The infinite variety of colors, fragrances, flavors and even textures that plants use to solicit the help of wildlife is amazing. Flower color, fragrance and sometimes texture are customized to attract specific pollinators. Many flowers reward their pollinators with flavorful nectar. Fruit color, flavor and aroma attract specific animals to take the fruit and disperse the seeds within. We are merely secondary beneficiaries.
It is ironic that we also enjoy aromas and flavors that are instead designed to be objectionable to plundering herbivores. The appealingly pungent foliage of most herbs is actually intended to repel grazing animals or feeding insects. We not only exploit these herbs for culinary purposes, but also to add their aromas to our gardens.
Lavender, mint, rosemary and the various thymes and sages are some of the more popular culinary herbs. Rosemary is actually a common and practical ground cover for large areas. Thyme is a good ground cover for smaller areas, and stays low enough to be grown around stepping stones.
Grecian or sweet bay is another herb that grows into a sizable evergreen tree. The native bay laurel is too big for the garden, and a bit too strong for the kitchen, but is even more pungent. Although generally not useful as herbs, the various cypresses, pines, cedars and eucalypti are appreciated for their aromatic foliage as well. Incense cedar is particularly pungent.
Junipers and geraniums are among the more common of aromatic shrubbery. Zonal, ivy and of course, scented geraniums, can be used as small shrubbery or small scale ground cover. Junipers range from ground covers to shrubbery to small trees. Rockrose, breath of heaven, lantana and myrtle are also quite aromatic.
The aromas of aromatic foliage are strongest as fresh new foliage emerges in spring, and particularly after rain. Some people like to put aromatic plants where they will be slightly in the way, since foliage relinquishes its aroma more readily when slapped with a gate, bumped, or otherwise disturbed.
Spanish lavender is neither as variable as the many varieties of English lavender, nor as traditional as French lavender, but Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas, has the most unusual flower spikes. These short plump spikes are less than two inches long, but are topped with one or two pairs of distended terminal bracts that are almost as long; like simple little packages with big ornate bows. Bloom can be various shades of purple or purplish pink or even grayish white. The large terminal bracts are lighter shades of the same colors.
Mature plants may be three feet wide, and nearly as tall. The aromatic grayish leaves are narrow and about an inch long. Bloom begins during warm spring weather and continues into summer. The flower may stand as high as six inches above the foliage. Shearing after bloom promotes secondary bloom later, and keeps plants compact. Without pruning, old plants eventually die out in the center. Once established, lavenders do not need much water. All lavenders want good drainage and good exposure.
Horticulturist, arborist and garden columnist, Tony Tomeo assesses the horticultural correctness of landscapes, and inspects trees of environmental prominence from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Send your comments and questions to email@example.com.