fragrance.
It is hard to describe this scent seeming to come out of nowhere: like any good perfume, it has a base scent – sun baked white garden phlox, mint and ripe fruit accents and a lingering aroma of linden flower and honey.
This is the gift of August: the maturing fragrance of harvest.
The lily buds finally decided to open this year. Every year the plants grow bigger and sturdier, so they can hold six or seven flowers at a time. Look at this picture, they are a sight to behold.
Once established, lilies will create large clumps, since their scaly bulbs are very tender and spread out easily to create baby plants. You can dig them out in the fall, break them apart and plant them in separate locations, just make sure that all locations receive full sun for the flowers and shade for the roots.
In order to keep your lilies healthy and strong, don’t forget good mulching in spring and a nice bone meal dressing in the fall. People usually think spring when they see bulbs and forget the beauty summer bulbs can bring to their garden: gladioli, irises, lilies, tuberoses and dahlias.
Unlike other perennials, winter hardy bulbs are the ultimate “set-it-and-forget-it” plant. Once you planted them, your work is done – no maintenance. Ok, maybe a little clean-up.
Why plant hollyhocks? They are so sweetly old-fashioned that they instantly take you on a mental journey to cottages in the countryside where roses and honeysuckle drape sun baked old stone and the large hollyhock rosettes light up children’s imagination.
The plants are usually biennial and not easy to grow. Notoriously susceptible to rust, they need serious grooming in the heat of summer and only bloom the second year.
If you really like hollyhocks but are not keen on taking on a lot of work, try the fig leaved variety – Alcea ficifolia. These perennial hollyhocks bloom the first year, don’t grow as tall as the other varieties, are less susceptible to rust and look very similar to the hibiscus flower to which they are related.The foliage is very decorative, deeply indented and resembling the fig leaves, as the name describes.
Fig leaved hollyhocks are single flowered and come in light butter yellow, burgundy-black, yellow, copper, pink and red.
These pretty plants are hardy to zone 3 and will benefit from being planted in the fall so that they have time to develop a strong root system over the winter. This timing will benefit even the perennial varieties for which first year blooming is not an issue.
Bearded irises are so care free that one sees them growing on the side of the road sometimes. They also thrive in cemeteries, their funeral association making some people uncomfortable, despite their beautiful countenance. The ancient Greeks named the plant after the goddess Iris, guardian of the rainbow and one of gods’ messengers. They thought that planting these flowers on graves would guide the souls of loved ones into the next life. Somber trivia aside, irises are extremely versatile plants and put up a superb display, even if only for a short month. The spent flowers don’t look too hot, so don’t forget to promptly deadhead the plants after blooming to keep the garden tidy.
The iris rhizome, also called orris root, is a basic perfumery ingredient because it locks in fragrances and makes them last longer. Interestingly enough, the classic French symbol, the fleur-de-lys is actually depicting the iris and not the lily.
Irises can be grown pretty much everywhere in the US, and many of them are pleasantly fragrant. They come in shades of lavender or purple, pure blue, yellow, pale pink, white, orange, and all combinations thereof. They make great cut flowers and are spectacular on a background of pale lavender creeping phlox or among pink roses.
If they find a good location with clay soil, enough water and sunlight they will spread quickly and create large clumps. You can divide them at the end of summer by digging out the root and breaking it up into 2 to 4 inch sections, making sure that every segment has a clump of leaves attached.
These cobalt blue beauties are very striking in their location, surrounded by white roses; they tend to pale towards a lavender blue as they fade.
For a perennial garden joy and vitality resides in changing with the seasons and breathing new colors, textures and fragrances as springs moves to summer and summer to fall. Next month the irises will fade and the snapdragons will take their place, and after that the cone flowers, and the stone crops: the garden alive.
So delicate and old fashioned, sweet violets used to yield our grandmothers or great-grandmothers’ favorite perfume at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tiny flowers nosegays and corsages fell out of favor partly because they seemed matronly to younger generations and partly because the plants are not very easy to grow commercially. They weave their runners in rich moist humus under trees or through partly shady lawns, with their sweetheart shaped bright green leaves, delicate as dreams. Try to gather a bouquet and they will wilt pitifully, always thirsty and vulnerable. Even though the classic violet fragrance is out of this world, many varieties are not scented, which can be a surprise and slight disappointment for people who anticipate it.
As with many other edible plants, the boundaries between the medicinal and gastronomical uses of violets were often blurred. Apothecaries who made them into perfume used to sell the candied flowers as food supplements. The violet syrup is supposed to smooth a singing voice.
Many medicinal qualities have been attributed to violets: sedative, fever reducer, expectorant, tumor shrinking, tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, cough suppressant, and snake bite antidote. Goat milk mixed with pressed violet flowers was considered a beauty potion for any lady who would wash her face with it.
The French in Toulouse still sell the candied violets today, as part of the tradition of that region. Pastry chefs build entire desserts to display this rare sugar confection.
If you are lucky to have scented sweet violets in your garden, you can make your own candied flowers, as a culinary curiosity if nothing else. Here is how:
Crystallized sweet violets
– violet flowers, unblemished and with the stems still attached
– 1/2 cup of water
– 1 cup of sugar
– 1 tbsp of rose water
– sprinkling sugar
Boil the water, sugar and rose water until the sugar completely dissolves. Pick the flowers by the end of the stem with a pair of tweezers and quickly dip them into the syrup. Lay them out on wax paper and sprinkle with sugar. Allow them to dry.
This unexpected sugary treat will certainly create a focal point on your artful dessert. Alternately, violets will display just fine in a simple vase.
If you want butterflies and humming birds in your garden, make sure to plant butterfly bush. It spreads with abandon, so make sure to prune it heavily. You can’t hurt the plant with too much pruning or too frequent pruning or pruning whenever. It will grow back and then some. Don’t forget to deadhead, because the spent flowers won’t fall off.
The flowers are reminiscent of lilacs, sadly without the wonderful fragrance. This plant is rainbow colored and the photo really doesn’t do it justice. The delicate little flowers that make up the flower head are exquisitely beautiful.
If you think your butterfly bush doesn’t spread fast enough all by itself, you can propagate it in the fall by root ball division, layering or cuttings.
Butterfly bush will grow tall and wide, which makes it the perfect backdrop against a foundation wall or in any area you need to screen.
Plants, much like children, need to be loved to thrive. Thus the passionate gardener will steadfastly care and worry for each and every green sprout in his yard, individually, without regard of what an uninvolved observer would classify as useless waste of space.
The gardener will move plants around to offer them better conditions, pick out diseased leaves, get upset about rabbits eating new shoots and nurse apparently dead sticks back to life. If you ask every gardener, though, they will sheepishly admit playing favorites. There are always a few plants in your garden that you would be really sad not to see again. One of mine is “David” – a white garden phlox whose scent is out of this world.
It stands alone, tall above a field of dark green mint, in a shaded area of the garden: the shadows frame its perfectly white blooms providing striking contrast. It doesn’t bloom a lot, because it is mostly in the shade, but when it does it has the most intoxicating perfume, something between linden tree flowers and lilies. The scent reaches you from a distance, drawing you to the remote side of the garden where it grows.
I unsuccessfully tried to propagate it, it won’t take to much better locations, in full sun. Garden phlox usually grows like a weed, no matter where you plant it (I moved some purple ones in complete shade and they are still blooming). Not this one: it needs attention and care, but it’s finally thriving.
So, if you are ever in a plant nursery and wonder “where is that wonderful fragrance coming from?”, don’t forget to check the perennials section for white garden phlox.
Oriental lilies are in a league of their own. They are a class above other flowers in terms of fragrance; their perfume is just intoxicating and announces their presence from feet away, just in case you might have missed the pure white corolla with bright red stems (as the Casablanca in this picture).
What can I say? The squirrels and rabbits love them, so chances are that if you have any left of the tens you planted without a protective net, you are lucky. If they make it through a couple of seasons, though, they will form a strong expanding clump and you will enjoy them for years to come.
They bloom mid-summer and grow stately tall – 3-4 feet, so they will be happy towards the back of the border. Make sure they are not crowded, because they need good air movement around their stems to stay healthy. They love full to part-sun and will mix well with contrasting colors and textures, such as red astilbe, and delphiniums.
A more familiar sight in New Orleans and Alabama, the Southern Magnolia is a wonderful evergreen tree with broad shiny leaves and huge (up to 30″ in diameter) white fragrant flowers. It is the latest bloomer of all the magnolias in the midwest, it blooms at the end of May, beginning of June, when other trees are long done flowering. The flowers develop into an artichoke shaped fruit, filled with beautiful flaming red seeds that look like corn kernels.
The tree, once established, is unpretentious and resilient, and it successfully withstands negative Fahrenheit temperatures with minimal damage. It changes its leathery leaves all year long, but goes through a major shedding in spring.
Speaking of attractive garden features for the cold season, this tree looks like this picture, minus the flower, in the dead of winter.
Garden Phlox is a perennial staple for the northern gardens. A resilient, care-free, sun loving plant, it is adorned with bunches of flowers ranging in color from white to bright magenta. Most of the varieties are wonderfully scented. The white variety “David” is exquisitely fragrant. It blooms all summer and the blooms last a long time. Phlox can be propagated by seed, cuttings, and clump division. From my experience, it is quite a prolific self-seeder, so make sure to deadhead the ripened flowers if you don’t want it spreading.
The Garden Phlox is an unpretentious flower, but don’t underestimate it. It is quite spectacular in mass plantings, it fills your garden with its fragrance, and butterflies love it. Don’t plant it in crowded places because it is susceptible to mildew and it needs lots of air movement around its canes to stay healthy. It grows tall and broad, so it is not a candidate for the front row.