Summer in our gardens, whenever it comes, should be the ultimate outdoor sensory retreat. The wonderful long evenings on the deck or patio should be the antidote to the stress we all feel during our busy days. The big question is can our decks, patios and gardens meet the challenge?
Summer colour and how we blend analogous tones together is very important, but fragrance is perhaps the most important when it comes to creating that sensory refill. Ironically, most of the colour with which we surround ourselves has little perfume. It’s time to add the fragrance.
As easy as it sounds, finding lasting perfume is more of a challenge than most of us think. Finding plants that will accommodate sun or shade, be compatible with other plants and continue to perfume all summer is possible, but we all need to think out of the “flower box” just a little.
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is one of the most universal of all the summer blooming plants. However, not all heliotropes are created equal. Some of the new varieties are far more compact, but have little perfume.
The very best is still the “nameless” old-fashioned variety that has that lingering scent of baby powder. It’s versatile enough to be used in hanging baskets, containers or in bed plantings. It will, as most heliotrope varieties, do well in shade or sun. If you need it to be more compact and well behaved, simply pinch it back a few times.
My second favourite variety is Sachet. It is a very dark-foliaged variety with fragrant deep lavender-purple blooms. Its rich dark foliage provides wonderful contrast with pink, white or silver flowers and with other foliage. It’s also a compact grower and well suited to containers and plantings. Blue Marine, another compact dark-foliaged variety, produces fragrant deep blue flowers about 10 cms (four inches) across and grows only 25 cms (10 inches) tall and wide. Like Sachet, it’s a rich deep contrast plant to other colours.
White heliotrope provides slightly less perfume, but its white flowers add a very different look to planters and ground beds. The blues will always be my favourite, but in the right situation, the old-fashioned white varieties can provide quite a classy look.
When folks ask for a flowering shrub that blooms all summer with a nice perfume, one plant leaps ahead of all others – the Butterfly Bush or buddleia. Native to China, Japan and other parts of Asia as well as Chile, Mexico and the U.S., there are at least seven different species, all unique in their own ways.
The greatest challenge for many species is their invasive nature and there are now many regions in North America, including British Columbia, Oregon and Washington where gardeners are encouraged not to plant them. The great news is there are now many new varieties which are sterile and do not pose this very important environmental concern.
A Proven Winner introduction Buddleia x Blue Chip from the Lo & Behold series is the first miniature (24-30 inches or 61-76cms) sterile variety. Hardy to Zone 5, it requires little pruning or deadheading and blooms and reblooms all summer until frost. Its fragrant lavender-blue flowers add a nice perfume to our gardens and patios all summer and of course, attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. I love the fact it grows well in containers and is a wonderful complement to so many trailing and upright annuals, perennials and vines. Lo & Behold was the top buddleia at the RHS Wisley Gardens and won the gold medal at Plantarium in 2009.
Another too often overlooked fragrant plant is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum). This tender Zone 7 plant needs a protected sunny dry spot, but will bloom with huge fragrant yellow pea-like flowers from early summer through autumn. It has a wonderful perfume that seems to carry throughout our patios and gardens. Spartium does very well in containers or in the ground at the edge of patios. It has virtually no leaves, but its rush-like stems make interesting focal points. It’s a “must have” plant.
One of the most under-used plants for our patios is lavender. You need a hot sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to Surrey North Delta Leader