The lazy, hazy days of summer have finally arrived as the unofficial end to the summer season grows nigh. Oppressive heat and humidity have temporarily stifled my enthusiasm for gardening and even the simple task of pulling a few weeds seems to be an overwhelming chore.
The lazy, hazy days of summer have finally arrived as the unofficial end to the summer season grows nigh. Oppressive heat and humidity have temporarily stifled my enthusiasm for gardening and even the simple task of pulling a few weeds seems to be an overwhelming chore. For the present, I am content to begin my mile-long list of notes that will include plants to be thinned, propagated, or transplanted in the weeks to come. Another list will provide commentary on this year’s star performers, successful plant combinations, and plants that should be pruned, pinched, or sprayed next year.
Soaking showers have gratefully quenched our parched landscapes but not before the heat and dry conditions began to take a toll on a few sensitive plants. Astilbes, with their attractive serrated leaves can usually be used as a barometer for dryness, the edges of the leaves becoming brown and crispy at the first signs of moisture deprivation and then suddenly, they disappear altogether leaving only twiggy stems behind which often signals their ultimate demise even if the plants are given copious water.
Despite drenching rains, my container gardens still require daily watering. As I haul a watering can up to the potted vegetable garden on my deck, I cannot resist stroking the fine-textured foliage of bronze fennel at the base of my back stairway, releasing its delicious licorice scent into the air. Whether you grow them in decorative containers, gardens, or on your windowsill, the cultivation of herbs offers innumerable choices to delight the senses. A small plot at the base of my deck includes lavender, chives, sage, thyme, fennel, rue, and catmint. This garden is usually well-weeded as I take every opportunity to rub the leaves and enjoy their diverse odors.
At the top of the stairs, a container densely planted with additional herbs offers another sensory opportunity. A single plant of pineapple sage has grown out of control but will be tolerated for its delightful fragrance when the leaves are crushed, plus vibrant orange-red tubular blossoms should appear in the coming weeks that will be irresistible to the hummingbirds that visit my deck throughout the day; oregano, thyme, and tarragon cascade over the edges, while Italian parsley serves as a filler. Rosemary and two varieties of basil are grown in separate containers. I am particularly fond of a recent basil introduction, ‘Pesto Perpetuo’, which quickly grows into a dense, upright, non-flowering shrub, its gray-green leaves boldly splashed with white margins creating a handsome specimen that produces a multitude of tasty leaves. Mints, which I consider too aggressive to grow in the ground, and scented geraniums are also great aromatic candidates for container gardens.
While herbs may require a little manipulation to enjoy their pungent scents, the sweet perfume of angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia) growing in large containers along my walkways are heavenly even from a distance. Barely fragrant during the warmth of the day, the spectacular, pendent blossoms of these tropical plants produce an almost overpowering fragrance as evening approaches. The showy flowers may reach a length of up to 10 inches long ranging in color from pure, glistening white to glowing, golden yellow, pink, or apricot.
Numerous annual plants in both containers and my gardens emit delicate perfumes that are carried through the garden by gentle breezes. I would never be without the pretty blooms of purple heliotrope with a scent reminiscent of vanilla while several varieties of Lantana are grown in my borders and containers, emitting a strong minty fragrance. China pinks (bedding dianthus) are another favorite, their spicy-scented pink and raspberry blossoms persisting throughout the summer months. The statuesque Nicotiana sylvestris stands up to 5-feet tall with clusters of sweetly-scented, pure white, nodding trumpet-shaped blossoms that remind me of a fireworks display and are ideal for a lightly shaded locale.
Although many gardeners scorn the blossoms of hostas, many of these wonderful foliage plants produce remarkably beautiful, intensely fragrant flowers. During late summer, Hosta plantaginea, often referred to as the August lily, displays spectacular trumpet-shaped blooms up to 6 inches long. Hybrids, including the robust hosta, ‘Royal Standard’, send up numerous stems smothered with pure white sweet-smelling blossoms. Many other hosta cultivars, often with names that suggest their scented blooms, are available including, ‘So Sweet’, ‘Honeybells’, and ‘Fragrant Blue’. I am especially fond of the glossy foliage and perfumed blossoms of ‘Guacamole’, ‘Stained Glass’, ‘Diana Remembered’, and ‘Fragrant Bouquet’. Unfortunately, deer find these hostas equally appealing and nearly all the flower stalks were devoured during the past week prior to the opening of their lovely, scented blooms.
Few flowers rival the true lilies for their heavily-perfumed, showy blossoms. For those gardeners willing to wage war on the Asiatic lily-leaf beetle, the rewards are often worth the battle. I am particularly fond of the Oriental hybrid lilies, which tend to bloom later in season. The spicy fragrance of these majestic lilies is truly intoxicating. The pure white ‘Casablanca’ is especially lovely with tall, thick, rigid stems, its flowers glowing from afar in the evening garden.
The mixed perennial border includes several additional aromatic late summer bloomers including tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) and the long-blooming coneflowers (Echinacea). Butterfly bushes (Buddleia), appropriately nicknamed summer lilacs, and sweet pepper bush (Clethra), a late-blooming native shrub that readily adapts to a shrub border, offer divine scents for many weeks. In the weeks to come, Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium) and the sweet autumn clematis will permeate the garden with their sweet perfumes.
Be sure to pause in the coming weeks to brush, crush, snip, and sniff the sweet scents of the late summer garden.
Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover for more than 30 years. Her weekly gardening column ‘Green Thumbs Up’ has appeared in Community Newspapers for more than a decade. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.