Need a little perfume in your garden or on your patio this summer? It seems to be the missing link in many gardens and the one element that is the most connective for all of us. When you think of annuals, few plants offer colour with fragrance. We’re past the bloom time for yellow primulas and yellow pansies, but in early spring they are invaluable for a hint of perfume. Dianthus and carnations, especially the annual and tender perennial varieties, also have a nice perfume, but they don’t love the summer heat. Stocks have an enticing perfume, but when it gets warm, they need to be in the shade to keep providing that fragrance. Dark blue petunias have a light perfume, especially in the evening when the temperature is just right. When the temperature is too cool (below 10°C) or too high (above 20°C) perfume is somewhat compromised.
There is one plant, however, that is the unsung hero of fragrance in the garden all summer: heliotrope. It’s a plant that is far too often ignored in all our baskets, planters, garden beds and even in the veggie garden. However, not all heliotropes are created equal. Today the garden plants growing in popularity are the ones meeting several important criteria. They are versatile in part sun or shade; are more compact to fit into small space gardens and containers; their flowers look good; their foliage is attractive; they stand up in all kinds of weather; and they bloom till frost. Finally they must play nicely with other plants … not too aggressive and not so shy that they are overtaken by other plants. What’s more, today we expect them to be pollinators and bee friendly as well as perhaps attracting butterflies too. Heliotrope does it all in spades!
You don’t often see old-fashioned varieties anymore but the one that has no name is still the best for perfume. It has that remarkable ‘baby powder’ fragrance that is so soothing and relaxing. It’s out there, often labelled as ‘fragrant blue’ but you may have to search a bit. There is also an old-fashioned white variety seldom seen anymore, although it too has a nice perfume.
I have other favourites that I think are also amazing. Heliotrope ‘Sachet’ is one that has a compact nature, darker foliage and beautiful perfume. ‘Marine’ is even more compact and has a fairly pleasant perfume. It’s grown mainly because it suits very small spaces and performs well. ‘Marino Blue’ is a new variety that grows only 30-40cm tall and wide with a delightful perfume. It too has darker foliage and great compact habit.
As we now begin our summer plantings, make sure you add a little perfume by incorporating some of these great heliotropes. Be sure to include them in your vegetable and small fruits garden where they will attract bees and other pollinators.