Gardeners develop and maintain ornamental gardens primarily for the visual appeal of beautiful blossoms and lush foliage. These gardens also please the sense of sight with the shapes of plants and the similarities or contrasts between plants.
Ornamental plants could also please three other of our senses:
- Taste is served by certain plants that are both edible and ornamental, e.g., Saffron (Crocus sativus);
- Touch is valued in plants that interesting texture, e.g., Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantina); and
- Hearing relates to plants that rustle in the breeze, e.g., New Zealand Flax (Phormium.
There are more examples of ornamental plants that appeal to these senses, but they are minor features of the garden, relative to plants that appeal to our sense of sight.
The fifth important category of ornamental plants is the aromatic plants: those that appeal to the gardener’s sense of smell.
The blossoms or the leaves, or both, of aromatic plants, produce volatile compounds that are known as essential oils. Their primary purpose, of course is to attract pollinators, but people have found myriad culinary, medicinal, therapeutic, and even magical and uses of such plants. Books have been written about such desirable applications. Here, we focus on our enjoyment of the aesthetic appeal of aromatic plants.
Plants with aromatic foliage release their essential oils primarily during the heat of the day. When the sun goes down, the foliage must be rubbed to appreciate the fragrance.
In comparison, some aromatic flowers release their perfumes during the evening and night hours to attract moths that have evolved to reach the plant’s nectar through long corolla tubes,
Many aromatic plants produce pleasant fragrances during the daytime and can be desirable additions to the landscape. An online search for “aromatic plants” will yield the information needed to select and locate plants to optimize daytime and evening enjoyment.
For example, very popular evening-scented aromatic plants include Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Border Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Honeysuckle (Lonicera), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Night-scented Phlox (Zalusianskya ovata), and Night-scented Stock (Matthiola bicornis).
The aromatic California native plants may be particularly interesting to gardeners in the Monterey Bay area. We appreciate the studies of Jackie Pascoe, a member of the California Native Plant Society, to select a few noteworthy plants in this large group.
- Spice Bush (Calicanthus occidentalis) – wine barrel scent
- Vanilla Grass (Hierogonum occidentalis) – vanilla scent
- Fragrant Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) – minty, but entirely unique scent
- Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa) – minty scent
- Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) – orangey scent
- Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) – clean scent, “like a sweet desert morning”
- Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii) – wonderfully spicy scent
- Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifoium) – fine wine scent
You could find some of these aromatic plants at the California Native Plant Society’s sale on Saturday. For info, see the story elsewhere in today’s newspaper.
Another good opportunity to learn about aromatic plants is to visit the Aroma Garden at UCSC’s Arboretum & Botanic Garden.
Explore the large and varied universe of aromatic plants to discover your preferences, and add a few to selected locations in your garden to expand your sensual enjoyment.