Originally Published: March 31, 2007 4 a.m.
When thinking of fragrance in the garden, visions of roses leap from the depths of most minds, although in reality there are so many other landscape plants more fragrant than roses. For instance, before roses bloom in late April or early May, lilac blossoms burst open with sweet smells that spread farther than those of any roses.
Each of my maternal grandparents loved to garden and they shared that joy with their grandchildren. I especially caught their garden vision and listened to their every word. I soon learned that my grandfather loved his fig tree and my grandmother loved her lilacs. These are two of my earliest garden impressions. Because I now share my grandmother's passion for lilacs, I'm grateful that Yavapai County grows some of the most fragrant lilac varieties in the country.
Lilacs have just opened and, even after this week's windstorm, some are in full bloom. Although my grandmother had the old-fashioned purple lilac, its blossoms larger than an adult gardener's hand, lilacs are available in several colors. Fragrant whites are the first to open, but the red and purple varieties will follow, filling the air of the garden center with the unmistakable scent of lilacs. This is the time to shop for a lilac bush because you will be able to see the plant's exact bloom color.
Most lilacs grow to the height of a tall person, but there are smaller varieties only four feet high. Yavapai County grows such nice lilacs because they tolerate the wind and like the cooler nights of our spring weather. They can be low-to-moderate water users when planted in our clay soil.
To prune lilacs, just follow the same rules for pruning forsythias. Wait to prune them until after the blooms have faded, as next year's flowers will be lost by pruning them while still in bloom. Spring blooming shrubs are heavy feeders and after they've bloomed, will have exhausted their food supply; so be sure to feed them with fertilome "Start-N-Grow" after pruning. They will begin to appear yellow and faded if left only on a diet of water.
During these warm days and cool nights of spring is the ideal time to plant the most fragrant of all the blooming annuals, flowering stocks. I planted several 1-gallon plants by the front entrance of our home because I enjoy the fragrance so much.I strategically merchandise this plant on the end caps of major isles at the garden center simply to watch shoppers stop in their tracks to find out what the glorious smell is. It's the aroma of flowering stocks.
I planted all my bulbs and a few dozen flowers in my raised beds and containers just two days before this week's cold and wind hit; and, I'm pleased to say that they still look great. The secret to successful mountain gardening is planting the correct plants for the season at hand. I classify this time of year as the early spring season, which calls for plants that should be able to handle a slight frost. This is the time for violas, petunias, stocks, kale, periwinkles, flowering trees, spring shrubs and all other plants that enjoy the coolness of the season. By choosing the correct plants that can handle the early spring season you will have a landscape that is a pleasure to come home to each day.
I'm going to mention a few of my other favorite fragrance-bearing plants that adapt well to our high mountain landscapes. This climate is ideal for growing roses. It's still early for the best rose crops coming out of the fields, so watch from the end of April through July for the greatest variety of fragrant rose choices. Right now, the only roses showing color at the garden center are carpet roses.
There are two fragrant vines that do well here. Honeysuckle, a reliable stand-by, is a fragrant vine that is in full bloom right now. It can take over a garden or hillside not only with its sweet fragrance, but can take over physically as well. My favorite vine is the Akebia, a new introduction to the mountains of Arizona that has performed well in either shade gardens or the full sun of Prescott Valley and Dewey. Fragrant white bell-like flowers dangle from evergreen tentacles that have a soft lace appearance. If you are thinking of planting a vine this year the Akebia definitely should be a consideration.
Three fragrant classic Midwest shrubs are the mock orange, silver berry and butterfly bush. Each grows to at least six feet tall and its blossoms fill the surrounding area with the sweet smell of the mountains. They are great accent shrubs for a bold statement in almost any landscape.
If you want plants that add fragrance to a garden, don't overlook the many varieties of herbs. Lavender, sages, bee balm and rosemary all make wonderful additions that require minimal care but are generously endowed with exquisite flowers and fragrances. If you'd like more information about fragrant plants, just check with the staff at your favorite garden center. Whether to show off boastfully or just to share quietly, gardeners know that they can count on their fragrant plants to create the right effect.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.