Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fragrance In The Garden

When Shakespeare wrote the immortal words, "that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet," I'll bet he was inspired by the aroma of the gardens and woods that surrounded his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. But, of course, roses were only a metaphor for plants that stimulate your olfactory senses.

When I design gardens and landscapes, fragrance as well as visual stimuli are major considerations. While most of us respond to the lovely aroma of flowers like lilacs, hyacinths and roses, there are many other creative ways to bring fragrance into your garden. The flowers and foliage of many plants can perfume your environment.

Other plants that visitors will search out on your property because of their fragrance are sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana) and holly trees. Many hollies have a scent that surprises people, particularly when flowers aren’t noticeable. Sweetbox is a low growing woody plant that has small insignificant looking blooms in late March to early April that emit a sweet fragrance in spite of their dainty size. In fact, they’re cleverly hidden behind foliage so you can barely see them. The enjoyment is in the perfume that exudes from its small, mostly hidden flowers.

Fragrance can provide a special effect in the form of flowers or foliage. Walking in Rock Creek Park, I enjoy bruising the leaves of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) whenever I see one. It has a refreshing, spicy, fruity odor, is native to the mid-Atlantic region and also the habitat for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.

Later in the spring and summer I enjoy blossoms on Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica). It is also native to the eastern United States and was introduced in 1744. A low growing, long flowering plant, it has wonderfully fragrant flowers in late spring/early summer and grows to about four to six feet in height, in sun or partial shade, in wet or dry soil. Its display of maroon fall foliage can hold for weeks.
Itea In Flower
  ‘Lemon Drop,’ a Mezitt hybrid, introduced by Weston Nursery, is a deciduous azalea and another native bred plant that has an outstanding sweet citrus smell that is a knock out for its fragrance and ability to attract butterflies to its nectar rich flowers in late spring to early summer.

Edge a flowerbed that has been sited where it will receive lots of sun with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Foliage brushed or bruised between your fingers will produce a “lavender” scent even in winter. Do the same with rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’) that is hardy in the Washington, DC area, in protected sunny locations, and you might even get a shrub that flowers in late winter and other seasons as well.
Rosemary 'Arp' Flower Clusters
Another plant I enjoy almost exclusively for its short-lived unbelievably fragrant flowers is Koreanspice viburnum. Beautiful blossoms last only about two weeks in April (this year beginning in March), and then interest is gone except for providing fuzzy foliage. It's a compact five-foot tall, disease resistant shrub. Yet, these two weeks of pinkish/white flowers are the closest you can get to a perfect fragrance.

Search for sweet smelling flowers as they open this spring. You will notice that many have their own unique scents. But, be careful and make sure you look for stinging insects before you sniff.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Late Winter/Early Spring Color

Your garden should catch the eye and maintain visual interest year round. When planning your outdoor spaces be sure they offer a coordination of color each season.

Traditional landscape plans offer a few trees, expanses of lawn requiring frequent tending, trimmed evergreen foundation shrubs and isolated areas that provide color of spring flowering shrubs, bulbs or other perennials. Most of the show is over before you can be outside to enjoy it, and then you must care for this boring space that looks the same year after year, so make it interesting.

Achieve interest 365 days a year by introducing a coordination of blooming plants – trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Color is one of the best attention getters. It is the first element you discern when viewing a garden or landscape.

There are wonderful winter and early spring blooming plants that thrive in this region:
• Hellebores begin to open in February and maintain their flowering interest until April. They are extremely deer resistant evergreen perennials that will grow in heavy shade.
• Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) displays brilliant yellow flowers sporadically throughout winter.
• Native vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and spiked winterhazels (Corylopsis spicata), both in the witchhazel family, are fragrant and begin their display in January/February.

Colorful barks of various trees also set off the winter garden. A few of them are:
• Striped maples (Acer pennsylvanicum) have green and white stripes running vertically along the trunks.
• Paperbark maples offer beautiful orange/russet red exfoliating bark.
• Coral bark Japanese maples have exquisite red leafless branches until the weather begins to warm.
• Red twigs of redosier dogwoods are standouts in the landscape.

Look at every characteristic of a plant, including bark, season of flower, leaf color, berries, branching habit and foliage texture. If several interesting characteristics occur on a single plant, it can add a long-season of interest and color to your garden.

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© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
Hellebore In Bloom

Vernal Witchhazel In Flower