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Archive for July, 2009

Fragrant Favorites for Summer

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

My brother (he lives in Washington, D.C.)  called a few days ago to thank me for the ‘Casa Blanca’  lilies I had given him and his wife for their garden last year.  He said he enjoys a whiff of  their perfume every time he walks in or out of the house.  (they planted them in a mixed border next to the steps that lead to their front door.)  This reminded me of how much I look forward to the many sweet scents of summer.  For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to plants with fragrant flowers and foliage.  As a young child I loved the gardenias that my grandmother grew in her south Florida garden and since then I have grown several selections of this old fashion favorite.    Over  the years I have  expanded my repertoire of fragrant plants to include a wide range of types that delight with their intoxicating scents.  An added bonus with growing many of these is the butterflies and hummingbirds they will attract to your garden. 


Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird'

Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird'

Even novice gardeners will find the formosa lily, Lilium formosanum, easy  and rewarding to grow.  Blooming  after the Casa Blanca lilies, in late July or August,  these heat-loving beauties produce large white trumpets,  similar to an Easter lily but even more fragrant,  atop 5-7′ tall stalks and, they don’t need staking.   Both varieties of lilies   will be happiest in full sun or part-shade.   For a carefree companion, I like  Calamintha nepeta nepeta , calamint.  This late blooming  perennial is covered for months  with white to pale blue flowers with a strong minty scent. 


There are many summer beauties that not only look good but smell good too!  Two large shrubs (they can also be trained as small trees) that offer handsome foliage, fragrant flowers and  striking winter bark are Japanese clethra, Clethra barbinervis and  the native cinnamon clethra, Clethra acuminata.  For smaller gardens Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ grows 5′ tall and 3′ wide with spicy flowers that start out ruby-red in bud and open to dark pink.  This native likes full sun or part-shade and a moist soil but  will also tolerate a swampy site. 


Familiar to many is the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii and its many selections.  Not only does it bloom for months, acting as a magnet for butterflies, this drought tolerant shrub comes in a wide range of colors and more recently sizes.   I am testing a recent introduction in my garden called  Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ or Lo & Behold.  With fragrant  nonstop  blue to purple-blue flowers this compact selection is supposed to mature at 24 to 36 inches tall and 30 inches wide.   If it proves a good performer this butterfly bush will make an excellent choice for small gardens and containers. (I’ll get back to you)   While a typical butterfly bush may grow as high as 8 to 10′ in a single season, the English series is being promoted for plants that will be more manageable, maturing at 4 to 5′ tall and 3′ wide.  Look for Adonis Blue with blue purple flowers; Peacock with pink flowers ; and Purple Emperor with purple blooms. 


A native understory tree that makes a handsome ornamental in the landscape too, the sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana var. asustralis tree is found along streams and in bottomlands from Texas to Virginia.  The green foliage with silver backsides and the white  lemon- scented  flowers that begin in  late spring and continue on and off through the summer add up to a real charmer.     


Erica’s Pick

Japanese clethra

Botanical name: Clethra barbinervis

Clethra barbinervis in full bud

Clethra barbinervis in full bud

About the plant: This large shrub or small tree grows 15 to 20′ tall and is covered with white fragrant flowers in late July to August.  The striking winter bark, peels to expose patches of white, gray and reddish brown. 

Use in the garden:  Plant this clethra  against a backdrop of evergreens, in the woodland or in a small courtyard garden.   Make sure to select a location where you can appreciate its fragrance.   

Planting and care:  Full sun or part shade and a moist well-drained soil is best. 

Source: McMahan’s Nursery, 5727 Cleveland Hwy., Clermont, GA 30527, 770-983-3666,

Summer blooms from my garden

Thursday, July 16th, 2009


Salvia or Sage

Thursday, July 9th, 2009
Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage

Salvia elegans - Pineapple Sage

Plants that flower and thrive during the hottest days of summer and continue to bloom until frost are always worth knowing and growing.  Such is the case with salvias or sages.  These versatile members of the mint family offer the gardener a wealth of choices with flowers of every color from white to pink, blue, red, yellow, orange and all the shades between.    


Whether you grow ornamentals or edibles or both, you have probably cultivated at least one salvia along the way.  The Greeks and Romans thought this herb to be one of the most sacred and declared it herba sacra.  Much as I could never choose a single favorite food,   I would have a hard time growing only one type of plant.  If for some reason I did have to choose, the genus Salvia offers a range of types including those that are edible, fragrant, colorful and exotic.   They vary  in size from small annuals to tall perennials.  Most are drought tolerant, easy to cultivate  and make good companions  with perennials, annuals  and shrubs.


Salvia 'Blue Victoria' and Coleus 'Gay Delight'

Salvia 'Blue Victoria' and Coleus 'Gay Delight'

 The classic annual blue  salvia, Salvia farinacea ‘Blue Victoria’ grows 18″ tall and produces spikes of  purple/blue flowers all summer long.  Pair it with yellow-leaved sun coleus and red pentas and your garden will become a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies.  ‘Blue Victoria’ also makes a good cut flower or  container plant.      One of my favorites   Salvia guaranitica, is sometimes called blue anise sage.  Depending on the selection the flowers  range from sky blue  to deep blue or purple blue, and bloom from June until frost.   In  my garden I have it paired with a purple leaved Eastern ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo,’ and the elegant and tall daylily (6 to 8′) Hemerocallis ‘ Autumn Minaret’ which has slender orange-yellow petals with rust markings on the throat.  The Mexican sage, Salvia leucantha is great for its late season color with velvety purple and white flowers but it can develop into a large rangy plant reaching 4′ or taller.  The selection ‘Santa Barbara’ (available at Ashe-Simpson) offers gardeners the same long season of color but with a compact habit, 2 ½’  tall and 4′ wide.  In our southern gardens this plant may overwinter as a tender perennial but is hardy only  to zone 8.  Combine it with ornamental grasses, butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa with brilliant orange flowers or the annual Salvia regla ‘Jame.’  If you want to mix in an edible, pineapple sage, Salvia elegans has bright red flowers and leaves that when crushed give off a strong pineapple scent.  (They can be used dry or fresh for seasoning.) The result of a  cross between two salvias   Salvia ‘Red Velvet’ has bright red flowers and glossy green foliage  while  ‘Hot Lips’ has  red and white flowers.  A selection of autumn sage  Salvia greggii  ’Wild Watermelon’ has  hot pink flowers from spring until frost. 


Salvia 'Wild Watermelon'

Salvia 'Wild Watermelon'

Erica’s pick

wild watermelon sage


Botanical name: Salvia greggii ‘Wild Watermelon’


About the plant: A hardy perennial,  Autumn sage is found growing from Texas south to Mexico.  This heat lover grows 3 to 4′ tall and offers shocking hot pink flowers from June to November. 

Use in the garden: Plant it in masses or as an accent in the herb garden or perennial border.   Colorful companions include Geranium ‘Rozanne’ with purple flowers, Coreopsis with yellow blooms or the soft white flowers of Calamintha nepatoides ‘White Cloud.’ 

Planting and Care: Plant this salvia  in a well-drained soil in full sun or part shade.  Cut back plants to control the height and encourage a second flush of flowers. 


Source: McMahan’s Nursery

5727 Cleveland Hwy., Clermont, GA 30527



Ashe-Simpson Nursery- for Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’

4961 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.

Atlanta, GA 30341, 770-458-3224

Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies' with goldenrod, R. 'Henry Eilers' and stokes aster

Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies' with goldenrod, R. 'Henry Eilers' and stokes aster

Salvia leucantha and Salvia regla 'Jame' in October

Salvia leucantha and Salvia regla 'Jame' in October