Califonia Bountiful

Scents of the season

January/February 2021 California Bountiful magazine

A year of scented plants

Gardeners and landscape designers always think about size and hardiness and flower color and bark and shape when designing and planting a garden. But there is another dimension worth considering: scent. It's easy to include a few shrubs, trees, perennials and bulbs with scented leaves or flowers.

Herbs are one of the easiest ways to incorporate scent into the garden. Culinary sage, for example, is a beautiful plant with its silvery gray foliage. Remember to plant your scented-leaved plants near a walkway so you can rub your hand across them as you walk to the house.

Most scented flowers release their scent into the air and share it with everyone. Others are called "fast" with their scent, meaning you have to stick your nose into the flower to smell anything.

Here are some of my favorite scented plants throughout the year. There are dozens and dozens more waiting to be discovered and planted in your garden.

January: Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)

Most of the year, wintersweet fades into the background of the shrub border. It isn't flashy. The large leaves turn a pretty yellow in autumn, still not flashy. Come January, however, the bare branches will be covered with tiny, downward-facing, cup-shaped, waxy yellow flowers with a spicy, intoxicating fragrance. You'll be able to smell them long before you notice the shrub is in bloom. It's a tough shrub that can handle our summers and winters with little fuss. It grows about 6 feet tall, doesn't spread much and asks little in return except regular watering. Like most plants, it prefers a bit of afternoon shade.

February: Daphne (Daphne odora)

I have five Daphne odora aureomarginata shrubs planted along the front walkway to my house. They have gold edges to the leaves, rather than solid green. Daphnes can easily grow to 4 feet wide and about 3 feet tall, so I give them plenty of room to spread. They tolerate some pruning, but never look good if you have to whack them back to keep them from overtaking a walkway. They have a reputation for being finicky and for sometimes dying suddenly for no apparent reason. That reputation is well deserved. If your daphne dies, buy another and plant it in a different place. They appreciate regular watering, but don't require a lot. They also prefer morning sun, especially during our hot California summers. When my five daphnes are in bloom, the scent is almost overwhelming. I cut one tiny sprig of flowers to bring in the house.

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