CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- We think of the bloom of a rose or the blossoms of a cherry tree when we think of scents in the garden. But many foliage plants offer the surprise of scented leaves that can add another layer of enjoyment to your garden.
Of course, fragrance in flowers is necessary to draw pollinators to the flower. But why scented leaves? Some plants produce their own natural fungicides and pest repellents. Some plants, such as a curry plant (Helichrysum italicum), will release volatile oils into the air under warm and humid conditions. Some release their scent by just rubbing the leaves.
Herbs come to mind when we consider scented foliage. The obvious -- sage, chives, thyme, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, thyme -- and the less obvious -- anise hyssop, scented geraniums -- all are favorites.
The line called "Stepables" has some scented groundcovers (thymes, chamomile, Artemisia and mints) that can handle foot traffic and that give off a pleasant scent when you step on them. I've seen many of these in local garden centers recently, including Valley Gardens.
I purchased Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin' (Elfin thyme) from the Stepables website (www.stepables.com) and it's forming a tight, solid mat of gray/green foliage with light pink blooms in the summer. It's very drought-tolerant and I'm using it to fill in a spot where the dog often frolics. We'll see if it survives!
I love the scent of spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Its leaves give off a scent comparable to men's aftershave, and it has berries that ripen red in the fall. In his book "Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines," William Cullina calls the scent a mixture of cloves, anise and musk.
The sweetbriar rose (Rosa eglanteria) has highly scented leaves that send off a scent like freshly cut apples after a rain or on very humid mornings, according to Page Dickey in Horticulture magazine. She also lists Old English box (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa') that throws its scent into the air especially after a rain. She also admits that some people think this particular shrub smells like cat urine, but other people don't think so!
Calvert Armbrecht has asked me to write about the perils of using red cedar mulch.
"Sara: There seems to be an explosion of red cedar mulch again!!! Can you write another cautionary bit? Thanks."
I touched on this topic last year, noting that the National Wildlife Federation reports that even before Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast's wetlands and their swampy cypress forests were disappearing at an alarming rate. People think they are getting an insect-repelling mulch, but most of the stuff that gets here in bags is from immature trees that haven't developed their rot-resistant and insect-repellent qualities.
The red mulch ire has spread to Facebook -- you can join the "I Hate Red Cedar Mulch" fan page. There's an iVillage chat room titled "Red Cedar Mulch is annoying me!"
So take heed, and use local hardwood mulch, please!
Garden book suggestions
Here are a few garden books that have come across my desk recently.