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May 2021: Stop and Smell the Foliage

by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review


Fragrant foliage can add so much to your garden. Visitors, young and old, love the delightful surprise awaiting them in your scent-sational oasis. The experience of walking down a path lined with aromatic plants brings joy to the senses.


Here are a few of my favorites to play with in your garden.


Eucalyptus nicholii or Peppermint Willow, is a showstopper that’s both drought tolerant and deer resistant. This tree has a an elegant graceful form, sporting a reddish trunk and branches adorned with fragrant grey-green, willow-shaped leaves. The foliage has a wonderful minty-eucalyptus fragrance. Add to all of this the fact that this tree is also evergreen and you have a winner for your sunny spot.


Prostanthera cuneata ‘Badja Peak’ or Australian Bush Mint is an outstanding shrub with lush, dense, dark-green foliage smelling like a heavenly mix of thyme and mint. It will grow to about 5 feet tall, is evergreen, and is quite drought tolerant once established. This intensely fragrant shrub also has beautiful, delicate, orchid-like flowers that draw in hummingbirds and bees! You cannot go wrong with this amazing plant.


Lavenders. These rugged shrubs sport both fragrant foliage and flowers. They are both drought tolerant and deer resistant. There are so many kinds to choose from but here are three of my favorites.


Lavendula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’. This plant combines the cold hardiness of English lavenders with the heat tolerance of Portuguese varieties. Wonderful long stems support beautiful flowers that are perfect for making wands or scented sachets. Lavendula angustifolia ‘Munstead Strain’ is a terrific, compact English lavender with amazing fragrance and one which also makes a tasty culinary herb. Perfect for the kitchen garden. My 3rd favorite is Lavendula stoechas ‘Helmsdale’. This is a truly amazing plant with a robust growth habit. The long-blooming, rich reddish-purple flowers have burgundy-purple rabbit ears on top.


Another awesome perennial with fragrant foliage is Artemisia absinthium, which is of course one of the key ingredients in Absinthe. This plant is tough as nails, drought tolerant, deer resistant, and it smells of sweet licorice. It has striking grey foliage topped with intensely yellow flowers. Santonlina chamaecyparissus or lavender cotton, has playful, grey, fern-like, leaves topped with cheery little yellow pom-pom-like flowers and it is also evergreen.


Now for some herbaceous perennials with hypnotically fragrant foliage. Mints, mints, mints. They come in so many fragrances now, such as lavender, grapefruit, pineapple, and even chocolate. They like “wet feet” and love to spread, but don’t be afraid, they do very well in containers too!


Monarda, or Bee-Balm, has a unique and subtle fragrance. The awesome, globe-shaped flower is an absolute pollinator magnet. The blooms come in tones of purple to red.


Agastache or hyssop, is another great choice for scented foliage. It smells like extra-sweet licorice and comes in an array of bloom colors. This plant is also a hummingbird and butterfly magnet.


I’m going to tie this up with two of my favorite tender, scented plants. Fragrant geraniums. This group of pelargoniums is mind bending with their dainty blooms yet shocking fragrances. There are so many choices of scents; rose, ginger, black pepper, apple … the list goes on.