Fragrant Flowers Have Ulterior Motives

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Demure daphne bloom is richly fragrant.

Many who enjoy gardening appreciate fragrant flowers. Many grow particular flowers specifically for their fragrance. Yet, not many consider why so many flowers are fragrant. Plants can not enjoy their own alluring floral fragrances any more than they can enjoy their own delightful floral colors and forms. They do not expect people to enjoy their bloom either. Human appreciation is incidental.

Floral fragrance is merely intended to attract pollinators. Flowers are inanimate, so rely on either wind or animate pollinators to exchange their pollen among other flowers. Animate pollinators are mostly insects, but may be birds, bats or other animals. Flowers do what they must to attract their preferred pollinators. Many use color and floral form. Many use fragrance. Some use both tactics.

Flowers that use both color and fragrance to attract pollinators are mostly endemic to densely forested ecosystems. There is more competition for pollinators within such ecosystems than there is within ecosystems of sparser vegetation. Otherwise, fragrant flowers are generally not as colorful as those that are not as fragrant. Likewise, the most colorful flowers are generally not so fragrant.

Angel’s trumpet is striking in bloom because the flowers are so large. Wisteria and lilac that bloomed last spring were spectacular because they were so profuse. The pastel hues of their blooms are no problem that their fragrance does not compensate for. Pink jasmine and mock orange are about as fragrant, even if their color range is more limited. Star jasmine is not always so profuse.

Pittosporum tobira and Pittosporum undulatum are even less visually impressive in bloom, but can be surprisingly fragrant. The tiny but richly fragrant flowers of sweet osmanthus, sweet box and night blooming jasmine are so obscure that other bloom is often credited with their fragrance. As the name implies, night blooming jasmine is powerfully fragrant after sunset during warm weather.

Freesia, hyacinth, narcissus, lily and some bearded iris are both colorful and very fragrant.

Culinary Herbs With Landscape Appeal

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Culinary herbs work well within landscapes.`

Vegetables grow mostly in designated vegetable gardens because they are not appealing enough for the rest of the landscape. Flowers for cutting might grow in designated cutting gardens, from which they are not missed after harvest. Culinary herbs can grow in herb gardens for the same reasons. Some might not be very pretty. After harvest, some might be too shabby for the landscape.

Of course, such perceptions are debatable. Home gardens are casual and customized. If Swiss chard, artichoke and other vegetables can grow in front yard landscapes, then culinary herbs can too. In fact, some already do. Rosemary, thyme, lavender and a few other culinary herbs happen to be popular for landscapes because they are so appealing and practical. There is a slight catch.

Culinary cultivars of herbs are distinct from landscape cultivars. Trailing rosemary is a landscape cultivar with sprawling growth that works well as a resilient ground cover. Another cultivar exhibits more sculptural upright growth. Both are well flavored. However, neither is as richly flavored as culinary cultivars of the same species. Yet, culinary cultivars are not so remarkable for landscaping.

Most of us are satisfied with landscape cultivars of rosemary for culinary application. Alternatively, culinary cultivars, which are rare in nurseries and landscapes, can adapt to landscape functions. Cultivars of culinary rosemary happen to make nice low and mounding hedging. Infrequent shearing or selective pruning does not constantly deprive it of too much of its more flavorful new foliage.

The same applies to several herbs that have both culinary and landscape applications. Compromise might be in order.

Incidentally, two culinary herbs, Grecian bay and bronze fennel, are presently quite trendy. Grecian bay or sweet bay (which is not California bay) is a very popular potted plant. In the ground, it can grow into a midsized tree. Bronze fennel is supposedly comparable to common fennel, but with sepia toned foliage. Chive, parsley and borage all work nicely with mixed perennials and annuals.