Garden Phlox

Garden phlox is more popular in other regions than it is here.

In eastern North America where it grows wild as a native, garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, is modest but classic perennial that gets more than four feet tall with pinkish lavender flowers from late summer through early autumn. Modern garden varieties are mostly somewhat more compact with pink, red, light purple or white flowers. Many have fragrant flowers; and some have flowers with lighter or darker centers. Butterflies and hummingbirds dig them all.

Locally, garden phlox probably looks best with slight shade or among other lush plants, only because humidity is so minimal. Otherwise, it would be just as happy out in the open. In well watered gardens with rich soil, it sometimes self sows a bit, but rarely naturalizes continually enough to revert to a more natural (wild) state like it can in gardens on the west coast of Oregon and Washington. Garden phlox can be propagated by division of mature plants either after bloom in autumn or in spring.

Night Blooming Jasmine

These dinky flowers disperse grand fragrance.

The warm nights between the dog days of summer are ideal for night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum. That is when it disperses its famously sweet fragrance to attract bat and moth pollinators. A bit of humidity, although unnecessary and locally rare, enhances the permeating nature of the fragrance. Some might find such fragrance to be excessive.

Otherwise, night blooming jasmine is quite modest. Those who experience the powerful fragrance at night may be unable to identify its source while visible during the day. Small floral trusses hold several small and narrowly tubular flowers that are about an inch long. Bloom is greenish white or pallid yellow. Simple evergreen leaves are a few inches long.

Therefore, night blooming jasmine works best in the background of more colorful bloom. It will not mind if other flowers get the credit for its fragrance. With regular watering, night blooming jasmine is happy in unseen areas between buildings, and under high windows that lack views. Aggressive pruning only in early spring promotes blooming new growth. Most plants stay shorter than ten feet. Rare white berries are toxic.

Hyacinth

Hyacinth is both colorful and fragrant.

The most fragrant of flowers generally lack color. The most colorful of flowers generally lack fragrance. Most flowers employ either fragrance or color to attract pollinators, but not both. Hyacinth is an exception that is as colorful as it is fragrant. Bloom can be rich hues and tints of most colors except for green. The captivating fragrance is sweet and intense. 

Hyacinth are spring bulbs that are now finishing bloom, but are ready for planting during autumn. They require a bit of chill through winter, so must be dug and refrigerated for two months or so while dormant in milder climates. Dormant bulbs are plump and round, like small but toxic onions. They appreciate rich soil, regular irrigation, and a sunny situation. 

Bulbs generate only a few strap shaped and somewhat rubbery leaves during late winter prior to early spring bloom. These leaves resemble lily of the Nile leaves, but stay rather short, and may not flop. Hyacinth blooms with one or two short, stout and neatly cylindric trusses of several small flowers. Foliage lingers for only two or three months after bloom. Bulbs may not be reliably perennial.

Pink Jasmine

These pale, inch-wide, star shaped flowers of pink jasmine may not be much to look at, but are remarkably fragrant.

As winter turns to spring, pink jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum, blooms with abundant, loose trusses of small but very fragrant star shaped flowers. The flower buds that are initially deep pink open to soft pink, and then fade almost to white. Light shade inhibits bloom and limits foliar density, but does not prevent the wiry vines from climbing to twenty feet or so. The dark green leaves are compound with five or seven leaflets. Pink jasmine is one of the few vines that can climb lattice and light trellises without tearing them apart like wisteria and so many other popular vines eventually do. Even if it escapes confinement and gets into trees or onto roofs, it does not get too far to be pruned back within bounds.

Stock

Stock happens to excel at purpleness.

This is one of those annuals that could be a short term perennial if it gets the opportunity to do so. In most climates, stock, Matthiola incana, is a popular warm season annual that relinquishes its space to cool season annuals before it gets too worn in autumn. Locally, because it does not mind mild frost, it is more popular as a cool season annual for winter.  

Floral color ranges through both pale and rich pastels of purple, red, pink, yellow, cream and also pure white. Flowers may be single or double. In close proximity, bloom is richly fragrant. Foliage is light grayish green. Individual leaves are somewhat narrow. Removal of deteriorating floral stalks before they develop seed pods prolongs subsequent bloom.

Many garden varieties of stock stay relatively low and compact. Some may get no higher than a foot. Florist varieties that produce long stems for cutting might get as high as three feet. Overgrown plants get shabby after a primary season, but may regenerate from hard pruning. However, secondary growth is generally irregular and likely marginally reliable.

Fragrant Flowers Often Lack Color

Unremarkable flowers can be remarkably fragrant.

It is presumptuous to believe that all the fancy breeding that is done to enhance the characteristics of flowers necessarily ‘improves’ them. Breeding only makes flowers more appealing to those who enjoy them in their gardens. Most flowers were already quite efficient for their intended function in their respective natural habitats long before humans started tampering with them. As far as flowers are concerned, they only need to get pollinated.

Some flowers use flashy color or patterns to be visually attractive to pollinators. Others use fragrance to be olfactorily appealing. Small but profuse flowers that are neither colorful nor fragrant have given up on insect or animal pollinators, so instead rely on the wind to disperse their pollen.

Not many flowers are both remarkably colorful and remarkably fragrant like freesia, lilac and wisteria were earlier in spring. Lily and bearded iris are of course very colorful, but not all types are fragrant. The big and bold flowers of cereus cactus, moon flower and angel’s trumpet are only fragrant because they bloom at night, and rely on nocturnal  pollinators who benefit from a bit more guidance in the dark.

Many fragrant flowers are somewhat showy, like gardenia, star jasmine, pink jasmine and honeysuckle. (However, gardenia are almost never healthy and showy locally.) Many of the most reliably fragrant flowers are really not much to brag about. Pittosporum tobira, Pittosporum undulatum and sweet osmanthus are known more for the appealing evergreen foliage than for their small and nondescript flowers. The flowers of sweet osmanthus may actually be difficult to find amongst the obscuring foliage. Night blooming jasmine is sometimes planted around corners or in the background because even the foliage is not too appealing, although the powerful candy-like fragrance is a favorite for warm evenings.

Fragrant flowers can be annuals like sweet alyssum, bulbs like hyacinth, or perennials like tuberose. Woody plants with fragrant flowers can be vines like stephanotis, shrubs like mock orange (Philadelphus spp.), or trees like Southern magnolia. Some have brief bloom seasons, while others bloom for quite a while.

Daphne

Perhaps fragrance could be more colorful.

The small trusses of tiny, pale pink flowers of daphne, Daphne odora, really do not need to be too flashy with such powerful fragrance. Actually, the flowers might be considered to be less interesting than the glossy evergreen foliage. The most popular cultivar, ‘Marginata’, has a narrow ivory or pale yellow edge to each leaf. Each leaf is only about two or three inches long. Each domed flower truss is about as big as half of a ping pong ball. Daphne is sometimes grown to compliment and provide fragrance for boldly colorful but fragrantly deficient camellias.

Daphne is unfortunately notorious for being somewhat finicky. It likes rich soil and reasonably regular watering, but quickly rots if soil stays too damp or drains inadequately. The roots are quite sensitive to excavation. Partial shade is no problem. Yet, even the biggest and happiest specimens do not get much more than three feet high and five feet wide, and rarely live more than ten years. Daphne is toxic, and the sap can cause dermatitis.

Kahili Ginger

Kahili ginger blooms as summer ends.

It is not the ginger that is so popular for culinary purposes, but it is the most popular for home gardens in the West. Kahili ginger, Hedychium gardnerianum, is so vigorous and easy to grow that it has potential to be invasive in ideal situations. Fortunately, it does not produce many of its sticky seeds locally. It therefore migrates primarily by dispersing rhizomes, which are not noxiously fast.

The delightfully fragrant bloom begins late in summer, and will finish soon. As many as forty small pale yellow and red flowers radiate from each cylindrical floral truss. Blooms stand neatly vertical, even if the stems supporting them lean. As cut flowers, they last only for a few days. Deadheading after bloom eliminates unwanted seed (if that is a concern), and unclutters the tidy foliage below.

However, with or without deadheading, the lush foliage is only temporary after bloom. It deteriorates as the weather cools through autumn. Cutting the herbaceous canes to the ground before they get too unsightly will expose some of the thick rhizomes. New canes will grow a few feet tall next spring and summer. On the canes, each leaf extends in the opposite direction of the leaf below it.

Angel’s Trumpet

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Powerful fragrance combines with docile color.

Human intervention has sustained the seven species of angel’s trumpet, Brugmansia, since their prehistoric extinction from the wild. They were likely endemic to tropical regions from Venezuela to Chile, and southeastern Brazil. Their extinction was likely a consequence of the natural extinction of animals that dispersed their seed. Most garden varieties are hybrids of the various species.

Angel’s trumpet is either a big shrub or small tree, with rather herbaceous stems. The more popular cultivars can get more than eight feet tall. Cultivars that might get twice as tall are rare. The soft leaves get about six inches long and half as wide. Leaves might get almost twice as long on vigorous growth. Some cultivars have slightly tomentous (fuzzy) foliage. A few have variegated foliage.

Although generally sporadic, and pastel hues of pink, orange, yellow or white, bloom is impressive. The pendulous trumpet shaped flowers are commonly longer than six inches, and half as wide. Double flowers are frilly. Several cultivars are delightfully fragrant, particularly in the evening. All plant parts are very toxic. Plants damaged by frost in winter are likely to regenerate from their roots.

Sweet Box

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Foliage of sweet box outdoes flowers.

While bloom cycles of most plants are accelerated by the unusually warm winter, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, seems to be blooming a bit late. It should have bloomed sometime in winter, and finished a month ago. The tiny pale greenish white flowers are certainly nothing to look at, but they produce a remarkably rich fragrance that seems like it would be delicious with coffee.

The foliage is very glossy and dark green, like that of English holly, but the leaves are small and lack spines. Red berries sometimes develop, but are only abundant enough to be notably colorful on plants that are distressed. Sweet box may take a few years to get established and grow to only about three feet high and wide, although it can slowly get a bit larger.

Since it is naturally an understory plant, sweet box prefers at least a bit of shade. Harsh exposure fades foliage. Because of its tolerance of partial shade, as well as its low and dense growth, sweet box is ideal for obscuring foundations. After the first few years, it does not need too much water. It gets established more efficiently in rich soil.