Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Bambi & equally destructive friend
            That Bambi is so cute. What kind of monster doesn’t love Bambi?

            Answer: anyone whose landscaping becomes a collection of flower- and foliage-denuded sticks the morning after the Bambster and a herd of his closest friends mosey through.

            In all fairness, it’s not Bambi’s fault. As suburbia expands, humans insert themselves into deer territory without making any accommodation for the original residents. Left to their own devises… (Is it “devises” or “devices”? “Devises” fits the meaning better, but people say “devices.” I switch back and forth. Please advise.) Anyway. Left to cope with this environmental sea-change on their own (how’s that?)—since they aren’t the ones with the bulldozers, the poisons, the dogs and the guns—the deer sensibly adapt. Some move on, the rest move in. And why not? Landscapers seem maddeningly slow to recognize that instead of providing pleasant outdoor spaces for people to live and play, they are actually building bovine buffeterias. (No, deer don’t technically fall into the bovine class, but consider this: cows are ruminants too. I just couldn’t pass up the alliterative opportunity.)

Dwarf Indian hawthorn, a.k.a. deer candy
            When Tim and I started working in St. James Plantation in Southport, NC, 14 years ago, the preferred landscape contractors had a complement of about 20 different shrubs they used. All the damn time. (We got so we could reliably identify one company’s work solely by the presence of star anise—Illicium anisatum—a nondescript sort of shrub whose only advantages are that deer refuse to touch it and you can’t kill it with a backhoe.) About 30% of this meager palette topped the deer-depredation charts: Indian hawthorn, pittosporum, euonymus, aucuba, azalea and camellia. Occasionally, one of the more imaginative designers would toss in some daylilies and/or roses—for dessert, I assume. Other de rigueur deer tempters included hydrangea and loropetalum, whose tender new growth nocturnal grazers simply adore.   

'Happy Returns' daylily, a.k.a. deer candy
            Not that landscapes improved all that much once the deer-light dawned for many of our colleagues: hawthorn and pittosporum were out, aspidistra and ornamental grasses—neither of which contribute to stunning four-season foundation plantings—came in.

            But I digress. Tim and I signed up to speak to the local DAR chapter at their March meeting. I asked the program chair what topic she’d like us to natter on about: Revolutionary-era garden plants still in use today? A riff on colonial potagers? Herbs used as medicines by our forebears? “Any of those would be very nice,” she said. “But what we could really use is a list of deer-proof plants.”

              Oh. Okay. We can do that.

          Brainstorming for an hour one Saturday afternoon (putting off house-cleaning again), the intrepid Fitzes came up with dozens of candidates across the spectrum of annuals, bulbs, perennials, groundcovers, vines, shrubs, trees, herbs and ornamental grasses. Frankly, once we got rolling, we were amazed how many plants met our criteria.

          A caveat before continuing: Nothing—NO THING—is deer-proof. The gentle foragers will eat anything—ANY THING—when facing starvation. Resistance is the best we can hope for. A few winters ago, the ornamental cabbages and kales coloring our clients' containers got nibbled down to nubs, to Tim’s and my utter amazement and dismay. Then there were the full and shapely 25-gallon spiny-foliaged lusterleaf hollies (Ilex latifolia) we planted just before Christmas one year. We returned to the site after New Year’s to find them leafless as far up as our scrubby deer could reach, leaving only ridiculous-looking pom-poms at the tops. (We replaced them with wax myrtles, at appreciable cost to the business.)

            The point is, keep your expectations low and you’ll be fine.
            Deer-resistant flora share certain morphological characteristics.

1.     Plants whose sap resembles latex (viscous, white, sticky) reliably repel grazers. Examples include Confederate jasmine, any Euphorbia, alyssums, butterfly weed, many sedums and Sandankwa viburnum (V. suspensum).
Sticky-sapped Confederate jasmine

     Latex-y Euphorbia hybrids
'Ascot Rainbow' & 'Blackbird'

2.    Another resistance trait is strong scent (not necessarily fragrance, mind you). This category encompasses almost all the culinary herbs, marigolds, lantanas, sages, agastaches, alliums, catmints, wax myrtles, pines, cedars and the like. 

Fight 'em with smell--
       'Copper Canyon' marigolds...
...and pineapple & Mexican bush sages

3.   Thorns and spines act as deterrents, especially when they poke out of leaves, as they do in a pair of my favorite ornamental solanums, S. pyracanthum and S. naranjilla, a.k.a. bed-of-nails. Pyracantha, barberries, prickly pear—or indeed any cactus—agaves, dasylirions and rugosa roses discourage any outside interference, ruminant or human. (A note of sympathy: regular rose thorns pose no problems Bambi and pals: they just nip off the tasty blooms.)

Bed-of-nails' foliar defenses
             A forbidding line-up
of agave, prickly pear & dasylirion

4.    Fuzzy, raspy, fibrous and/or leathery leaves fall low down on the deer hit parade. Think evergreen oaks; many of the little-leaved hollies (Ilex crenata and I. vomitoria) as well as the super-spiny ones, like ‘Carissa’ and ‘Rotunda’; junipers and most other conifers; artemisias and lambs-ears; lantana; mature loropetalum; hollyhocks; leatherleaf and ‘Chindo’ viburnums (V. rhytidophyllum, V. awabuki ‘Chindo’); most succulents; yuccas; and any grass-like plant (although not necessarily the flowers thereof, as daylily lovers learn to their sorrow).
               'Blue Pacific' junipers
 do a number on Bambi's tender mouth
Lambs-ears don't please the palate either


5.  Deer have enough smarts to avoid poisonous plants: you should reciprocate by seeking them out—that is, if your pets and children are beyond the put-everything-in-their-mouths phase. Daffodils qualify, as do most ornamental solanums, lantanas, rhubarb foliage, artemisias and oleander. 

...as are oleanders
Daffodils are poisonous in all their parts...

Enough for today. I’ll be posting more (plus many more pictures) on the subject as the week rolls on and our date with the DAR draws nearer.
Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, February 20, 2012


                              “I can’t drive 55.”—Sammy Hagar

                               “…you move too fast,
                                Got to make the mornin’ last.”—Paul Simon

Decompose faster!!!!!

            This envelope arrived in the mail last Wednesday. I looked at it, turned to Tim and huffed, “We stupid Americans even want stuff to rot faster these days. Hmph.”

No one could ever mistake me for a ball of fire. Speed holds no appeal for me whatsoever, unless the activity being referenced is childbirth. And maybe not even then. Tim upgraded our Internet service from a moderately glacial pace to one more like Al Gore’s prediction that that the Himalayas will be iceless by 2035; I barely noticed. When we’re staying at a hotel and Tim remotely blips through all 700 TV channels (30 damn times before deciding nothing’s worth watching), I get a headache.  Amusement-park rides make me nauseous. Back in the day when I piloted small planes, I liked to keep pace with the traffic on roadways, at reasonable altitudes of between 2000 and 5000 feet. (You have to be able to see the cars.) And Sammy, I can’t drive 55 either: whizzing along at such a rate unnerves me.

            Nope, don’t care for the gallop. I’m most comfortable with the amble, the stroll, the mosey. This phenomenon arises partly from my timid nature, partly from a congenital lack of ambition, partly from a Zen-ish proclivity to feel the moment. People who live in hyper-drive miss too much, in my opinion. Where do they think they’re going so quickly anyway? We all end up in the same place—dead—in the end.

(Click to enlarge. Please.)
            In keeping with my walk-in-the-park world view, yesterday I leavened housecleaning chores with a ramble around the rain-soaked yard, looking at stuff. Plants viewed from ground level are so amazing, so ordered, so perfect. The live oak on the north side had dropped a beautiful lichen-covered twig that stopped me in my tracks. See?

            A few words about lichen. Often people will point to or bring Tim and me branches to diagnose, worried that lichens are a sign of disease or decline. Not to worry, y’all. Lichens are as benign as that iconic Southern epiphyte, Spanish moss (Tilandsia usneoides), which, by the way, is neither Spanish nor a moss. It’s also not a lichen, although the specific epithet means “lichen-like.” True lichens are—are you ready for this?—symbionts, a cozy arrangement between a fungus and an alga and maybe a cyanobacterium thrown in for good measure. (Cyanobacteria used to be called blue-green algae, but the taxonomists feared we’d forget they were still out there, beavering away.) The fungus collects water and nutrients from the surface it's attached to, which is why it can live without soil or roots; the alga enables photosynthesis. Together, they function as a single organism. How incredibly cool is that?

            Lichens come in three main forms: crustose, the low-growing, crust-like (duh) ones that we usually associate with rocks; foliose, with leaf-like structures; and fruticose, or shrubby growths. My oak twig grew the latter two types.

Parmotrema hypotropum
      This is Parmotrema hypotropum, the foliose powdered ruffle lichen. It’s one of the aptly monikered shield lichens. Do yourself a favor and check out the University of Georgia website linked here: Their picture shows the tiny eyelashes on the edges of the “leaves.”

Usnea strigosa

            And here is the delicately lovely fruticose beard lichen, Usnea strigosa. Those suction cup-like structures are the fungus’ fruiting bodies, called apothecia: their presence means these particular lichens reproduce sexually. Not all lichens have that pleasure.

Tortula ruralia
            So far, my perambulations had taken me about 30 feet from the back door. Not bad for 20 minutes. I trundled back inside for the camera, collecting the trash for take-out on the way. (I was meant to be cleaning house, after all.) After dumping the week’s bio-bagged garbage—just the one bag, since we compost or recycle most of our refuse—and wheeling the cart to the curb, I wandered over to peer at the emerald moss adorning the base of a willowleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius, pronounced “coh-TONE-ee-ass-ter,” not “cotton-easter”: see how easy it is to go off-topic when you’re moving at the speed of molasses?). 

Stalked spore capsules of star moss
I’ve always liked mosses, so tiny, so velvety, so secretive. There are eight classes of these miniature bryophytic (i.e., non-vascular) plants and dozens of species, both terrestrial and aquatic. The specimen in the photo above is, I believe, your basic star moss, Tortula ruralia. Mosses are as non-threatening to their hosts as lichens, absorbing water and nutrients through their leaves, not their roots. They do not flower, and so produce neither fruit, nor cone, nor seeds. Reproduction occurs by wind-disseminated spores from capsules carried on stalks.

(Wanna grow or encourage moss chez you? Both Artistic Garden and EHow websites provide salubrious recipes. And just for fun, take a gander at the work of practitioners of moss graffiti at Environmental Graffiti.)

Blueberry buds
Down the path from the cotoneaster, the blueberry bush our neighbors gave us waved its plump, pink buds in the northerly breeze. They look like tight, tiny rosebuds, even though they belong to the heather family (Ericaceae) and not Rosaceae. This particular specimen is a highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum: the rabbit-eyes (V. ashei) perform better in the South, but are unusual in the trade. The tag doesn’t name a cultivar—blueberries bear better if they have other cultivars’ pollen in the near-neighborhood—but I’ve got a patch already going, so we should be okay.

Toddling over in the direction of the New Bed, I spotted a surprise under the crabapple. Last summer’s experimental purchase of several allegedly cerise-blooming lungworts (Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’) had borne fruit, er, flower. Who expected that in February? In fact, who expected them to survive a droughty summer, especially as new transplants? The cunningly spotted foliage rosettes hug the ground, and if I hadn’t been taking my time I might have missed them altogether, blended as they are with the flashier ‘Sweetness’ daffs.

Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'
Find the lungwort


Someone on a mission also would have passed right by the cache pot containing a drowning Artemisia ‘Silver Mound.’ Not slow-poky me. Always on the lookout for things to brighten winter containers, I bought this plant in September to see if it would hold its foliage when the cold weather hit. It didn’t, gradually devolving into a tangle of slimy black leaf remnants and stems. And that was okay, as I’m not a huge fan of the wormwoods anyway. But when I knelt down to inhale the scent of pansies in the adjacent pot, this lovely promise of renewal caught my eye. Now that the standing water’s been dumped out, ‘Silver Mound’ may live to see another autumn. Good thing I wasn’t in some almighty hurry, huh?

Poor ugly thing...
...or is it?

Respectable at last
Take this bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus. Tim and I bought it our first summer on Oak Island because we loved the flowers. We planted it smack dab in the middle of the big bed in the front yard, inordinately pleased with it and ourselves. That was 13 years ago. Alas, Callistemon is only marginally hardy in our area: that first winter it froze back to the ground. Like it did the second winter. And the third. The fourth season, I moved the ratty-looking thing over to the south side and more or less forgot it, except for cutting off dead branches every May. But look at her now! Hardly any cold-scorched leaves, much less the massive dieback I’ve come to expect by February each year. Thirteenth winter lucky, I guess. Good thing I’m not a member of the instant gratification club.

The same is true of this little patch of hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) that started out as a single four-inch pot in 1999. It’s not exactly in the same class as kudzu when it comes to spreading, but it takes over another square inch or so of ground every year. We’re both pleased with the progress.

Gardening’s a good vocation for people like me. Very little in the world of flora requires human intervention before noon, before 4 p.m., before bedtime, before Thursday, before next week. There’s always next year. Or the one after that. We get there. And we know in our souls the journey is the reason for the trip.

Thanks for dropping by. Be slow.


Monday, February 13, 2012


             Ever wonder what goes on in someone else’s mind? Ever pick up somebody’s journal and start reading? Would you interested in a peek at mine?


February 2, 2012
Dear Diary,
The International Food and Agriculture Organisation  
classifies clear-cut monocrop plantation sites,  
like this one, as “forests.”
What is wrong with this picture? Literally?
            After a long spell of silence, the Irish-by-way-of-New-Zealand Cathy Fitzgerald churned out two An Art and Ecology Notebook posts in four days. As blogger, filmmaker and Green Party activist, her focus is the plight of global forests. She worries about the contributions human short-sightedness and greed make to the health of “our finite biosphere.” By continuing to buy (cheap) wood products from countries whose logging practices—including clearing old-growth areas—are unsustainable, Western economies are essentially financing what is becoming known as the sixth great extinction of species, habitat and cultures, the Anthropocene Age. (See “In Other News,” Nov. 7, 2011.) Immediate implementation of sane, long-term forest management policies could slow our pell-mell rush toward rendering Earth uninhabitable, Cathy says.

            She quotes Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older than Words:         

I thought… of our fundamental inversion of all relatedness, of how we nearly always ask the wrong question—What can I get from this?—and so rarely the right one—What can I give back? Even when we try to learn from others, it is from the same spirit of acquisition: What can I learn from this forest ecosystem that will teach me how to manage it for maximum resource extraction? Rarely: What can I learn from this forest community that will teach me better how to serve it?

I don’t know. It’s rare in human history that doing what’s right trumps making a profit. I find solace in that the planet will heal itself once the last money-grubbing, self-involved poophead is gone… hard as it is to believe that could actually happen, especially in an election year. 

February 3, 2012
Dear Diary,
            Note to self: be sure to thank Joseph Cooper-Silvis, who signed up to follow the blog yesterday. Stupid Google won’t allow me to log in to send a personal email through friendconnect, and won’t say why. Yeah, I’ll sign up to put my life in the hands of cloud computing. Just not in this lifetime.

            Anyway, Joseph, I do thank you for signing up. Comments, questions and constructive criticisms are always welcome. And that is one yummy-looking cake in your picture. Is that a frozen chocolate-covered banana on top? Do you bake? Do you sometimes mail goodies to friends?

February 6, 2012
Dear Diary,
            The Grow-Bags have arrived from Gardeners Supply! I broke the news to Tim that they’ll be adorning our front yard in all their cylindrical blue, orange and tan splendors, filled with potato, tomato and pepper plants. Whether or not they produce potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, however, remains to be seen.

            Peas are up in the back yard, but somebody keeps nibbling away the leaves as they open. Too dainty a bite to be deer: bunnies maybe? Covered most of the sprouts with leftover Remay scraps. Perhaps it’s time to set up the bird-netting fences, so the poor darling peas have half a chance.

Fall-planted potato harvest
            In anticipation of a package from Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, I dug up the experimental fall-planted crop of potatoes. Not a bad harvest, considering I broke all the rules. What rules? Why, The Potato Rules:

1.  Never use grocery-store potatoes for seed. They’re not certified virus-free!
2.  There’s no point in planting in September: seed eyes go dormant in the fall.
3.      Plant in full sun, not in the shadow of a hedge.
4.      Plant six inches deep initially, then hill, hill, hill.

Okay, so I only pulled in enough spuds for half a loaf-pan of Tim’s famous au gratins: but the experience of digging potatoes in February—priceless. Besides, I’ve never been good at rules anyway.

February 7, 2012
Dear Diary,
            The moon goes full this afternoon at 4:54 EST. In folklore, February’s full moon is called the Hunger Moon, with good reason back in the day before the advent of 24-hour supermarkets. We are so freakin’ spoiled.

            Another little marker on the way to global warming occurred today. The new 30-year “normal” (average!) temperatures for Wilmington, NC, showed that both the “normal” (average!) high and low for this date are one degree warmer than the previous decade’s readings. You may recall I said (in “Scientific Citizen,” Jan. 8, 2012) December “normals” (AVERAGE!) had grown incrementally chillier: well, that’s true, too. What does it all mean? No one really knows.

Sweet box (Sarcococca hookeri var. humilis)
February 8, 2012
Dear Diary,
            In response to yesterday’s post, “Do You Smell Something?” my dear friend Judy out in Bothell, WA, wrote to tell me her sweet box is blooming. Only she—show-off—used its botanical name, Sarcococca. That’s Sarcococca hookeri var. humilis, to be preciser (if not grammatically correct). She rekindled the flame of my Sarcococca envy. I’ve never lived anywhere where this shiny-foliaged, vanilla-scented, evergreen beauty was common. I may have to order one or two from some Oregonian nursery to plant here, just to prove to myself they really don’t care for our 16 consecutive weeks of miserably hot nights.

February 9, 2012
Dear Diary,
Oh, goody! New books!
            Despite the overloaded night-table and jam-packed bookshelf beside the bed, Amazon sent me two new books today: Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants by Brit Richard Mabey; and Marlene Zuk’s Sex on Six Legs: Lessons in Life, Love and Language from the Insect World. Bugs and weeds—as fodder for the blog gristmill, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Fungus gnat, we hardly knew ye
February 11, 2012
Dear Diary,
            Didn’t water the houseplants this week. Didn’t water the houseplants last week either. The tapeworm fern looks a bit end-crunchy, off-color and out of sorts, but everyone else seems fine. I mention this for two reasons. One, no unintentional drownings have taken place in the three months since overwintering began. Two, the fungus gnat population is ’way, ’way down. When I cleaned house, not a single fungus-gnat carcass was found peppering any light bulb element. I brush my teeth and wash the dishes mostly unobserved these days. No one “bugs” me (haha) when I read in bed at night. The few stray gnats still around cling to windows, looking out at… what? Perhaps Marlene Zuk (see yesterday’s entry) will enlighten me. Just as soon as I finish reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

            Our neighbors across the street moved out a few weeks ago—he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse in Harrisburg, PA—and they bequeathed us a bunch of potted plants. Two figs (!), a blueberry, an Alberta spruce (?), a Korean boxwood in a bulb pan surrounded by Asian jasmine, an Endless Summer hydrangea, various other bits and bobs, and a tropical collection: a five-foot-tall ti tree (Dracaena something-or-other), a good-sized double-stemmed ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), and a sago palm (Cycas revoluta).

My newest best plant-friend, the ponytail palm
These last three are now crowded into the kitchen with the leafless Tibouchinas and the self-resurrecting Solanum pseudocapsicum. Isn’t it wonderful how things you never would have chosen if left to your own devices get thrust upon you; you grudgingly accommodate them; and come to love them to the point you can no longer imagine life without them and the things they have to teach you? How do people divorced from the plant world manage this?

February 12, 2012
Dear Diary,
            Tonight is the opener for Globe at Night's February 12-21 Worldwide Star Count, featuring Orion the Hunter. During four annual winter-to-spring observation periods over the past six years, more than 66,000 citizen-scientist reports of night-sky brightness have been submitted from 115 countries.   Why bother to document light pollution? Because too much light at night not only impacts energy consumption levels, but affects the health of humans and wildlife.

            Who’d have thought it? Apparently not being able to see the stars drives us bonkers. That certainly explains a lot.

            So there it is, 10 days inside the rambling thoughts of yours truly. Now, feel free to share some of yours. And Joseph, you feel more than free to share a slice or two of that cake.

Thanks for dropping by.


Monday, February 6, 2012


                                          … I’m glad

            I’m not that broken tree although
            it looks sublime. And glad I’m not
            taking a test and running out of time.
            What’s a tetrahedron anyway? What’s

            the sublime, 3,483 divided by 9,
            the tenth amendment, the ferryman’s name
            on the River Styx? We’re all missing
            more and more tricks, losing our grips,

            guilty of crimes we didn’t commit.
                                                from “Spring Reign” by Dean Young

            By nature, I am not a person keenly attuned to what’s going on around me. Although 15 years of living with hyper-aware Tim has increased my observational skills somewhat, the most incisive adjective describing my relationship to the outside world is “oblivious.” The opening poem snippet illustrates where I’m most comfortable, in the universe of printed words and ideas.  (If you read it aloud, you’ll hear the snazzy beat and internal rhymes and near-rhymes so dear to my word-play loving heart.)

Ol' four-eyes in 1964
            I suffer from some congenital sensual handicaps. I’ve been impressively myopic since third grade. (Remember that “Twilight Zone” episode where Burgess Meredith, sporting coke-bottle specs, plays the sole survivor of some kind of devastation? And he’s delighted because he’s in a library with all the time in the world to read without interruptions? But then he breaks his lenses, and the library becomes a hell full of books he can’t see. Even as a kid, I knew that was a bogus premise. Coke-bottle glasses are the lot of the seriously near-sighted: all he had to do was hold the books close to his nose. Rod Serling must have had 20/20 vision.) I also inherited my dad’s iffy hearing—iffy because, while I can hear the sound of voices, I can’t always distinguish individual words unless I’m looking at the speaker. The kindest thing you can say about my sense of taste is that it’s unrefined: never have been able to discern the difference between chicken and turkey. I’ll eat anything except rhubarb.
Fortunately, the nerve-endings in my skin still work, so I’m good in the touching department.

But smells… ah, smells. I smell well. Not as acutely as dogs, oenophiles, perfumiers or Tim, perhaps, but smells definitely ring bells in my brain. Olfactory scientists say smells trigger reliable memories more readily than any other sense. Lack of odor is a serious handicap, as the protagonist of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer can tell you. He is born without a smell of his own, precipitating a chain of events starting with his mother’s revulsion and rejection, to the realization that his odorlessness makes him de facto invisible, to a career as a master creator of perfumes (he could smell, he just didn’t have one of his own), to a life of crime manipulating others by wearing various scents he concocts, just to get even. (It doesn’t end well.) Absence of olfactory sensation is why I can’t warm up to electronic “books” and am completely averse to “socializing” by machine.

Amassing olfactory impressions counts as one of the greatest pleasures of gardening. I literally stick my nose into everything outside, or at least everything that holds still long enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s flower, foliage, fruit, seed, soil amendments, wood, roots or dirt, alive or dead; neither do I care what the season is. If it has a scent, I inhale it.

In order to demonstrate that I learned something from last time’s statistical workup (see the Jan. 30 post, “Tally-Ho”), what follows is a selection of pictures of plants that smell—or once smelled—in my garden.

Daphne odora ‘Marginata’—a powerful winter perfumer. Like Greta Garbo, this plant with a reputation for finickiness does best if you just leave it alone. I kept one in a pot on our deck for years just for the cold-weather orange-blossom fragrance, then passed it to our friend, Gen… who promptly set about drowning it. Tim rescued the poor defoliated thing and gave it to our part-time next-door neighbors, Tim and Carmen. They stuck it in the west-facing unirrigated ground between their front porch and driveway. With just rain and the occasional spilled soda, beer or sippy cup, it’s thriving. As you can see from the picture.

Osmanthus fragrans (tea olive)—this plant ekes out a living on the other side of Tim and Carmen’s front steps. The photo of the bush fairly represents how tea olive does in beachy environments.  But when its tiny, waxy, inconspicuous flowers open in late January, it doesn’t matter that the shrub is ugly. The potent aroma is reminiscent of gardenias.

Tea olive: what an ugly shrub
The tiny but powerful tea olive bloom

             Edgeworthia chysantha (paperbush)—although neither shrub nor flowers impress with their flamboyant beauty (my specimen’s blooms always look bit mildewed), starting in February, the fragrance does. On Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb farm in Gloucester, VA, there’s a venerable old plant that could be detected from almost anywhere on the property when we visited in mid-March. Ahhhh.

Wisteria sinensis—in the interval between late winter and it’s-really-spring, wisteria cranks up. The one in the picture doesn’t look like the one in the picture every year, flowering better if I whack it back in late summer. (Fertilizing wisteria is a no-no too: nitrogen just encourages foliage growth at the expense of bud-set.) And some years, the squirrels decide wisteria buds are their favorite food. But when it pops, the whole neighborhood knows it.

Narcissus ‘Sweetness’—like many other hybridized plants, daffs often sacrifice fragrance for size or vase-life. Not so much with the jonquils, tazettas and cyclamineus cultivars. You won’t “scense” them across the yard, but they reward up-close sniffing.


Rosa ‘Zéphrine Drouhin’—as with daffs, so also with roses. The old varieties (Zéphrine is a Bourbon) keep their rosy smells where newer, “improved” versions have them bred out. Knock Outs may be floriferous all season, but there’s no point in burying your nose in one, like there is with raspberry-scented Zéphrine.

              Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine)—the star-shaped flowers of this woody vine sited near the rear of our property sweeten our entire house as well as the near neighbors’ in May and June when the windows are open. When we pull in the driveway, its perfume greets us.


     Pittosporum tobira—this beach-hardy but deer-candy shrub offers a double scent-sation; not only do its May flowers spill the illusion of orange blossoms into the air, the woody branches and roots, when cut into, smell like apples. (F.Y.I.: mavens say the genus should be pronounced pih-TOSS-poor-um. I'm sticking with pit-oh-SPORE-um.)

   Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese privet)—Momma landscaped my childhood home with an overabundance of ligustrum. Those were the days before air-conditioning, so when the bushes started their month-long bloom in May, there was no escape from the overpowering smell. Consequently, my nose finds their fragrance sickly-sweet, although Tim—who grew up ligustrum-less—likes it. Folklore has it that they’re called privet because they were planted around privies, to mask the smell. Personally, I don’t know which odor is worse. 

Heliotropum arborescens (heliotrope)—this annual’s scent brings baby powder to my mind, although catalog-blurb writers describe it as vanilla. Either way, it’s memorable, in a good way. Heliotrope’s leaves will burn when exposed to strong sunlight, so plant it where it gets afternoon shade. The name, by the way, comes from the way the flowers turn their faces toward the sun, a phenomenon called, appropriately enough, “heliotropism.” (See “Let There Be Light,” from Mar. 20, 2011.)

Gardenia jasminoides—the fragrance of gardenias wafting over the garden following a heat-heavy afternoon says “summer” better than any other scent, except maybe new-mown grass. Or, if you grew up on graveled roads like I did, the sharp smell of hot tar.  

Lilium ‘Stargazer’—all of the mid-to-late-summer blooming Oriental-type lilies smell wonderfully sweet. Just remember to snip off the stamens if you’re bringing them in to put in a vase: the pollen permanently stains any fabric it comes in contact with.

            Elaeagnus pungens—“pungent” may be too pejorative an adjective for the unarguably potent citrusy, clean smell of the inconspicuous but abundant October flowers of eleagnus. When the gangly hedge at the back of our property blooms, the whole neighborhood benefits.


              Morella cerifera (wax myrtle)I love working around wax myrtle at any time of the year. Its foliage smells crisply fresh, and so do the wood, and the roots. Planting it, pruning it, just ruffling past it is an olfactory treat.


             Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary)—like with most herbs, crushing foliage between your fingers releases the scented oils that keep deer from grazing the plant. And your hands will smell nice for quite a while after. Don’t try this with garlic or other alliums, though: you’ll remind yourself of an Italian restaurant for hours.

            Viburnum suspensum (Sandankwa viburnum)—as a rule, Bambi avoids viburnums. Stick your nose close to a pale orange-ish flower cluster; crush a leathery, crinkled leaf; or prune a branch to get a whiff of creosote, and you’ll understand why. 

            Well, we’re up to 18 pictures and over 1,500 words, so I guess it’s about time to stop. Do try to get in the habit of mindfully engaging your nose in the garden. You won’t be sorry.

            Thanks for dropping by.