Garden Guide With James Kilkelly
Essential oils — essential plants
WHEN the sun is out, as it has been recently, everything in the garden seems better. The leaf and bloom colours of our plants seem brighter and those blooms seem to open much wider towards the warming sun. I’m of the opinion, however, that the greatest improvement that a spell of warm weather brings to our garden is through its ramping up of the scents we experience.
For most people, fragrance is tightly linked with gardening and no landscape would be complete without sweetly fragranced flowers and foliage. Fragrant plants are best used close to where people normally pass or sit, close to doors, windows, around patios, and along walkways are ideal situations, as well as using them in raised beds or planters to bring them even closer to passing noses.
Rain or shine, a plant in bloom releases scent, but it is only in sustained heat that the real heady aromatic oils are unleashed, not from flowers, but from the leaves. You see, plants lose water from their leaves through the everyday occurrence of evaporation, but when the heat is really on, then many plants will release oil from their leaves as well. This oil production is the plant’s attempt to prevent total depletion of its moisture reserves by creating a slow-to-evaporate oil barrier around its leaves.
This is the essential oil you will often hear spoken of in aromatherapy and massage oil terms. You will recognise most of these commercially available oils through the garden plants to which they are connected, for example, eucalyptus, tea-tree, lavender, geranium, peppermint etc.
If you think you are missing out on this aromatic element within your garden, then I suggest you look to lavender and sage as additions to your scented garden. First off, seek out and find Lavandula angustifolia (Hidcote), commonly known as English lavender. This small evergreen shrub (some people say herb) originated in Europe and Asia and grows to a height of 0.6 metres (2ft), with a similar spread.
When in bloom, its long-stalked deep purple flower spikes wave gently above narrow, grey-green, aromatic leaves. These blooms will last from July to September while on the plant and, if cut for indoor display, these flowers will last up to ten days.
The oil of lavender extracted from this frost-hardy shrub is used to this day in the production of soaps, scented candles, perfumes and making potpourri. Lavender copes well with free draining or sandy soils and is an ideal container plant in full sun due to its drought resistance. I would recommend this scented plant for edging walkways or simply if you want to attract some butterflies into your garden space.
Once you’ve secured your lavender, I next suggest you look towards sage as its scented companion. The variety I suggest is Salvia sylvestris (Mainacht) also known as May night sage.
This delightfully colourful plant sports indigo-blue flower spikes throughout June and July. In order to achieve this prolonged flowering (for a sage), you must remove the old flower spikes as soon they start to fade. Do this and you will have plenty of time to appreciate its striking flowers held above the plant’s wrinkled and aromatic grey-green leaves.
As well as exciting the gardener’s sense of smell, this plant will also excite and attract plenty of butterflies and bees. These visitors will add an extra and welcome visual element to your garden.
You need not worry that Salvia sylvestris (Mainacht) is going to engulf or overpower your planting area. It only grows at a moderate pace to a height of 60cm (2ft), with a similar spread. I’d personally position this reliable perennial in the front or in the middle of a well-drained border. It does really well in sun or dappled shade where the bright blue flowers will add a colour boost to any nearby green-leaved plants.
With their wonderful fragrance, broad range of colours, and variety in shapes, I have found that aromatic plants can fill many niches in a garden. Aside from lavender and sage, here are a few others you can investigate over the upcoming weeks: bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), juniper, rosemary, cedar, myrtle (Myrtus communis), and lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora).
Until next week, happy gardening and remember that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place.