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Minter: Surround yourself with the floral scents of summer

Brian Minter's favourite lavender is Spanish lavender (L. stoechas), especially the many ‘anouk’ varieties.
Lavender Anouk
Lavender Anouk

The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from Brian Minter — master gardener, best-selling author, Order of Canada recipient and co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store.

Summertime in our gardens should be the ultimate outdoor sensory retreat.

The wonderful long evenings on the deck or patio should be the antidote to the stress we all feel during our busy days.

The big question is: Can our decks, patios and gardens meet the challenge?

Summer colour and how we blend analogous tones together is very important, but fragrance is, perhaps, the most critical element when it comes to creating that sensory refill. Ironically, most of the colour with which we surround ourselves has little perfume.

So, it’s time to add the fragrance!

As easy as it sounds, finding lasting perfume is more of a challenge than most of us think. Finding plants that will accommodate sun or shade, be compatible with other plants and continue to perfume all summer is possible, but we all need to think out of the ‘flower box’ just a little.

When folks ask for a flowering shrub that blooms all summer with a nice perfume, one plant leaps ahead of all others — the butterfly bush (buddleia). Native to China, Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as Chile, Mexico and the USA, there are at least seven different species, all unique in their own ways.

The biggest issue for many species is their invasive nature, and in many regions of North America, including British Columbia, Oregon and Washington, gardeners have been encouraged not to plant them. Now, however, many new varieties are sterile and do not pose this significant environmental concern.

A few years ago, Proven Winners introduced very compact varieties that do well in containers, such as Buddleia x ‘Blue Chip’ from the ‘Lo & Behold’ series, the first miniature (24-30 inches or 61-76cm) sterile variety and the new white ‘Ice Chip’. Hardy to zone 5, both require little pruning or deadheading, and they bloom or rebloom all summer until frost. Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ also adds a nice perfume to our gardens and patios all summer and of course, attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds. Proven Winners’ ‘Miss Molly’, a vibrant red, grows vigorously to about five feet tall and wide. The newest ‘hot’ buddleias are Proven Winners ‘Pugsters’. They’re short, have big blooms and monarch butterflies swarm all over them.

One of the most under-used plants for our patios is lavender.

You need a hot, sunny spot with very good drainage and a trained sense not to overwater! The fragrance of lavender is nice to enjoy all year-round, even to brush up against or simply rub your hands over the foliage. Their blue, lavender, pink or white flowers put on quite a show. Today, there are a number of lavender varieties from which to choose. The hardiest are the ‘angustifolias’, particularly ‘Munstead’ and ‘Sweet Romance’ (zone 5) with their very compact habits. There is now the ‘Diva’ series of angustifolias from Dummen Orange in Holland that is repeat blooming.

My favourite lavender, however, is Spanish lavender (L. stoechas), especially the many ‘anouk’ varieties. Their huge, soft lavender to rich purple perfumed blooms are so prolific they just keep coming all summer long, and with a bit of pruning, even into the fall. They are a little more tender (zone 6), so they need winter protection. Their flowers are large and tend to bounce around in the wind, like huge purple bumblebees.

Rosemary is another summer patio and garden plant that is not used nearly enough in summer planters and garden beds. Like lavender, it needs a very sunny, well-drained soil to keep looking great and growing well.

If you do a little searching, you’ll discover many more garden jewels that have a delightful summer perfume, like fragrant hostas, perfumed roses, clethra (summersweet) and summer blooming Jasminum officinale. A tender perennial, heliotrope is also a superstar when it comes to popping out perfume. Fragrance makes a huge difference to the enjoyment and appreciation of our summer gardens and to our senses. Try to include even a little fragrance in each bed or container.